A tutor works with a Catholic East Elementary student during the 2022-23 school year. About 60 tutors organized by members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps Milwaukee worked with children at six Milwaukee schools that are part of Seton Catholic Schools. (Submitted photo)

When Monica Meagher thinks about the expanding Seton Catholic Schools tutoring program managed by members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, she recalls the biblical story of the tiny mustard seed that grew into a huge plant.

That’s because a tutoring effort that began with one IVC member and a handful of students at St. Catherine School in Milwaukee in 2016-17 will serve about 300 children attending seven Seton schools this fall.

“It just turned into a huge thing,” said Meagher, Director of the IVC’s Milwaukee office. “It’s remarkable.”

This fall, IVC member Kathleen Mantz will oversee seven of her fellow IVC members serving as school tutor coordinators at St. Rafael the Archangel, St. Catherine, Northwest Catholic, Catholic East Elementary, St. Margaret Mary, Prince of Peace and Our Lady Queen of Peace.

Those local coordinators, in turn, are organizing more than 60 rank-and-file “civilians” from parishes to tutor. Tutors, who need not join the IVC, receive training, an orientation at their school and ongoing support.

“We’ve had really awesome feedback from Seton on the program,” Mantz said.

It’s become a large mustard tree, indeed — with schools continuing to be added each year.

“We are so fortunate to have the IVC tutor coordinators working to train and organize tutors in seven of our schools this coming school year. It’s been phenomenal to be able to increase the number of children who receive extra help and attention every year,” said Courtney Albright, Senior Director of Curriculum and Instructional Effectiveness for Seton Catholic Schools.

“These tutors are part of the team that is helping children read better, and this achievement is reflected in our rising test scores,” she said. “As an added benefit, the connections that grow between tutors and students develop into a beautiful mentor relationship that is invaluable to our students.”

The tutors’ priorities are to develop a strong one-on-one relationship with each Grade K5-3 child being tutored, build a love of reading and to help students build reading skills in progressive steps known as scaffolding, Albright said.

Like their fellow IVC members and Seton Catholic Schools, the tutor coordinators take a strong interest in social justice.

IVC was founded in 1995 by two Jesuits in East Coast cities and now has about 500 members in about 20 cities around the country. “We want to abolish poverty,” Meagher said.

People who join — most aged 50-plus — go through a discernment process, and the corps finds a community service site — usually a faith-based organization also working to abolish urban poverty and injustice — that matches the interests and aptitude of the member.

“It’s melding spirituality and social justice,” said Meagher, who helped start the Milwaukee chapter of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in 2016 after three years of planning.

In Milwaukee, about 30 corps members serve one to two days a week for 10 months at one of about 12 sites. These include or have included Catholic Charities, Milwaukee Justice Center, MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary, Bahkita Catholic Worker House and many other entities. The members also meet at least monthly for a book discussion, prayer or other Ignatian spiritual formation.

Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the experiences of the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish aristocrat whose conversion to a fervent Christian faith began while he was recovering from war wounds in the 1500s. Ignatian spirituality places great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life, a deep commitment to social justice, collaboration and a radical giving of oneself to others.

Peggy Hauser of Elm Grove became familiar with the corps after volunteering to tutor at St. Catherine in 2021.

“I was drawn to the opportunity to meet a group of like-minded retirees that (was) interested in providing service,” said Peggy Hauser, a member of St. Sebastian, Milwaukee. “In addition, I was attracted to the opportunity to deepen my spiritual faith during the monthly meetings.”

She joined the corps in 2022 and then became the corps tutor coordinator at Northwest Catholic School for the 2022-23 school year.

“I enjoy spending time with the children and want the program to continue to reach as many students as possible, so I am happy to coordinate,” she said.

Mantz, the overall tutoring coordinator, was retiring from a job in corporate marketing when she found out about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and joined in 2017. Finding out about all the service organizations that partner with IVC and experiencing faith-based discussions has been eye opening, she said.

“That has felt like such a blessing and an expansion,” she said. “For me, it’s just been a really, really strong fit. It’s just awesome.”

Mary Beth Leahy, a member of Christ King Parish who resides in Wauwatosa, joined the corps in 2018.

“I was drawn to IVC partly because of the discernment and spiritual reflection components.  I have volunteered with various organizations in the past, and the reflection with IVC adds to the meaning and purpose of serving,” Leahy said.

She was matched with other community organizations for several years before taking on a tutor coordinator role at St. Raphael in fall 2020 during the pandemic, when tutoring took place online.

“I am involved with tutoring because there is a need, it’s an enriching experience where we are all learning, and it brings joy to both the students and tutors,” Leahy said. “There is a range of reading abilities and the tutors have come up with some wonderful, creative ways to adapt to the needs of the students they meet with.”

To find out more about becoming a tutor (corps membership not required), visit https://tinyurl.com/setontutor or contact Kathleen Mantz at kathleenmantz@gmail.com or 414-732-5755. Tutors see children for about 20 minutes each for about two hours per week.

To find out more about the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, visit https://ivcusa.org/ivc-offices/welcome-to-ivc-milwaukee or contact Monica Meagher, Director, at mmeagher@ivcusa.org or 414-964-2728.