“Our mission has been to serve our community and improve the lives of its members,” said college President Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D., during a Mass celebrating the Feast of St. Augustine, preceding a blessing and ribbon-cutting for the new center. “Today, we grow our mission in an important way.”
The center, inspired by conversations between the Augustinian friars of Merrimack and the parish, will initially offer such services to the largely immigrant, bilingual parish neighborhood as financial literacy classes, college application tutorials and even a basketball night. It will be staffed by Alisha Reppucci, the college’s director of community outreach, and two graduate students, and will be the focal point for community service projects by Merrimack students and faculty.
“But we are not here to tell you what you need,” Hopey told Mass-goers on Aug. 30. “We are here to learn from you what this community needs, and then find ways to fulfill those needs.”
The Rev. Ray Dlugos, O.S.A., vice president for mission and student affairs at Merrimack, said the Hands to Help center “will connect the college’s resources to this community, and will create opportunities for Merrimack students to be part of something greater than themselves — to learn to love and to serve.”
The name “Hands to Help” comes from St. Augustine’s homily on the First Epistle of John: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear people’s sighs and sorrows. That is what love looks like.”
Rev. Carlos Urbina, O.S.A., pastor of St. Mary’s, and Rev. Dlugos joined Hopey and Reppucci in cutting the ribbon for the center, in the parish rectory, and greeted parishioners at a celebratory reception.
Merrimack College was opened in 1947 by Lawrence native Rev. Vincent McQuade, O.S.A., at the behest of Archbishop Richard Cushing, with a mission of preparing servicemen returning from World War II to the civilian workforce. The college now has approximately 3,000 undergraduates and more than 400 graduate students on a 220-acre campus in North Andover and Andover.