Trocaire College has named Robert Shearn as its new director of Mission, Ministry, and Service.
A native of Pennsylvania, Shearn has more than 25 years of experience as a campus minister and instructor of theology on four college campuses. Most recently, he was director of Campus Ministry at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, and he earned his master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
“The rich experiences that I have had on all of these campuses have only deepened my conviction of the profound goodness within young people today,” he said in a welcome letter to students. “Linking that goodness with the myriad talents and gifts our students possess constitute great promise for our college community and, indeed, for our world.”
This new position brings him and his wife of 26 years, Doris, closer to family in Pennsylvania and to their son, Nathan, who is a freshman at Syracuse University. His responsibilities at Trocaire include acting as the college’s mission officer, overseeing the Office of Service Learning, and providing both pastoral care and campus ministry programming to students.
Programming and Catholic Social Traditions
Trocaire’s status as a commuter campus provides a unique set of challenges in terms of programming, but Shearn is eager to make the most of the time students are on campus.
“It can be difficult because the center of our students’ lives is not the campus; it’s in their neighborhoods, their communities,” Shearn said. “They come here for a particular purpose: their classes, and then, typically, they leave for the day. I think the challenge is to find ways to engage them when they’re here.”
Shearn said he will focus on initiatives that spotlight the Catholic intellectual and social traditions and opportunities for open, inclusive discussions that invite students of all belief systems to the table.
“The word “catholic” means ‘universal’ in the sense that one is open to truth, beauty, goodness, and value, wherever they are found,” he said. “To be authentically ‘catholic,’ as an individual or an institution, is to be open to and actively seeking these virtues wherever they exist in our world.
“Catholicism, a rich religious tradition, is at the heart of Trocaire’s identity and mission. As an institution of higher education, we are both ‘Catholic’ (uppercase C) and a Mercy institution, drawing life and spirit from the charism, history, and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy.”
Discussion about Catholic intellectual and social traditions, including the Bible, which lives at the heart of both, is crucial, Shearn said—and the more perspectives and faith backgrounds talking, the better.
“The task that we all have when it comes to the scriptures is not to come away with some facile understanding but to struggle with and continue to struggle with these beautiful and profound texts,” Shearn said. “It’s not my job to convince anyone to believe what I believe. God puts people where God wants them for God’s own purpose. My job, as I see it, is to simply offer Gospel hospitality to all, to share, when appropriate, the riches of the Catholic faith, but ultimately, to help others live their convictions as authentically and deeply as possible.”
Catholic social thought—a tradition still very much alive and well with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment and the work of the Sisters of Mercy—goes back to 1891, when the industrial revolution was in full swing and Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical “On the Condition of Labor” addressing exploitation of workers.
“That marked the beginning of modern Catholic social teaching,” Shearn said. “From that time to the present, there’s a whole body of literature and documentation addressing social and political issues: human rights, war and peace, poverty, homelessness—you name it.”
One idea he hopes to implement is a “lunch and learn” program called “Toward the Common Good: An Exercise in Catholic Social Teaching” where lunch would be provided, and students, plus faculty and staff from a variety of departments and academic disciplines, would share their unique viewpoints on one or another social issue.
“We pick a topic, and over three sessions invite discussion on the topic from various perspectives,” Shearn said. “Ultimately, the group would look at the issue through the lens of Catholic social teaching. Additionally, the group would discern and choose an action, either direct service or an advocacy project, to complete the circle of study, reflection, and action—traditionally known as praxis.”
Year of Mercy
In addition, Shearn is eager to help the Trocaire community live out the “Year of Mercy” that Pope Francis recently declared, which is to begin Dec. 8.
Campus Ministry, using resources from Catholic Relief Services, will be offering a three-part program celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy: Live Mercy: In the Marketplace; Live Mercy: Feed the Hungry; and Live Mercy: In the Halls of Power.
“It dovetails beautifully with our Mercy mission here at Trocaire,” Shearn said.
The Year of Mercy events start with a Fair Trade Sale later this week.
With future programming, Shearn said he hopes to partner with outside groups in mutually beneficial ways.
“There is much that Trocaire has to offer our community in terms of faculty and staff expertise, volunteer and Service Learning initiatives, and above all, well-educated and trained students steeped in the values of mercy, compassion, and justice, hallmarks of a Catholic and Mercy education,” he said.
“It’s important that we continue our work of transforming lives while engaging our respective communities as change agents. We pride ourselves on transforming student lives at Trocaire, but it’s only so they can go forth and transform our world.”