Siena Names New Service Center Director

HNP Communications In the Headlines

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Russel Murray, OFM, has been appointed director of the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy at Siena College.

Russel began his work at Siena in July after leaving a full-time teaching position lecturing on systematic theology at Washington Theological Union. He takes over for Mathias Doyle, OFM, who, at 78, is moving on as the center’s director, but will continue to be involved.

Russel will work with a staff of three to increase visibility of the center and foster cooperation with other campus-based groups. Considered an expert in ecumenical dialogue, Russel looks forward to broadening the center’s interfaith work and continuing its justice and peace focus, especially on the issues of sustainability, immigration and environment.

He also looks forward to incorporating the center’s mission into the school’s new strategic plan, which emphasizes Siena’s Franciscan roots and reanimates the tradition of Francis. That plan will launch during Francis Week in October.

Partnering with the Community
The Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy is the campus hub for volunteering and service projects. It partners with more than 120 local service agencies, area schools and other non-profit organizations in the Capital Region.

For example, on Sept.18, more than 50 students cleaned up Middleburgh High School, devastated by flooding from last month’s Hurricane Irene. Russel, whose group worked both inside and outside on the grounds, said the school looked like “Bangladesh during the monsoon season.”

He added: “I was drawn to Siena College to work with young people and to make an impact in people’s lives. This is a vibrant, dynamic community. I look forward to collaborating with students, faculty and staff who are already doing great things on campus.”

Trained as a teacher and holding a doctorate in theology, Russel said he feels called to this position. “It suits my personality,” he said, and looks forward to teaching a course in Franciscan Service and Advocacy and Catholic Social Ethics. He would also like to develop courses on ecumenism and interfaith relations as vehicles for peace.

Goals for the Center
Russel said he has several initial goals for the center:

  • To expand the service programming throughout the campus and to further engage the students. The center has already made presentations to the resident hall directors and clubs about using the center as a resource for service projects. 
  • To broaden the service immersion program and increase the number of service trips and alternative spring breaks offered. It plans to take students on service trips to Jamaica and St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, and to the St. Francis House in Boston. Russel would also like to start a service project in a native village in western Alaska, where he has spent some time. 
  • To expand the center as a resource for service learning and for professors.

Russel earned his bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and his doctorate from St. Michael’s College in Toronto. After ordination in 1998, the New Jersey native was assigned to St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he ministered while preparing for his doctoral work. After earning his doctorate, he was assigned to WTU.

While in Washington, D.C., Russel said he had other “odd jobs,” including preaching at the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in Bethesda, Md., being the spiritual assistant for the Secular Franciscans, a chaplain for the Teams of Our Lady, a community for marital spirituality; and ministering at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. 

He enjoys the fraternal life at the college and finds the friar community in the context of a college affable. “I really feel at home here. It’s the life I was formed to live as a friar.”

Mathias will stay on as senior mentor and director of advocacy programming at the center, started more than 10 years ago by then Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM. “We will be building on the wonderful work the center has done,” Russel said. In addition to Mathias, the staff includes associate director Judy Dougherty, and Jim Synder, director of the Mentoring Program.

“I will grow into this position,” Russel said. “Though I was trained to teach graduate theology, so it’s out of my academic comfort zone, this role it fits my personality.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.