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Rachel Blonski is very excited to be working as a mentor again this year! In June 2004, she participated in Peacebuilders Initiative and during the service portion of the program she worked at Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly. She continued working with them after the week at CTU and used them as inspiration for her service project. Since her time at Peacebuilders, Rachel has remained very involved with the group as well as using her experiences to help others. She is currently planning her wedding to a former Peacebuilder in July 2014. Rachel graduated from Trinity High School in 2005, where she then went on to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She graduated in 2009 with a B.S. in Biochemistry. Currently, Rachel has returned to her alma mater, Trinity, teaching chemistry, and is attending graduate classes for her M.A. in teaching at Dominican University. She loves the classroom environment and enjoys bringing peace and justice to light in her science classes. Other than going to school and planning a wedding, Rachel can be found attending Cubs and Illini games, and spending as much time as she can with her family and friends.
Jaime Briceno is a M.A. Theology student at Catholic Theological Union, and a B.A. graduate from Conception Seminary College. Through his college years he was part of the Abbey Guest Center program, offering high school retreats. He looks forward to working with the Peacebuilders Initiative because he has always been passionate about working with youth groups and programs, as the potential for change in the church and the world always find its foundation in its younger generations. Jaime and his family are originally from Costa Rica. Jaime is married to his wonderful wife Kattia, has a 3 year-old daughter, Kristell, and they are expecting another baby girl, which they will name Sophia.
Andrew Cirillo is a second year Master of Arts (Theology – Systematics) and Master of Divinity student at Catholic Theological Union. A native of Central New York, he was born and raised in Utica, attended New York Mills Jr./Sr. High School, and subsequently the University of Rochester. He graduated with a major in Religion and with minors in Classical Civilization (Classics) and International Relations. At the University of Rochester, Andrew served as sacristan, lector, and altar server to the Catholic Newman Community, while also working in the office with the Chaplain and Campus Minister. Additionally, he spent time studying abroad in Madrid, interning with The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.
While at CTU, Andrew has been involved in several different activities and student groups. These include everything from being the Chairperson of the Student Representative Council to assisting with the Liturgy Committee. Additionally, he is working as an intern in the Information Technology Department and the Events and Student Services office.
Apart from his academic and ministerial studies and activities, Andrew loves spending time with his beautiful girlfriend, Kaitlin, as well as his adorable cat, Pinkie! He enjoys such leisurely activities as traveling, running, bicycling, working out, and playing soccer!
Andrew is extremely excited to be a Peacebuilders’ Mentor again this year, and hopes that he can exude his passion and love for God to all the wonderful student participants and eventual Peacebuilders!
Mike Fedoruk is a graduate of Lewis University in beautiful Romeoville, IL. He was part of the 2010 Lewis baseball team that made the GLVC conference tournament for the first time since 2001. Upon graduation he joined the Lasallian Volunteer Program and spent two radically formative years living with the Christian Brothers and working at La Salle Academy in North Philadelphia. Mike is currently pursuing a degree in Justice Ministry at CTU and ministering to the young people of Chicago through Physical Education at UCAN Academy in the Humbodlt Park neighborhood. He is looking forward to working with these talented high school students involved in Peacebuilders while exploring Christ's presence in our city.
Melissa Link is a theology teacher at Trinity High School in River Forest, IL. She is a 2008 graduate of Catholic Theological Union and a former Bernardin Scholar. Recently, Melissa lived abroad in Amman, Jordan where she taught International Baccalaureate English at The Ahliyyah School for Girls for four years.
Before moving abroad, she taught theology and served as a campus minister at other Chicago based Catholic high schools. Melissa is also a former Peacebuilders partner, and she is serving the program as a mentor for the second time. Melissa and her husband currently live on the south side of Chicago.
Katie Neu is very excited to be a three time mentor with Peacebuilders! She actually went through the program herself, in 2005. She is one of the first Peacebuilders alumni to return to the program as a mentor. Her peace project was called Homelessness Awareness Weeks, a four week program that she facilitated at her parish, St. Barnabas, on the south side of Chicago. In 2007 she graduated from Marist High School and then attended Quincy University where she earned her B.A. in Theology and Philosophy in 2011. After graduating from the Catholic Theological Union in 2013 with her Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, Katie was the Campus Minister at Mt. Assisi Academy.
Katie says that it was her powerful experience with Peacebuilders that set her on the path she is on today. “Peacebuilders has given me so much and I am thankful for the opportunity to finally give back!” Katie likes to carve out a moment or two for her favorite activities, which include making creative art projects out of recycled things, reading any book she can get her hands on, and learning how to cook. She is looking forward to working with Peacebuilders again and is ready to go on this incredible journey with you!
Kevin O'Connell is excited to be a part of Peacebuilders this year. As a newbie, he knows he has a lot to learn yet he is hoping he also has just as much to give. His two great passions are the Lord and youth. Combining them both is what really ignites him.
For the past 12 years he has had the honor of being the Youth Minister at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Arlington Heights. Ministering with and to the high school and jr. high teens has been truly an awe inspiring experience. Proud alumnus of Franciscan University of Steubenville and spending a couple of years with the incredible N.E.T. Ministries (National Evangelization Teams) rounds off his official ministry experience yet. He has been blessed to be a part of so many different opportunities both locally and internationally.
Erdman Pandero is a Diocesan Priest from the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. He was born on July 13, 1978 and was ordained in August 8, 2011, at the age of 33. He comes from an Interreligious family. His father is a devout Muslim and his mother is a devout Catholic. He has two wonderful sisters presently working in the Philippines as a Public Health Nurse and a Public Special Education Teacher. He has six nephews and one niece.
His first and only assignment since his ordination to the priesthood was to work closely with his bishop as his secretary. He worked closely with him mostly on matters pertaining to the programs and direction of the different ministries of the Archdiocese. It was his bishop who introduced him to the Interreligious and Interfaith groups and gatherings. He wanted him to be active in the dialogues of peace and programs of reconciliation in the wounded and war torn southern Philippines. Last August 2013, his bishop sent him to the Catholic Theological Union for the Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry Program concentrating on Cross-Cultural Ministry.
When he heard about the Peacebuilders Initiative Program of CTU, he became very interested in the program. He wants to see and experience how the program goes and how the young minds interact in this program for peace. He also wants to share his own experience of growing up with the Muslim and Christian faith present in his family, with the young people. This year will be his first year as part of the mentoring group for this program. He is also excited to journeying with his fellow mentors and the youth participants.
Nereida Pereda has been working at Regina Dominican High School teaching Theology for the past eight years. She has been involved in Youth Ministry for over fifteen years. Nereida serves as a Core Group Member of Teen Service Week, a non-profit organization that has been working with youth in the Chicago-land area for over 25 years. She graduated with a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Catholic Theological Union in May of 2010. She is excited to be returning to Peacebuilders as a Mentor. She is looking forward to the many experiences that Peacebuilders has to offer.
Abbey Schumacher is currently pursuing her M.A. in Systematic Theology with a minor in Ethics at Catholic Theological Union. She is also an alumna of DePaul University, where she received her B.A. in International Studies and Spanish with a minor in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies in 2010. Before coming to CTU, Abbey completed one year of volunteer service with the Sisters of Loretto in her hometown of St. Louis, MO. She also spent two years working as the food pantry coordinator at Rosie's Place, a sanctuary for poor and homeless women in Boston, MA. Abbey has ministerial experience with both high school students and her own peers in a variety of contexts, including retreats, community service, cultural immersion, social action, and small group reflection. She has a deep personal interest and commitment to the Catholic peacemaking tradition and believes strongly in the power of creative nonviolence for building a more peaceful and sustainable world. As a Peacebuilders Mentor, Abbey hopes to encourage the integration of faith and justice in the lives of young people, challenging them to see and love God through the reality and relationships that surround them and offering them a sense of belonging that reaches out to the world. Abbey loves gardening, pie baking, bicycling, and practicing the Expelliarmus Spell.