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Villanova University Social Justice Documentary Focuses on Philadelphia School’s Efforts To Create Safe Haven, Acclimate and Educate Students from 43 Countries

“Room for Peace” Demonstrates How Diverse Student Body Can Lead in Peacebuilding

Villanova University Social Justice Documentary Focuses on Philadelphia School’s Efforts To Create Safe Haven, Acclimate and Educate Students from 43 Countries

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The global migrant crisis for most, is a heart wrenching, distant, insoluble dilemma. But, for many of the 500 students at Southwest Philadelphia’s St. Francis de Sales School who hail from 43 countries and speak a combined total of 15 languages, it is their lived experience, a harrowing journey that ended happily at this refuge on the corner of 47th and Springfield. The story of their transformation from refugees fleeing war torn countries, poverty and famine to newly minted Philadelphians adjusting both to a new culture and a diversity of cultures within the school, is the focus of “Room for Peace,” a film produced by students from a Villanova University social justice documentary class.

The film takes its title from St. Francis de Sales School’s tradition of inviting students in conflict to meet together in a “Peace Room” to calmly discuss and resolve their problems on their own. In the process they learn to respect each other’s differences and discover commonalities.

“The school has developed a unique philosophy of learning – educating the students as whole persons and defining success beyond mere academic standards. The school also serves as a safe haven for many students, and is a center for peace and growth.” said Nick Carney, student director of the film.

“Room for Peace” follows the devoted efforts of Principal Sister Mary McNulty, Assistant Principal Sister Jane McFadden and their faculty to nurture the students’ spiritual and academic growth while instilling peacemaking skills.

“We’re shaping the future. Hopefully, with this generation and the kids coming through St. Francis de Sales we’ll have a better world,” Sister McNulty said. “We’ll have people in leadership positions that will know how to make peace, and people in leadership positions who know how to welcome people from all walks of life.”

One of the last Catholic schools located in Southwest Philadelphia, St. Francis de Sales has produced 10 Gates Millennium scholars.

Villanova’s “Room for Peace” documentary, created by 13 undergraduate students under the direction of department of communication faculty Steve McWilliams, John O’Leary and Matt Marencik, demands a personal commitment by the filmmakers that doesn’t end when the film does. Villanovans tutor St. Francis de Sales students. McWilliams and Marencik teach a film class for 8th graders at the school.

McWilliams says Villanova’s social justice documentary course is advocacy filmmaking that tells the stories of the disempowered, overlooked, and marginalized.

“We take seriously the responsibility to respect and honor all of the participants. Once the film becomes public, we jointly go on a journey to spread the hope which is a core message in the film,” McWilliams said.  He believes his students are deeply affected by the process.

"Room for Peace," is a message of hope for those of us that think people from different nations and backgrounds can work together to make a better world.  I believe that when people watch this movie about a little school in West Philadelphia, they will see it as a beacon of light in a world that is too often cast into darkness,” said O’Leary.

The first screening of “Room for Peace will be held at 3:30 p.m., Sunday April 3 at the Connelly Center Cinema on Villanova’s main campus. The event is free and open to the public. To view the film’s trailer click here.

Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit