“Charity is the cement which binds Communities to God and persons to one another”
– St. Vincent de Paul
In this edition of Charity Alive, we share a few of the heartwarming stories from our benefactors. You will read of their inspiration to serve and share in our joyful witness to love. We are grateful for their passionate commitment to serve, and their loving devotion of kindness.
by Angela Rafuse, Executive Director
Bill volunteers as a breakfast server four times a week at our Mount Saint Vincent retirement community in Wellesley Hills, MA. Bill has been a volunteer for two years and we spoke with him about his experience as a volunteer with our Sisters.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Bill’s parents and wife were residents at Wellesley leading up to their final days. Bill came to know many residing and working here, and admires the quality of care provided. Following the loss of his loved ones, he needed a sense of purpose and the idea of getting up at 5:00am every morning to prepare for his volunteer shift was just what Bill needed. Not only was Bill helping others and extending support to those who had provided exceptional care for his loved ones, but Bill was given a renewed sense of self. Truly a trinity of support and care.
Reflect on what the volunteer experience has meant for you personally
Bill reflects fondly of the care and deep appreciation the Sisters and residents express to him as a volunteer. The relationship of care not only as a server delivering their breakfast, remembering how they take their coffee or who likes orange juice but also their genuine care, concern, and interest in him as an individual. He talks politics with a few Sisters and practices his Spanish with others. He discusses travel experiences with the Sisters, many who missioned in his destinations, while learning of new vacation spots through their conversations. The sense of purpose of the Sisters looking forward to Bill serving their breakfast and being there to engage in conversation is as meaningful and special to them as it is to Bill.
And while Bill never aspired to the role of breakfast server, and maybe he wasn’t even particularly good at the tasks involved in serving. Bill joyfully reflects that what matters most is one’s willingness to be present and open to take in an experience(s) as they present to oneself. It may surprise and delight you all at the same time. And Bill’s commitment to take on the role of volunteer with a willing heart and attitude are good virtues for everyone. Just as the Sisters are grateful for the kindness of the volunteers like Bill, there is a mutually profound gratitude for Bill as he is connected to his purpose to serve, even simply remembering how the Sisters take their coffee. The simple joys of human connection, care, kindness, and anticipation of a warm smile are often found in the most “unprofound” moments.
Prior to his volunteer role with our Sisters, Bill worked as a high school teacher for incarcerated men. While teaching in penitentiaries, he took up martial arts to build up his fitness and confidence. His passion for martial arts turned into an over forty year career of teaching others the craft, while operating a real estate business. Bill is an adventure seeker, traveling each year to new destinations, experiencing the “live-like-a-local” culture. As Bill perfects his Spanish with the Sisters, he plans on visiting Cuba in early 2023. Bill is a proud father, grandfather, and older brother of S. Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick.
We are grateful to Bill for sharing his story and serving our Sisters.
Volunteer Story- Pat Whitman
By Sister Kati Hamm
How did you become involved in volunteering with the Sisters?
Caritas On Call volunteer, Pat Whitman began her long association with the Sisters of Charity in 1952 when she was in first grade. Among her previous connections, she counts off, student of the Mount til grade 12, student of Mount Saint Vincent, president of the Alumni Association, service on the Board at the University and then administrator of the Motherhouse for about ten years.
Why does this particular ministry seem right for you?
An On Call volunteer accompanies the sister while she is in the emergency room in the hospital, while she is checked out, and either sent home or admitted. Pat’s not sure who invited her into the ministry but it seemed like a perfect fit for her. She is a native of Halifax, knows a lot of the sisters, and lives only a short distance from the hospital. If she had to, she could walk it in 20 minutes. She is pleased to be able to do this work and considers it an easy ask for her to say “yes” to. She is happy to have this opportunity to serve, to continue the long relationship she has with the sisters and to use her gifts to help out. On our part we are blessed to have her as one of the volunteers at Caritas.
In Praise of Lessons from my friend, Goose…
By Sister Mary Ann Connolly
One of the blessings for me throughout the first years of the pandemic was an opportunity to walk to our cemetery here in Wellesley. My morning jaunts always had me passing Longfellow Pond on Oakland Street. Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, I enjoyed so much wildlife in and around the pond. But then, as the fall air blew in, I arrived at the pond one morning to encounter a lone goose who surely had lost her soulmate. In no time, we became friends! The following reflection was one I wrote with GRATITUDE for the gift of “Goose” and some of the lessons she shared with me!
- Remembering the joy of so many geese at the pond all spring and all summer … until one glorious morning, all of them gone except Goose. Seeing Goose alone at the pond for the first time broke my heart. She sat there alone, staring out at the pond for hours… often on one foot! I passed her for a decade of days before I wondered … could she have stayed because she has something to teach me? I began to sit with her for a few moments each morning. Yes, indeed, Goose had some wonderful lessons to teach …
- You are never alone, even if it appears that way. God/Spirit is always within you, beside you, surrounding you … So too your ancestors and those you loved and who loved you in this life. The closer you were to them in this realm, now they, even closer to you. Relish this!
- Be sure to practice standing on one foot every day. Balance is important! It will be especially helpful to prepare you to go on living after you lose someone you love, receive a difficult diagnosis, or just have those days when you lose your equilibrium.
- Take time each day to just sit and gaze at the magnificence of the pond of your life. Enjoy all the good memories and let go of all those thoughts that don’t bring you joy. They are not worthy of you … one who is made in the image and likeness of the Divine!
- When you feel hot or bothered be sure to get into the pond and refresh yourself in the water. You will be better for it. Trust me, all those around you will be grateful too!
- Enjoy the morsels that the grass beds offer to you … they are the sustenance that will keep you well. Eat only until you are sated. Don’t be afraid to leave your droppings. They too are full of nutrients that replenish the soil.
- When rain or winds come blowing into your life, find a sturdy tree under which you can find shelter. The world is full of sturdy trees!
- When children taunt you, honk not at them … honk loudly at their parents who have failed to teach them respect for all of life.
- When a snowflake lands on your beak, marvel at the mystery of a Creator who could imagine such a tiny, unique miracle!
- Cherish your days at the pond! Each one is preparation for the pond of bliss that awaits all who have lived fully, fairly, and faithfully!
- And lastly, when the pond freezes over, know it is your time to fly back to the Holy One. May you soar with grace, dignity, and peace into that other realm, that place of wholeness and holiness where your joy will at last be complete!
Thanks Goose! Great lessons! Great Teacher!
St. John’s Bread & Life is on the front lines supporting border immigrants
By Sister Marie Sorenson
Located in Brooklyn, New York, St. John’s Bread and Life is far from the Mexican border. And yet Sister Marie reports that they are now one of many agencies on the front lines of for thousands of border immigrants in New York.
St. John’s Bread and Life first started seeing immigrants from the border in their food pantry lines in the fall of 2021. At that time, the newcomers were mostly from Equador. Most had passports, but no paperwork from the border officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Fast-forward to last April, when a large group arrived from the border in need of services. And the arrivals haven’t stopped.
“From July through September we had 1271 newcomers register at our pantry. That’s roughly 26 new clients per day,” explains Sister Marie. “We also started to see a shift in population to include a large number of Venezuelans. Mostly young men and women. Many of them were assigned to local homeless shelters.”
Then in August, Brooklyn became one of the sites of the bussing of immigrants from Texas and Florida. Initially 6 – 9 buses were arriving at The Port Authority terminal per day, delivering 50-60 immigrants each. The bussing continues to the present, however, the number of buses is down to 2 or 3 per day.
New York City is the only jurisdiction with a right to shelter for both individuals and families. Since last August, the City reports that 20,399 migrants have arrived; over 15,000 of them are currently in shelters. With its traditional systems strained, the City has now resorted to using Humanitarian Emergency Relief and Recovery Centres to find shelters for all who need them. For families, this involves finding them hotel rooms. Individual adults or adult families are being sheltered in tents.
“As the need for services grew, we opened our doors to provide food, medical care and referrals to other needed resources such as thrift shops,” says Sister Marie. “And recently we have been approached by organizations that are providing support to asylum seekers who are being placed on Randalls Island. Massive tents have been erected there to house single adults, and we are now providing some 500 meals to that location, and will try to increase that number as resources allow.”
In addition to Sister Marie working as Associate Executive Director, many other Sisters have a long-standing relationship with St. John’s Bread and Life, and several remain loyal volunteers as they continue their vital work in the community.
Welcome, Compassion, Gratitude
By Sisters Kay Conroy and Katherine McGrath
The emotion of gratitude was already deep within our hearts several months before we actually began volunteering at Annunciation House, El Paso, Texas. Our Sister of Charity Leadership was so affirming of our desire to return to this southern border hospitality ministry of ‘welcoming the stranger in our midst’.
Annunciation House, a truly Christian/Catholic, non-profit outreach center is inspired and challenged by the scriptural words, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me in your midst.’ Matthew 25:35 With the direction of Mr. Ruben Garcia and many volunteers they have been doing just that in El Paso and the bordering region of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for over forty years. The outreach of Annunciation House loudly proclaims that Christian love can have no borders!
Casa Vides, one of their shelters was our site this year. Here several times a day, along with other volunteers, we, too, ‘welcomed the stranger in our midst’ as they arrived in Border Patrol buses. These refugees/asylum seekers, soon to be ‘our guests’ looked so fearful as they were ushered forward by the uniformed Border Patrol officer. On crossing the threshold of Casa Vides however, that fear was turned to tearful joy as we announced – ‘welcome to the United States – you have your Immigration papers in your hands – you are free – we are here to assist you on your journey forward – you are ‘our guests’ here’ at which time each group broke into applause with tears flowing freely. We witnessed heartfelt gratitude!
There was more applause when we continued, ‘you will be well fed – given a clean bed (bunk) -opportunity for showering – clean, ‘new to you’ clothes – assistance in contacting your sponsor who will arrange your travel plans from here ‘. We were so grateful for the house phone which had the Google Voice Translator app for Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian. Witnessing their gratitude for such basic needs and personal attention was so deeply moving!
In welcoming these refugees/asylum seekers to Casa Vides we had restored TRUST and HOPE and so many of them then freely shared with us their story, often so treacherous. How we listened as individually they shared why they had left their homeland, other family members because of poverty, death threats, violence, daily fear, lack of work, corruption, despair. Despite all odds they embarked on a journey that they prayed would help them to realize their dream ‘for life, a safer life for my family’. Humbly we listened, overwhelmed at what the human spirit will and can do for life!
We welcomed them as ‘our guests’ and they in turn welcomed us into their hearts! Gratitude was overwhelming, overflowing and one had to ponder, who was the giver? – who was the receiver? In such a short period of intense time we were no longer strangers to each other. We were the family of God, one human family and we were so grateful to be celebrating this!
When our guests were leaving us to continue on to family, friends, once again there were tears of gratitude but now with big smiles, long held hugs, firm handshakes. Those still waiting their own departure broke into applause which was their way of blessings those on their way.
These refugees, asylum seekers, ‘our guests’ had taught us to see that although seemingly little was given to them it was a feast, it was enough, and they were grateful, renewed, strengthened to continue their journey.
YES, we witnessed gratitude! We deeply felt the emotion of gratitude! We were and will always be so grateful to have been the face and the heart of ‘CHARITY ALIVE’, at the southern border, August, 2022!