Faith-based social work is a Catholic and Christian fundamental discipline that has been lost in society for some time now due to secularization. However, the social work department at Franciscan University of Steubenville is aiming to create a program that allows students to hold their faith and become professionals in this field.
Ricardo Chaparro-Pacheco, who holds a doctorate in social work and is director of the social work department at Franciscan, said the dream hasn’t been easy. When Chaparro-Pacheco came onto campus in fall 2018, the department had already been going through difficult changes.
At the time, the previous director of social work had retired. Chaparro-Pacheco, a newcomer to the United States when this happened, said this led to an awkward first-year experience of teaching, mainly because other social work professors had left.
Chaparro-Pacheco said the department started to crumble on itself.
“I definitely felt like (I was) landing in the middle of a crisis, but there is a thing about a crisis that we in social work take advantage of … an opportunity to think about issues and how we move around,” Chaparro-Pacheco said.
At the start of his first semester, Chaparro-Pacheco was the only full-time professor in the social work department. As time went on, he had help from other professors who came to teach part-time, helping the department to stay afloat.
However, finding staff was difficult because social work has become a very secularized field in academia.
Chaparro-Pacheco said the search for professional and faithful Catholic professors to teach about the social work discipline in the light of the Catholic faith was difficult.
Chaparro-Pacheco said students began to express frustration over the shortage of staff, which the faculty heard. He said it is appropriate to react when there are problems and that the constructive criticism helped the department understand what steps needed to be taken.
This semester, the Rev. Luke Robertson, TOR, who holds a master’s degree in social work, stepped in to teach a few classes in the department. At first, Robertson was only an adjunct professor; however, he is now a full-time professor in the department.
“Between Fr. Luke and (me), we are devising plans and strategies to provide the program with growth and stability for the future,” Chapparo-Pacheco said.
The social work department has its sights set on empowering students with faith in their professions, Chaparro-Pacheco said.
Chaparro-Pacheco said, “We serve because of our faith, not in spite of our faith.”
Growing in faith and navigating the tough questions of social work is vital for Catholics to live out this mission to serve, he said.
Without a foundation in the faith within academic discipline, Chaparro-Pacheco said, “We’re going to be pulled away by the ideologies around those hard topics.”
Spaces for students to be empowered are also being made in the program, such as a student council of all the cohorts on campus. There is also a pinning ceremony for senior social work students who are going into field placement. The pin is an acknowledgment of the transition they’re about to make.
The social work department is doing all it can to make itself part of the campus’ culture, with academic lectures and a more significant social media presence, Chaparro-Pacheco said.
“There is a vision for the program… to look into the future,” Chaparro-Pacheco said. “I do feel that right now, we are stable. I want to acknowledge the willingness of the university and administration as well as the generosity of the students for the stability of the department.”