Bethany Welch ’00 – Working for Renewal in Inner-City Philadelphia

AeN_April2013_2N. Chili, NY is a long way from inner-city Philadelphia.  Even though the path to her current role as Founding Director of the Aquinas Center wasn’t exactly a straight line trajectory, the experiences along the way have helped Bethany Welch ’00 (Communication/Art-Graphic Design) become the leader she is today.

As a Roberts student, Bethany was interested in many areas of learning.  Dr. Mrs. Elvera Berry encouraged her to broaden her educational scope from art (her original major) to include communication as well.  That seemingly small transition and addition was the beginning of an educational life and career that has continued to encompass a variety of skills and experiences.

In addition to Dr. Berry, there were other faculty who made a significant impact on her.  In Bethany’s words, “Professor Loren Baker had a way of transforming the most basic material things of this earth into sacred objects.  He was one of the first people I met who lived what he believed in a simple and authentic way.” 

As SA President, Bethany had the privilege of one-on-one access to President Martin.  It was during these conversations that he challenged her to consider graduate school.  Bethany hadn’t really been thinking about that option, but his encouragement led to a master’s degree at the University of Rochester and a doctorate in urban affairs and public policy at the University of Delaware (for which she received the award for best dissertation that year). 

Her work within Student Association, and friends like Shaun Jackson ’98, nurtured a lifelong calling to lead.  The night before graduation, sitting with her roommate, Jessie Spressart ’00, and her closest friends, Bethany knew she was ready to take on the world.

These experiences built a strong foundation for leadership.  This past year, Bethany started the Aquinas Center as a place where people from the neighborhood can go to take English classes and participate in prayer groups, while college and high school students from outside the area can stay overnight and learn about the mostly immigrant community.  Neighbors and guests work together to create a space that fosters mutual support and shared understanding through hospitality, education, and service. 

Because of her frequent contributions to an online journal about faith and society, Bethany was recently featured as a panelist on the Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY talking about Pope Benedict and the papal transition.  Click here to listen to the full interview.  In addition, she was published in Community Development, writing an article entitled, A Dual Nature:  The Archdiocesan Community Development Corporation.  The article can be found online by clicking here

Bethany lives in Philadelphia, PA and is a parishioner and parish council member at Old St. Joseph’s Church, the Jesuit parish for the city of Philadelphia.  She also belongs to a small faith community that meets house-to-house during the month; the members of which have become her local family.  Bethany is a current member of the board of trustees for PA Virtual Charter School.