Author: Sr. Connie Bach, PHJC
What Would You Write in the Sand?
I was thinking about how lovely it would be to walk on the beach today! Our weather here in the Midwest has been a little crazy lately. One day last week it was nearly eighty degrees and the next day we had three inches of snow!
I love to walk on the beach! Recently I took a group of volunteers down to the border in McAllen, TX and Matamoros, Mexico before COVID-19 caused us to shelter in place. We finished our time of service a little earlier than normal and were heading back from Matamoros before flying home to Indiana the next day.
I said to my six volunteer companions, “We are going to take a detour!” We took a right turn and headed east to South Padre Island for a few hours. I had not been there before but knew there was only one way to go – east, toward the gulf! We worked our way into the area and drove around a bit, taking in the endless beauty of the blue sky, water, beach, and sun!
I found a break between two buildings with a walkway leading to the beach and turned into the parking lot. We made our way as fast as we could with the wind blowing in our hair and the smell of the water tickling our noses. Before long, our feet were sinking into the sand as we headed straight for the water. Curious seagulls squawked overhead. People passed by walking their dogs and picking up seashells. We each found our own space where we could “take it all in” and, I suppose, commune with God in our own ways.
Soon the cameras came out and fingers were snapping shots as fast as they could tap the buttons. Before you knew it, I picked up a stick and drew a great big heart in the sand. It seemed almost an automatic thing for me to do! Inside the heart I drew the letters, PHJC. You can imagine why! We gathered around this simple symbol representing who were together. We had created a community of communion with one mind and one heart, and in such a short time!
We each chose to put aside the demands of home and work, traveling over 1,500 miles to serve total strangers. We chose to give of ourselves completely to some of those greatest in need in a place ravaged by poverty beyond what any of us have ever experienced. We were each, in our own way, moved by the Spirit and by Saint Katharina Kasper to make a difference through service, compassion and the gifts of time and energy.
What does this have to do with writing in sand, you might ask? I guess I realized through this experience that time is fleeting, that experiences are sometimes only once in a lifetime, and opportunities come and go like messages written in sand and then blown away with the wind or swept away by the tide. They can be here and then gone before we know it, both in time and in memory.
But what should never leave us is our gratitude for our past experiences, for our loving God who places such opportunities before us and who gives us the will to respond. If we are really attentive, we can link such opportunities together to see how God has always been present in our lives offering this and that choice; opportunities to be enriched, to love, to serve, to grow – and to give praise!
During this pandemic, I am most grateful for the time I have had to pray with and be present to my sisters in our local community. I am grateful for time to create mandalas, write music, work in the yard and appreciate creation. I am grateful to be able to connect through various technologies with family, community, friends and loved ones. I am grateful to check off many items on my “back burner” list.
I am also grateful that, while putting together a photo album, I ran across the photo of the heart in the sand! The photo brought back wonderful memories of experiencing community in communion and recognizing that God is present in everything, especially in my experiences.
For all this and more, I say…
Back to Texas
Our program has extended its mission to serving abroad. This past year we have served with our Sisters who live in Mexico and we have served at the borders with our immigrant sisters and brothers in and with the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX. We are planning another trip for the spring and already have seven interested parties signed up. We are also hoping to serve the very poor in Holly Springs, Mississippi for a week.
Do you feel called to follow Christ as a Volunteer?
PHJC Volunteer, Lynda K., visits Sisters and spreads loads of love!
Serve America Together
Catholic Volunteer Network is proud to be a part of the Serve America Together coalition, which is working on a campaign to raise awareness about the effectiveness of voluntary service in addressing some of our greatest challenges as a nation. The goal is to make a year of service a normal part of growing up in America, something that every young adult is aware of and has the opportunity to do.
Today is the official launch of the campaign, and it kicks off with a call to all presidential candidates to release their plan to expand national service. Most of the other coalition members are national, secular service organizations. We believe that as faith-based service organizations, we play an important role in this national conversation and we aim to raise awareness about our service opportunities.
The Impact of Service that YOU Made Possible
Because of your generosity, the PHJC Volunteer Program powerfully contributes to the lives of many different people, including PHJC Sisters, the volunteers themselves, and the many people served through the volunteer activities at various ministries.
Many PHJC Sisters have expressed new hope and new energy as they see the spread of their charism as a community endeavor through the volunteer
program. Having the PHJC Volunteer Program participants work alongside the Sisters brings out the best in everyone. Sisters have stated how uplifting it is to see the wonderful volunteers interested in serving others and connecting with their way of life.
PHJC Volunteers have shared that they have furthered their understanding and commitment to Catholic Social Teachings, and that they will continue to serve in ministries and participate in events that support social justice. Throughout their experiences, volunteers continue to grow in their understanding and practice of the PHJC Mission, Vision and Core Values. Every single volunteer agrees that they have an intensifying interest and commitment to a life of service by participating in the PHJC Volunteer Program.
Since its inception in 2015, the PHJC Volunteer Program has relied on grant funding and generous donors that continue to fund the activities made possible by this impactful program. The PHJC Volunteer Program has hosted twenty-seven volunteers who have served in week-long immersions or up to eleven months of direct service with PHJC ministries. These volunteers have served alongside nineteen Poor Handmaid Sisters in fifteen different ministries, including two in Mexico.
Ten different convents, including various Sister communities at our Motherhouse, have hosted women volunteers in their homes. Two Sisters have given regular chapel and heritage tours. Countless Sisters and co-workers have joined the volunteers in prayer, meals and fun events. Several volunteers have helped to promote the PHJC Volunteer Program during and after their service term by writing articles, sharing testimonials and inviting others to consider participation in the program.
As the PHJC Volunteer Program moves into its fifth year we are grateful for your continued gifts that will help us expand the program by inviting other baptized, Christian women as well as college and high school groups in answering the call to service as Partners in the work of the Spirit.
Immersed in Sacred Moments
Despite the winter weather and rush of the holidays, four enthusiastic volunteers joined us for the December 27 – 30 for an immersion experience with the PHJC Volunteer Program. This collaborative venture with PHJC ministries, co-workers and Sisters forged new understandings of our mission and core values lived out individually and collectively.
Involved in the efforts were six ministries: MoonTree, Lindenwood, Ancilla College, Catherine’s Cottage, the Catherine Kasper Home and Environmental Services. The volunteers and co-directors of the program were moved by the touching stories of Sisters and co-workers who have lived our core values for decades! In addition, the volunteers shared how moved they were as well that the Sisters stayed right with and worked right alongside them in these ministries, mutually sharing God’s presence in each moment.
Two testimonials shared from volunteers were:
“I liked seeing and interacting with people as we worked. The people made the job into a prayer and sacred moment with the God within them.” -Mercylynn Mbuguah, 19
“I grew personally and spiritually by seeing God in the ordinary moment. I saw myself grow throughout the days as I began to notice beautiful and sacred moments during the planned activities.” -Olivia Ely, 19
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From June 26 – July 1, three charismatic women joined Sisters Connie Bach and Marybeth Martin for an immersion experience of PHJC ministries in
the Donaldson, Northwest Indiana and Chicago areas. Not just volunteering, these women were immersed in and witnessed the PHJC core values, mercy and social justice. They learned first-hand what it means to “walk in Catherine’s shoes.”
Sisters Katie Bobber, Mary Kevin Ryan and Michelle Dermody housed the group at St. Henry Convent in Chicago. Each day the group began with morning prayer and traveled to various ministries, including
Nazareth Home in East Chicago, MoonTree Studios and Catherine Kasper Home in Donaldson, Casa Catalina in Chicago, Salvation Army through HealthVisions Midwest in Hammond, and Sojourner Truth House in Gary.
Volunteers had opportunities to work directly with individuals seeking simple basic necessities, including, food, clothing, shelter, preventative
healthcare, child care and presence with the elderly. Volunteers also worked with their hands organizing,moving furniture, packing food bags, mulching trees, pulling weeds and working with the earth.
Meals were shared with the Sisters in each area, and evening prayers and reflections on the day’s events were shared.
PHJC long-term volunteer, Libby Riggs, shared:
“What a great week of building community with other volunteers, the people we served and those who serve in these ministries every day. I’ll be processing this week in my mind for weeks. What a great opportunity. Thanks to Sisters Connie Bach and Marybeth Martin for planning the details and for the support of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ for sponsoring it.”
An Update from the PHJC Volunteer Program
The PHJC Volunteer Program continues to connect women with our ministries for volunteer opportunities to live in intentional community with our Sisters while offering their gifts and talents to those in need.
Meet Ellie Sink! She served as a short-term volunteer, sharing her compassion and energies at Sojourner Truth House for three weeks. Ellie is 21 years old and hails from Davenport, Iowa. She has been studying in Florida but offered her services while on summer break before heading to Ireland for a retreat.
Ellie was a GREAT asset to Sojourner and hopes to return for a longer stay in the future. We are grateful for her presence and enthusiasm!
Here is a poem Ellie wrote about her experience at Sojourner Truth House. Thank you, Ellie, for your spirit, your courage and your presence in our lives!