By Jennifer Eng
“I have heard this many times before. Reverse culture shock and transition back to your home country is worse than leaving,” said Jeff Sved, the new director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern at St. Bonaventure University.
After living in Bolivia, transitioning back to American life was challenging to Sved, as he had to learn to adjust to his old life.
“When I came back, I had to have someone reteach me how to use a microwave,” said Sved. “And the idea of a supermarket is still terrifying. I would walk in and stare at all of the options of brands and products, not knowing what to choose because there are so many options.”
Returning to the United States only days before starting his new position at St. Bonaventure, Sved had to settle down quickly.
“Everyone expected the transition to be hard leaving. No one expected it coming back,” Sved said.
Sved spent three months training in the formation program of the Franciscan Missions Service before traveling with them to Cochabamba, Bolivia to work as a lay missioner in their prisons for four years.
“A good understanding of what I do came from my six-year-old host sister,” said Sved.
He only lived with his host family for his first six weeks in the country, however, and ended up revisiting them at the end of the third year for Christmas. When his host sister’s cousin asked what Sved did, she replied “El come en la cárcel”, translating to “He eats in the prison,” in English.
“This was somehow my understanding of what I did,” said Sved. “It was about sharing with others and learning how to be communal.”
His experience was life changing in “more ways than can be explained,” he said.
“Ministry is about spending time with people,” said Sved. “I know how to make do and thrive on what I have. You can make a lot more happen with less when you learn to work with less.”
His interest in service grew during his college career at Villanova University, where he studied engineering. He began work with the Franciscan friars at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia during his freshman year. He worked there weekly for all four years of his undergraduate education.
“I started to question my place in social context globally as job interviews and offers came in,” said Sved. “I took an intentional step away from engineering to give back more of myself to the greater community and provide direct service to others.”
He said that his engineering background has remained important in his life, despite the different path he has chosen to take.
“Engineering is about analysis and being able to solve problems within a certain set of criteria,” said Sved. “I’m still a problem solver, but in a different set of the world’s problems.”
“He [God] was able to both challenge me and support me through many times of transition,” said Sved. “He encouraged me to fail and gave me support in doing so.”
His work in prison ministry commenced when he started at the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry in Wilmington, Delaware. There, he was a lay missionary in three different prisons teaching science and liberal arts.
This led to his work with the Franciscan Missions Service in Bolivia and his new position at St. Bonaventure University.
“I came to Bonaventure because of the connection with Franciscans and their ability to connect students with the Franciscan charism,” said Sved. “I wanted to connect students to growing their faith and living it out.”
Sved called himself the “service and social advocacy guy on campus.” He oversees programs such as the Warming House, Bona Buddies and Silver Wolves, as well as many other sustainability programs on campus consistent with Catholic Social Teaching and the Franciscan commitment to social justice.
So far, he has enjoyed being part of the Bonaventure community and interacting
“It is a very welcoming family,” said Sved. “I’m still trying to get what they know and do.”
As the construction of the McGinley-Carney Center for Franciscan Ministries building begins to wrap up, Sved looks forward for what’s in store.
“It will strengthen the community by provide a space for people to gather in a community,” Sved. “Right now, we are hidden in Murphy and no one knows where we are. I hope it invites student interaction in a space where relationships will form and grow.”
He says that he hopes he can be a mentor to students and challenge them by asking deep and tough questions about themselves.
“Francis once asked God, ‘Who am I? Who are you?’” said Sved. “I feel any mentor in a ministry role helps to ask those questions and makes you feel uncomfortably comfortable with the answers.”