SM Friends Program at St. Mary’s encourages partnership

Faith and Service
May 08, 2023

A Marianist mentorship

by Nathaniel Miller

Brother Dan Stupka, S.M., and St. Mary’s University freshman Arely Reyes joke that the age difference in their friendship is more than just a generation gap — it’s a generation chasm.

Age has not stopped the 19-year-old Reyes and the 92-year-old Stupka from forming a bond that includes breakfasts starting promptly at 7:35 a.m.

Arely Reyes chats with Brother Dan Stupka at the Marianst Residence on the St. Mary's University campus.
Arely Reyes chats with Brother Dan Stupka at the Marianst Residence on the St. Mary’s University campus.

Reyes, a Marketing major and a member of the Marianist Leadership Program — a faith-based program that cultivates and nurtures community — met Stupka through the SM Friends Program, which enables students to pair with a Marianist brother as part of their community service requirement.

In their first meeting, Stupka and Reyes realized they shared a common passion: music. Stupka has been a student of music since his youth, even studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, while Reyes played French horn in her high school band in Texas City.

“The conversation went smoothly, and it was nice,” Reyes said.

Kristy Heerdegen joined the SM Friends program as a freshman in Fall 2020. Paired with Brother Harry Cornell III, S.M., Heerdegen said Cornell — then a math teacher at Central Catholic High School — originally thought she was there for math tutoring.

The two became fast friends, with Heerdegen saying she would continue to see Cornell and the other Marianists long after she had met her required 15 hours of community service.

“I hate thinking of going to see them as just service hours,” said Heerdegen, now a senior Math major who is also earning a teaching certificate. “The brothers became my close friends. I just loved going to see them.”

The full version of this story originally appeared in ALIVE magazine.

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