Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reflection: 5 Favorite Memories with the Sisters of Mercy

Lauren Tatanus
Currently serving with Mercy Volunteer Corps at Hands on Hartford
Hartford, CT

As a second year Mercy Volunteer, I have been exposed to the Sisters of Mercy in many different facets. This year, in particular, is memorable since our community is laying the foundation for future volunteers in Hartford, CT. In order to demonstrate the love and compassion that we have received as a community, I want to list my top 5 favorite memories with the Sisters of Mercy:

5. Grocery shopping with one of the sisters each weekend

Since we rely on public transportation (usually the bus), our support staff, Sisters Lorraine and Judy, graciously organized a schedule for us to go grocery shopping once a week. During the week we contact the sister or associate listed on the calendar and arrange a time for all of us to grocery shop. This has presented us with the opportunity to meet different members of the Mercy community and to humbly accept our reliance on others for transportation.

The day that Alex, Sonia, and I arrived in Hartford, Judy and Lorraine hosted a wonderful cookout in their backyard. Before arriving at their home, we were exhausted from a day full of travel and moving into our new apartment. Our groggy moods quickly changed once we met Judy and Lorraines cocker spaniel, Shelby. This 13-year-old rescue dog exuded more energy than all 3 of us new MVCs combined! She woke us all up and entertained us at the sisters home. We always look forward to spending time at Judy and Lorraines home, especially because we get to see the always-smiling Shelby!

3. Spontaneous tea parties 
Along with having Judy and Lorraine as support staff, we also have many other sisters taking care of us. For example, Sister Beth Fischer, who works at University of St. Joseph (USJ, a local Mercy college), recently stopped over on a Friday evening to chat over a cup of tea. Both Alex and I frequently see her at our service sites when she brings nursing students to the different programs throughout Hands on Hartford, but we realized there is not much time to catch up while at work. I know I felt honored and excited to spend an evening talking with such an inspiring woman like Sr. Beth! 

It is amazing to see how interested the Sisters of Mercy are in our lives as young ministers of service in the city of Hartford. They frequently ask us how we are doing as a community, spiritually, with our service sites, and in living simply. Since Sr. Beth is connected to a college campus, she has also offered to keep us informed of events taking place at USJ. I look forward to many more shared cups of tea with other sisters as well!

2. Making our house a home
A few days before leaving for orientation was when we figured out our official housing. Keri, an MVC Community Coordinator, had magically found a recently renovated apartment not too far from the bus line that would take us right to work. With only a few days until we arrived, the sisters and associates of Mercy from all over the North East gathered up items to fill our apartment. There is a rocking chair in each bedroom as well as two in the living room.  The whole kitchen was stocked with pots, pans, utensils, and everything we would need for the year. Upon entering the apartment for the first time, we were also greeted with the sight of welcome baskets in the living room, kitchen, and each of our bedrooms with essentials for the year. Sr. Judy also kindly placed her crocheted doilies around our new home. Only in the Mercy community could this apartment come together and become a true home for all three of us.

1. Hospitality 
Hospitality seems to be an important quality when it comes to mercy. As a community we keep jokingly spelling Hartford H-E-A-R-Tford because ever since we landed in Connecticut, we were greeted with open arms by Sisters Judy and Lorraine. Following our introductions, they invited us to a cookout at their home with several other Sisters in attendance. While this could have easily been an overwhelming experience, especially after a busy day of travel, we certainly felt right at home. 

It feels as though I have about 15 aunts here in Hartford that I can turn to whenever needed. I know that my parents were appreciative of this hospitality when they visited me over Labor Day weekend. As soon as I told Judy and Lorraine about their planned trip, they invited the whole Hartford MVC community as well as my parents for a cookout. My parents were overwhelmed with gratitude at their welcome. I could tell that my parents left the dinner a lot more confident that I was in good hands with the Sisters of Mercy.

Overall, I cannot wait to see what the rest of this year has in store. We have already met several amazing people in the Circle of Mercy, but apparently there are many more who are anxiously awaiting to meet us! The best is yet to come!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reflection: Do It Anyway

By Gabby Mejia
Batey Lecheria, Dominican Republic

I have been serving as a missionary in the Dominican Republic for about 8 months. It has been an incredibly humbling, challenging, adventurous, overwhelming, crazy time. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about this culture, but most importantly, I have deepened my relationship with Christ by serving His people. 

Gabby Mejia (far right) with the Holy Child sisters
and another volunteer in the Dominican Republic
This experience has not been how I thought it would be, in reality, it has been better. I thank God every day for calling me here and for trusting me enough to serve His people in this way.

I found out I would be moving to the Dominican Republic in February of last year. It always seemed far away. I thought, “I’ll be leaving in 5 months” or “oh whoa I can’t believe I’ll be leaving in 2 months.” As the time for my departure drew near, I started to think about all the ways my life in the next year would change. I realized I was being given an opportunity to live in a beautiful country for a year. I was going to be able to spread God’s love to people who the world seems to have forgotten about. That’s why I was going. 

The first couple of months were difficult. Getting accustomed to a new culture, new people, new everything proved to be more difficult than I had imagined. There were times when I doubted my ability to stay here. However, I always repeated to myself the quote that says, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” I definitely found that to be true.

The first couple of months came and went and I found myself in a much better place. Sure, there were still some things I was getting used to, but the doubt that once cluttered my mind was no longer there. Instead, I found myself building relationships with the kids, with my fellow teachers, and with my community. 

I’m serving as an assistant teacher in a school in one of the bateys in the Dominican Republic. Bateys were once used to house immigrant Haitians that came to work the sugar harvest. However, since the cane industry dried up, bateys are now home to Dominican and undocumented Haitian families and are some of the poorest areas in the Dominican Republic. 

Many of our kids have behavioral problems. Many witness family violence regularly. Many are victims of abuse and maltreatment. Many are hungry. All of them, however, are beautiful children created in the image and likeness of God. All are worthy of love. That is what I have tried to share since I got here. My mission has always been to spread love. Though sometimes I may not know what I’m doing as a teacher, I know that these kids, my kids, know that I love them. To me, that’s all that matters. I am incredibly grateful to get the opportunity to serve these lovely kids and people who show me every day that Jesus is alive and works in us.

As I embark on my last few months here, I can’t help but look back at the last 8 months and see how much this experience has impacted me. It has changed the way I see the world. It has helped me grow as a person. It has also taught me a lot about faith. This experience is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.   

I know that once I leave, these kids’ lives will continue on as normal. They will grow up and may not even remember me, but I will always carry them with me in my heart. I have always loved the poem titled “Do It Anyway” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and I think it sums up my experience as a missionary beautifully. The end says, “The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give it your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reflection: The lives of vowed religious are reminders of our own paths to holiness

Alexis Park
Currently serving with Mercy Volunteer Corps at SafeNet
Erie, Pennsylvania

Do you enjoy rocking out to pop hits like All About that Bass by Meghan Trainor? 

How about enjoying a glass of wine or a beer at a friendly gathering?

Do you recreate by going out to watch a play or spend some time at the local casino?

Would you believe it if I told you that these are also things enjoyed by fellow lay people consecrated as sisters in religious orders? Thats right, the three questions I just asked contain ways I have seen or been told Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St. Joseph have fun! Yes, they are normal people, just like you and me! 

For the sake of formalities, HI!! My name is Alexis Park, and I am a Mercy Volunteer stationed in Erie, PA. I serve at a domestic violence organization called SafeNet. When I am not busy with tasks like processing volunteer applications or doing outreach at local schools, I love learning more about the Erie community. One of the ways I have especially done this is visiting the many Catholic churches and religious orders. Yes, Erie is a very Catholic area, which works out for me. For those who know me, I am a proud Catholic woman!

Alexis with her spiritual director, Sr. Mary Andrew
Did you know there is actually a difference between nuns and sisters? Nuns are vowed religious who are cloistered and live by very strict rules. They also wear habits. You know, they kind of look like something Whoopi Goldberg wore in the Sister Act. They may come off as serious and very prayerful. A great example of nuns in Erie are the Carmelite sisters. The most I see of them is at Mass behind a closed gate in the chapel. This may seem strange for those of you who have never heard of this. Yet, when one takes a closer look, their way of life is very beautiful. They are answering their calls to devote their lives to pray for souls and the needs of the world. Being away from the world is difficult and brings a great deal of suffering. Yet, greater joy lies in their devotion to God and the sanctifying grace brought by their way of life. 

Meanwhile sisters are vowed religious who have a calling to live out an active ministry in the secular world. This is where orders like our awesome Sisters of Mercy come in! While a routine of prayer is integrated in their daily lives like community prayer and daily mass, they also have professions to fulfill certain ministries. Many are teachers and nurses. They can also be a social worker, like my friend, Sr. Kelly from the Sisters of St. Joseph, or a feminist author and lecturer, like the famous Sr. Joan Chittister from the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. Some sisters act as spiritual directors. For example, I am receiving direction from Sr. Mary Andrew, who just celebrated 50 years as a Mercy sister. She is one of the coolest individuals I have ever met! 

Depending on personal preference, sisters can choose to wear a habit, jeans and a sweater or even a combination of both. As I mentioned earlier, they are the ones you are more likely to find stepping out to enjoy life in their free time. This isnt to say you cant find the luck to crack a joke with a nun (I have in the past ), but it may not be as easy due to their cloistered lifestyles. 

Alexis with Sr. Kelly after her first vows
celebration as a Sister of St. Joseph.
As you can see, there is a broad spectrum in the lives of vowed religious. No way of life is holier than the other. Not all vowed religious stay inside a monastery to pray, and not all vowed religious wear habits. If anything, the lives of vowed religious are reminders of our own paths to holiness. We are called to be the individuals God made us to be. 

In the spirit of ordinary people called to holiness and that many Mercy Volunteers are recent college graduates, I would like to share an excerpt by Pope Francis I from his World Youth Day speech in 2013:

"We need saints without cassocks, without veils - we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies, that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints - saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change.

We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, and theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. We need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.