By Diana McElfresh, ’18
Sending veterans on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, has been a 10-year mission of love for Dr. Paula Scraba, O.S.F.
An assistant professor of physical education at St. Bonaventure University, Scraba comes from a large military family and understands the challenges veterans can face after re-entering civilian life.
“My dad was a schoolteacher by trade and put all six of his children through college; he was in the Army National Guard. So in my family, we’re either schoolteachers or full-time military,” she said. “Supporting student veterans is very much a part of my DNA.”
That is why Scraba is a strong backer of the recently launched #BonaVetsToAssisi fundraising initiative. The goal is to raise $7,500 now through April 15, with a long-term aim of establishing an endowment to support a yearly pilgrimage for two new student veterans. Attendees will explore the history of the Franciscan intellectual tradition and engage in healing meditations and informative conferences that focus on wellness and connection.
Scraba said that helping student veterans develop a strong sense of self is important to her, as is providing support.
“War is very difficult. Going on a pilgrimage is an 'aha' moment — of rebuilding and accepting who you are after what you’ve seen,” she said. “There’s a greater need for student veterans to have that experience. The Veterans to Assisi program allows them to be at peace with themselves and be in solidarity with others.”
The small Italian town of Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order.
Scraba explained that student veterans and St. Francis of Assisi have much in common, as Francis too was a soldier. Before giving his life to God, Francis served as a knight, and was captured by a rival city and imprisoned for a year.
Scraba holds a master’s in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure (along with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and master’s and Ph.D. in special physical education from the University of Connecticut) and is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C.
Her Franciscan spirituality and military family roots are what drive her interest in serving student veterans. Ten years ago, she established a scholarship that allows for one veteran per year to make the trip. This year, St. Bonaventure intends to send five student veterans abroad.
The pilgrimage includes student veterans from Franciscan colleges all over the country.
Frank Morales, a retired Army master sergeant and director of Bona’s Veterans Services Program, believes the Veterans to Assisi Program is vital in helping student veterans transition from soldier to student.
“Not every veteran is given the opportunity to fully deal with the complexities of combat,” he said. “Partnering veterans on this trip who have similar experiences will allow them to overcome the stigma that may have prevented them from receiving the buddy aid they might need.”
For Scraba, helping student veterans experience a pilgrimage feels natural.
“These veterans have already given to their country and this is our way of giving back,” Scraba said.
People interested in supporting the #BonaVetsToAssisi initiative can learn more and make a donation at http://www.sbu.edu/BonaVetsToAssisi.
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