In Honor of Dorothy Day: “Mercy Experiences” Instead of “Service Hours/Projects”

Dorothy Day, 1934, By New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection (New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If Dorothy Day stood for anything, it was the centrality of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the life of Catholics. She once said that everything a baptized person does should be, directly or indirectly, related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Unlike some who reduce Christianity to a philosophy, Dorothy Day knew that Christianity was an embodied set of practices: things that we DO for others. In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Robert Barron tells us that the works of mercy “compel a self-regarding ego outward in the direction of mission and connection, and, as such, they constitute a distinctively Christian social theory, radically out of step with modern social arrangements.” (152)

This is precisely why we incorporate service components in our catechetical programs. To promote the cause for Dorothy Day’s canonization, I propose that we stop referring to these components as “service hours” or “service projects,” but rather call them “mercy experiences.” Public schools require service hours as a way of developing good citizens and instilling an upright ethical attitude. Catholics engage in service as a way of extending God’s mercy to others, sharing one another’s burdens, and “moving in sync with the deepest rhythms of creation.” (Barron, 153) As such, they are not service projects or service hours, but experiences of God’s enduring mercy.

“Mercy experiences” instead of “service hours”—what are your thoughts?

Image of Dorothy Day by New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection (New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I so agree with what you say. Public Schools require service hours but we should focus our requirements on living our lives as followers of Jesus, on being his hands and feet in the world. I wish our program would focus more on this and less on the other.

  2. You have my vote. I’ve been giving kids a journal based on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for years. And no requirement for specific hours. We expect to see evidence of trying to practice the works of mercy through the whole confirmation prep time.

    • Cathy, I absolutely love this ideas! I also read something on a daily/weekly Mass journal so the children develop a better understanding of the readings and how Jesus is trying to work in our own lives.
      thank you for sharing,

    • I like the idea of a works of mercy journal. Our Confirmation program is currently in development and one of the things I wanted to get away from was a timed (hrs) requirement, but rather experiences to allow youth to find where they can best share their God given gifts. We call ours Stewardship Experience since we are called to be good stewards of the gifts we are given. And while I would probably still call it this, the idea of a Works of Mercy journal will fall in nicely with this, and I am going to add it to our program next year. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. I like the idea of focusing on mercy! I think I wlll do that, but will use the term “works of mercy” as it’s more clear that it is service and not just a personal experience of mercy. And it’s such a great Catholic term to further foster Catholic identity!

  4. We have already been calling them “Service Experiences” for quite some time now…I think “mercy experiences” is even better!

  5. What a great insight as we start both our liturgical new year and our calendar “New Year” –restructuring our thinking about extending ourselves to others in thoughts, words, and deeds. Our mission is to act as a conduit for God’s mercy through the blessings we already have, rather than having service be an ego-fulfilling personal mission. “Mercy Experience” is the right term, understanding we are blessed to be experiencing God’s mercy as much as the other person is through the activity.

  6. Good thinking! semantics matters.
    The kids should be very familiar with the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy in order to be hands and feet of Christ in the 21st century. (and I love the little flower St. Theres’ do little things with great LOVE)
    there is an org. called works of mercy in our area and the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy are carried out. we also instituted through works of mercy the Good neighbor project through it we get a list of kids in need from various schools and match them with parishners that are getting rid of gently used items to match the kids needs.( 3 times a year fall, winter, and spring, and on as needed basis) the clothes the food that is the easy stuff (corporal works) the despair the loneliness, feeling of belonging for the kids (spiritual needs) well that’s the more challenging. so let us call these acts of love toward our neighbor – what they are __acts of mercy___ what is mercy___love and in order to love we need to show forgivesness and feel forgiven through grace of God’s Mercy.

  7. As with Cathy from her Dec. 8th reply, I too have been doing a journal with my classes for many years. And we give them ideas of what they can do. We ask them to continue the journal throughout the year, even after Religious Education is over for them!
    I have been delighted at some students progress. We try to instill in them that what we do to halp others is never a regret, ut a blessing. Thak you

  8. Our diocese has abolished service hours in favor of simply teaching and encouraging confirmands to give of their time and talents. I like calling it mercy experiences or Works of Mercy experiences, and I agree with Joe that it should begin long before Confirmation. But I would like to know more about the mercy experiences journal idea and also the Mass journal. They both sound like good ideas. Could someone post some specific suggestions of how to get started with these journals? Thanks!

  9. I think this is a wonderful way to show the students the Catholic side of community service. We have been wondering how to impress upon the students that we don’t just do “community service” because it is required for school and I think redirecting it as experiences of mercy is bringing the recognition of what the students are doing to the level of becoming holy. More importantly, it helps them to see the other as one who is also holy – the face of God.

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