June 14, 1989. The events of the day created a watershed event in Xavier history. Six Jesuit priests were murdered in El Salvador, immediately creating a link between the University and peace efforts in Central America, and indirectly creating one of Xavier’s most popular programs—the Nicaraguan service learning semester.
Professor of Spanish Irene Hodgson went to El Salvador and Nicaragua that next year to see the countries for herself, returning in 1992 with professor of communication arts Bill Daily. Both were struck by the level of poverty. She remembers Daily sitting in the back of a pickup truck saying, “We’ve got to get kids down here.”
By 1995, the first group of eight students went to Managua, where they moved in with families, studied the language and local history, and worked in community service agencies. A total of 90 students have been there in the nine years since. With the 10th group ready to go this spring, a reunion was held at Homecoming. A survey of the program’s alumni found a majority feel it was a life-changing experience that significantly affected their overall education.
“We confirmed what we already knew: That it not only made a difference in their lives at the time, but it has continued,” Hodgson says. “Part of it is the energy and the hope you get from the people who are in miserable circumstances.”