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College of Arts and Sciences

Catholic Studies Recognizes Teen Who Means Business About His Faith

 Ines A. Murzaku with Joseph Dachnowicz

Joseph Dachnowicz with Ines A. Murzaku.

When it comes to living out faith through compassion, Joseph Dachnowicz, means business—in more ways than one.

A high school junior, Dachnowicz, of Basking Ridge, is not content waiting around to be "old enough" to take on the responsibility of living the Gospel message. As he humbly shared in an essay he penned for the 2024 Seton Hall Department of Catholic Studies annual Catholic High School Essay Contest, Dachnowicz recognizes the importance of reaching out to the marginalized, giving them reasons for hope.

Each year, the Department of Catholic Studies sponsors an essay contest for New Jersey high school students, inviting teenagers from around the state to share their perspective and experiences related to a topic relevant to the Catholic experience today. This year’s entries, on the theme "Unity and the Margins" focused on responding to the Synod of Bishops' "question of whether there are limits to our willingness to welcome people and groups, how to engage in dialogue with cultures and religions without compromising our identity, and our determination to be the voice of those on the margins and reaffirm that no one should be left behind." The winning essay not only shows great insight but also gives readers a glimpse into a life that a local New Jersey high schooler is living, full of faith and hope.

"Dachnowicz’s essay stood out in its careful consideration of theological principles, Catholic Social Teaching, and meaningful personal experience," said Ines A. Murzaku, Ph.D., professor, Department of Religion, director, Catholic Studies Program, and founding chair, Department of Catholic Studies. "His essay makes him truly deserving of first place in the contest, but we were so fascinated by his essay that we wanted to share more about his lived experience of accompanying those on the margins. The part of his essay that intrigued us most was where he discussed the CURA Fund, which he established to help others."

Dachnowicz explained that this project had an unlikely beginning: through his acumen for business. He said, "It all began when I won an investment competition in the business club during my sophomore year. I decided to ask my father if I could open my own investment account. Quickly, I realized I had a bit of a knack for finance and reading into different companies. In a very short term, I amassed a significant increase and went to my father to boast, joking that he’d be better off letting me manage his savings."

"Though it was all in good fun," he went on to say, "talking with my father put everything in perspective. It dawned on me that there’s much more out there than a percentage increase on a stock portfolio. I want to see humanity in the world grow, and that starts with helping individuals be their own best self. What’s the sense in having faith, but not carrying out God's mission? That’s what really motivated me to create the CURA Fund."

"Cura" is a Latin word meaning "concern for others."

As Dachnowicz revealed in his winning essay, "The most recent recipient, a young widow raising a family on her own, cried, praising God, when she received the surprise check [from the CURA Fund]. We never know how much others need our help."

Dachnowicz is planning to promote a combination of business education and ethical action, as he explained: "In the future, I hope to expand the fund to broaden the number of people that I can help. I’d like to educate my peers on investing, and hopefully with a little convincing, my friends can grow their own individual portfolios within CURA, and then also donate to those on the margins. Above all, I want people to be the focus, and not just be a numerical donation. I know we all have room to grow and improve."

Murzaku expressed that the work that Dachnowicz is doing now is closely aligned with the emphases on interdisciplinary inquiry and ethical action that are both central to Catholic studies. "Both as a discipline and in our pedagogy and practice at Seton Hall, Catholic studies is based on pursuing and exploring the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, and how the Faith underpins meaningful action and advocacy. The work that Dachnowicz is doing now, as a teenager, is truly heartening, as he is very serious about using what he has learned not only to teach others but also to help them expand their view of service in Christ’s name."

A lifelong parishioner of St. James Church in Basking Ridge, Dachnowicz has had excellent models of living out the Catholic faith in his own family. He recognizes that his mother, father, and grandmother have been particularly influential in his life. "They’ve given me a blueprint for how to love and support my community," he asserted. "I’ve been very blessed with people to look up to all around me. They make it exceptionally easy to follow their paths, and I can’t wait to see where it eventually takes me."

While Dachnowicz and his family have been active parishioners at St. James as long as he can remember, his own involvement in parish ministries has particularly flourished during his high school years. Since his freshman year, he has been a member of "Becoming Our Lord’s Disciples," also called "BOLD Youth Ministry." In this ministry, he joins with other teens to discuss faith in practice and to grow spiritually. Youth coordinator Brian Flanagan has encouraged Dachnowicz to take on roles that have helped him gain new perspectives on his faith journey. Today, he is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, in which capacity he serves at Sunday Masses and as a visitor to the homebound. In fact, now that he has a driver’s license, he is looking forward to spending more time bringing the Holy Eucharist to the homebound this summer.

"We will be proud to publish Dachnowicz’s prizewinning essay in Volume 13 of Arcadia: A Student Journal for Faith and Culture this summer," Murzaku said. "His story and his reflection represent the best in putting Catholic teaching into action, and we are sure that his essay will encourage others to continue to follow Christ with a grateful heart."

Categories: Faith and Service