Character and Virtue Education at Saint Mary’s is not only about rigorous intellectual engagement. In the oft-cited words of Aristotle, “The aim of our studies is not just to know what virtue is, but to become good.”

When Nancy Erickson was hired as the assistant program director for Character and Virtue Education, she quickly began planning ways to invite the Saint Mary’s community to put character and virtue into action.

Challenges arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prompted opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to be of greater service to their local communities in Winona and the Twin Cities. Social isolation for senior citizens who live in nursing facilities, for example, has been exacerbated by the physical distancing protocols required to mitigate the spread of the virus. In response, Erickson launched Project Pen Pal.

In collaboration with the Office of Campus Ministry and the Benedictine Living Community (formally Saint Anne of Winona), Project Pen Pal connects students at Saint Mary’s with senior citizens to form friendships through the mail. “Old fashioned letters are cherished by our seniors,” said Esther Zimmerman, activities director at Benedictine Living Community. “Developing a new friendship, especially with someone of the younger generation, is a true gift.”

The approaching winter months prompted another project. “A clean, dry pair of socks is something that most of us take for granted. But for those in need during these wet, cold months, they are a small thing that makes a big difference,” said Erickson. Socks are the most requested item at homeless shelters across the state.

Drop boxes for those wishing to donate socks are available at the entrances of buildings on the Twin Cities Campus as well as the Character and Virtue Education office in Lasalle Hall between now and the start of the Thanksgiving recess. The socks will be donated to Catholic Charities and People Serving People in the Twin Cities.

Future service events sponsored by Character and Virtue Education include collaboration with the Sanneh Foundation to sort, pack, and deliver food to residents who are in need because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Established by professional soccer player and local philanthropist Tony Sanneh, the foundation seeks to “unite communities by advancing diversity, equity, and community well-being.”  The foundation has also supported students in the M.A. in English as a Second Language program at Saint Mary’s.

“Compassion is a moral virtue. Community awareness and service are civic virtues. To be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are in need is critical to our identity as a Lasallian Catholic university,” said Michael Hahn, Ph.D., program director of Character and Virtue Education.


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