Blessed Books: More Than Just Stories

    Rev. Bernard R. McIlhenny, S.J., H’98, dean of admissions emeritus at The University of Scranton, blesses the more than 5,000 children’s books donated this year through the Panuska College of Professional Studies annual “Blessing of the Books” initiative. The books, donated by University students, faculty and staff, are distributed through area organizations. In the past decade, the annual book collection has distributed more than 32,000 books to children in need.
    December 12, 2018
    By: Catherine Johnson ’20, student correspondent


    During the fall semester, first-year students in The University of Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS) have been collecting book donations from the University community. The more than 5,000 books collected were blessed Thursday, Dec. 6.

    Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of PCPS, who began the Blessing of the Books project at the University in 2007, hopes that her students have come to see the power behind the gift of books as they help fight illiteracy in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She also included the Blessing of the Books as a special service project for the first-year seminar she taught.

    As part of the project, students were assigned a building on campus. They placed pink and purple buckets in trafficked areas, made colorful posters, and collected the donated books as the buckets filled.

    Students also added thoughtful hand-written notes in the books they collected. Claire Carrera, a psychology major from North Bergen, New Jersey, explained that the notes were more than little formalities. “I try to connect with whoever will be reading the book,” she said. This means more than writing “I hope you enjoy” and signing her name. For example, on an illustrated Star Wars book, Carrera had written a note explaining how the Star Wars films were her parents favorites, and that the universe had been a very important part of her childhood. That personal touch, for Dean Pellegrino and her students, makes this more than just a service project.

    The idea of a Blessing of the Books came to Dean Pellegrino during her time working in Kansas City. She said on a drive she noticed a sign advertising “Free Suds.” When she found out that it was offering free soapsuds for laundry, she realized that if the poor don’t have money for laundry detergent, they certainly can’t buy books for children.

    Dean Pellagrino also recognized the effects of poverty are an important element of the project to introduce to the students.

    “It’s humbling,” Fiona McCaul, an occupational therapy major from Bellerose, New York, said, “it helps you see your own privilege and be really grateful.”

    As students in the class noted, children’s books act as weapons in the fight against illiteracy. In a paper for the class, Talia Green, a nursing major from Stroudsburg, noted, “the Blessing of the Books project helps to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty because it gives kids the opportunity to practice literacy, which is the path to freedom and democracy.”

    One student in particular took the project to a next level. “It’s as simple as a book,” Melissa Menagh said, “but it’s a gateway too.” Menagh, an exercise science major, proved that not only does the project act as a gateway to literacy, but as a bridge between communities when she reached to her hometown of Long-Valley, New Jersey, knowing that her community loved coming together for service work. The community has collected over 700 books.

    Catherine Johnson ’20, Scranton, is an English and philosophy double major and member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Scranton.
    Catherine Johnson ’20, Scranton, is an English and philosophy double major and member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Scranton.
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