By: Contributor Alycia Monaco ’18
When Brianna Howard and John Paul Weiss ran for president and vice-president of the Student Government Association at The Catholic University of America they went all-in. Fliers in a red, white, and blue scheme with bold letters that said “Howard/Weiss” appeared on social media and were handed out in the Student Center. On the flier, the CUA Shield replaced the letter ‘O’ in Howard’s last name and the fliers bore the slogan “The Better Way For CUA.” They handed out campaign buttons and took to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat to reach potential supporters. On Election Day, April 5th 2017, the student body voted. By 10 PM, the results were in. Brianna Howard would become the next Student Government President at Catholic University. John Paul Weiss would become the vice-president, Samuel Galvin would become Treasurer, and Victoria Principato would become Secretary.
One of the fundamental elements of the Howard/Weiss Campaign was a commitment to Catholic traditions at the national university of the Catholic Church. After Howard, Weiss, Galvin and Principato were sworn into office on May 1st, 2017, applications became active on the Nest, Catholic University’s website for student involvement and events, to fill positions in the new student government. One of those applications was for what would become The Catholic Values Task Force.
The Student Government at Catholic University is comprised of three tiers: the Treasury Board, Senate, and Executive. The Treasury Board is responsible for allocating funds from the student activity fee to student organizations. The Senate is responsible for passing legislation and passing it along to the administration on behalf of the student body. The task forces are the programming part of the student government and include the Diversity Task Force, Green Task Force, and Catholic Values Task Force.
“The point of the Catholic Values Task Force was to have a programming force and a legislative force putting us back in touch with our Catholic roots. So the focus of the task force is fifty percent programming and fifty percent researching legislation that the senators can then pass,” said Owen Salyers, the Executive Director of the Task Forces for the Student Government Association.
The Catholic Values Task Force is the first of its kind at The Catholic University of America. The task force includes four members from different backgrounds, majors, and ages. It is led by junior history major Joe Basalla, and is overseen by junior civil engineering major Owen Salyers.
This past semester the Catholic Values Task Force has handed out information in the Pryzbyla Center, the student center on campus. On All Saints Day they handed out prayer cards. Another day, the task force and members of the religious orders near campus were stationed in the student center to hand out vocational information about the discernment process. During the week of November 26th, the task force held a week of events after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a week of awareness for persecuted Christians. The events over the course of that week ranged from the screening of a documentary to a candlelit rosary, according to Salyers. There are still more events ahead.
“We are having a birthday party for Pope Francis, a nice kind of fun thing at the end of the semester, but still celebrating our Catholic identity in doing so. We look to celebrate the Catholic identity of our university,” said Basalla, the team lead for the Catholic Values Task Force.
The birthday party took place on December 7th and included cake, snacks, trivia, and more. Salyers prepared a birthday card that students signed. It was printed on 24×36 inch paper, giving students plenty of room to leave their messages to the Holy Father. This card was given to the Apostolic Nuncio, the ambassador from the Vatican to the United States, and will be passed on to Pope Francis.
At the time the Catholic Values Task Force was created, it seemed like a political move to some. The task force aims to follow the traditions of the Church.
“I think that one thing that some people kind of think is that when President Howard started the Catholic Values Task Force, it was a political move,” Basalla said. “But I really think that after talking with her, I think that she wants to see faith integrated into the student government, see the University’s mission integrated, and that it can’t be separated from the faith.”
Basalla said the task force holds weekly meetings where the group discusses what events and issues that they would like to talk about. He says that they leave their own political beliefs out of it.
“What is really consistent among all members is that they are all really devout Catholics. They can put aside their political beliefs and say my party may say one thing but they go with what the Church says,” Basalla said.
Howard said that the inclusion of a Catholic Values Task Force was necessary to “our mission as student leaders.” Each president has the ability to choose their own task forces and there is no guarantee that this task force will be a part of the student government again.
“I’m really proud of all their accomplishments so far this semester as they are a newly established task force comprised of only four members,” Howard said. “And I look forward to the work they continue to do over the course of the year.”