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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

September 23, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 116




Tom Fox Jim Andrews Scholars combine service and learning experiences

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

I spoke last week at Notre Dame University before a group of some 85 Jim Andrews Scholars, students who had spent their summer working in various inner-city service programs. (Follow this link to read the text of the talk: Andrews Scholars Address.)

Since 1980, some 3,000 students have completed eight-week summer service internships in over 300 cities and 20 countries through Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns. Close to half of these students have been Jim Andrews Scholars. Jim was a Catholic editor and writer with Ave Maria Press and later served as the National Catholic Reporter's managing editor. He was the author of many articles and several books. Years later, he and John McMeel, a Notre Dame graduate, formed Universal Press Syndicate, located in Kansas City, Mo.

In the late 1970s, with students serving as catalysts, Notre Dame merged a number of programs into one coordinated center headquartered across from the Theodore Hesburgh Library. The Center for Social Concerns, which grew under the leadership of Holy Cross Fr. Don McNeill, founding director, is now headed by Holy Cross Fr. William Lies, executive director. It states that, last year alone, approximately 3,300 students in more than 40 student organizations were sponsored through the Center, which provided some 21,000 hours of work each month in the South Bend area.

I met Andrews in 1968, when I was 24 and he was 31. Only three months before, he had left Ave Maria, a Catholic weekly magazine published at Notre Dame, to come to NCR. His lust for life had much to do with the hopes and dreams that are part of being a young father. He was obviously proud of his wife, Kathy, and their two sons, Hugh, 2, and Jim, 2 months old at the time.

One June evening Jim and Kathy invited me into their newly rented home, where I spoke for hours about Vietnam, from which I had just returned as a civilian volunteer. They and the rest of the NCR staff huddled with me in their small living room. Jim asked if I had thought about a career in journalism and suggested I give it some more thought.

Jim died in 1980 at age 44. Following his death, his family, friends and colleagues confronted a huge vacuum. They had shared Jim's ideals and his energy and knew they needed something to commemorate his life and to help fill the new void.

Dick Conklin, the former associate vice president for university relations at Notre Dame, recalled the early seeds of the Andrews Scholarship program being sown the day of Jim's funeral. He told of John McMeel drawing him aside. "Kathy and I want to establish a memorial to Jim at Notre Dame," Conklin remembered McMeel saying. "We want a memorial that is unique and speaks to the life of the person it remembers."

Only a few months earlier, the Center for Experiential Learning (now the Center for Social Concerns) at Notre Dame had established a summer service project working with local alumni clubs. The aim was to provide students with service experiences during summer months. But many students who wanted to offer a summer of service could not afford to.

An endowment and summer work scholarships in the name of Jim Andrews were the logical answer. Kathy, John McMeel and his wife, Susan -- the Andrews and McMeel couples had been a unit for years -- soon began approaching friends and business associates for contributions.

The Andrews Scholars receive tuition stipends for their work. Local alums are involved in choosing social service sites and providing support for the student volunteers.

The result has been some adventurous faith-based learning and many hours of inner-city service.

Addressing the Andrews Scholars one evening last week, I could not help but remember how my own journey was shaped by a summer of volunteer work in Hong Kong following my freshman year at Stanford University. I worked at a TB sanatorium laying a cement road and taught young Chinese refugee children basic English.

That experience led me to volunteer to return to Asia after my graduation. I joined a nonprofit organization called International Voluntary Services, spending two years working with war refugees in Vietnam. That experience, in turn, led me into journalism. I wrote about what I saw happening in Vietnam and soon had a job with The New York Times and Time magazine in Saigon.

Eventually I married a Vietnamese social worker. My career and family life can all be dated back to my Hong Kong summer.

"Life," I told the Andrews Scholars, "is a mystery. However, it is easier to unravel it a bit looking back." We are all called and are all given opportunities to respond. It was uplifting to be with a group of young collegians who were doing just that.

Tom Fox can be reached at

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