Anne Bencivenga sounds almost apologetic. The 21-year-old Loyola College student realizes that she's different from a lot of people her age, but she also wants to avoid seeming impressed with herself.
So, when asked why she plans to work for the Peace Corps after graduating this month, rather than join her peers in the rat race for big bucks, she takes several beats, looking for words with the right mix of accuracy and humility.
"It may sound funny," she finally says, "but this is something I've always wanted to do. If you look at the world and you look at us in the United States, you can see that we have so much more in comparison, even though we have a lot of suffering here as well. Through my upbringing and education, I was always taught to give something back. To me, the best way to do that is through community service."
Bencivenga, a history major from Massapequa, N.Y., and 21 other graduating seniors who plan to do community work in the U.S. and overseas will be recognized during Loyola's baccalaureate mass at 3 p.m. tomorrow in Reitz Arena. They will nTC receive Bibles and be "commissioned" to community service by the Rev. Joseph Sellinger, the president of the Jesuit-run college.
The 22 graduates expect to labor in places as far-flung as Italy, Honduras and the Pacific Northwest and as close to home as the Cherry Hill section of Baltimore. About half of them will be assigned through the Jesuit Volunteers Corps, a sort of domestic Peace Corps, in which hundreds of recent college graduates are employed by social service agencies in the U.S.
Matt Salvestrini is to work in Rome with L'Arche, a private religious community that cares for the mentally impaired. Salvestrini, a 22-year-old English major from Bridgefield, Conn., has worked with mentally impaired young people in Baltimore during his time at Loyola.
"Community service is something I want to have established for myself before I move on to a career," he explains. "Commitment to a community is an idea I've learned from being at Loyola and from being instructed by Jesuits. But you have to do more than be committed, you have to act."
Bencivenga is still awaiting the Peace Corps' official approval of her application to work in Latin America. Last January, she was among a group of Loyola students who did community service -- from painting buildings to helping Catholic nuns run an orphanage for boys -- in the Mexican towns of Tijuana and Tecate. She also has been active in the Baltimore City Jail's Tutorial Project.
She says she takes her inspiration from a quote that she attributes to Pope Paul VI: "If you want peace, work for justice."
Erin Swezey, the coordinator for community service at Loyola, says the 22 graduates represent a broad cross-section of the student body. They range from quiet loners to jocks to brains to cheerleader types.
"I think their classmates will be very surprised at graduation to see this variety of students being honored," says Swezey.
However, she adds, the 22 students share certain traits.
"They're all very committed to the Jesuit idea of service for others, and most of them have a pretty solid and deep faith perspective," Swezey says.
Loyola's class of 1991 includes about 780 students. Most of them have degrees in liberal arts or business administration.