I feel at home in a mission, not in a certain place
Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our ninth round of bloggers: Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City and Adele McKiernan is a Loretto Volunteer at Missouri Health Care for All in St. Louis.
At Good Shepherd Services in New York City, we spend a lot of time thinking about positive recognition. Recently, my division has been deeply engaged in work around diversity and inclusion. As a part of these efforts, I have been conducting surveys of current and former employees. One of the key themes I find repeated time and time again is how important it is to find a sustainable work/life balance.
We know recognizing and supporting one another is integral to our success and contributes to how we stay rooted in our work. So when I received a comment on my first piece for Notes from the Field from one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, fondly referred to as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, I was deeply impacted. Forwarded from my program coordinator, the note from this sister ended, "[Samantha] certainly has a deep sense of the Good Shepherd spirituality."
I can think of only a few times where being recognized has truly and deeply moved me. I feel those moments only come when someone sees something in me that 20-odd years of intra-analysis has never considered, let alone thought another person would notice.
Realizing that someone could see some part of my personal mission that I had not been able to identify myself is truly humbling and illuminating. It allows me to feel hopeful, especially when it involves the mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters: "Energized by our evolving understanding of God's love, we build partnerships that promote the dignity and human rights of all, especially women and children. In solidarity, we work for the transformation of unjust systems, the flourishing of humanity and integrity of all creation."
Less than a week earlier, another Sister of the Good Shepherd announced her retirement. Sr. Paulette LoMonaco has served Good Shepherd Services for 50 years and spent almost 40 of them as the agency's executive director. After her announcement, The New York Times swiftly wrote an article on her work. In it, she says, "I wish that the media could have a more up-to-date visual of a sister."
A few weeks ago, my supervisor and I attended a meeting in downtown Brooklyn put on by a state senator around the needs of nonprofits serving children and youth in their district. As with most meetings of this style, the stakeholders circle the room and identify themselves.
Before it was our turn to introduce ourselves and our agency, a man described his nonprofit as being "like Good Shepherd Services, but lacking Sister Paulette." Without knowing that a delegation from Good Shepherd was in the room, he used the name of the agency and the executive director with confidence that in that space, those names carried the weight of impact.
That's another compliment that struck a chord. We can continue to recognize and affirm each other even in spaces where we have nothing to gain by doing so.
During our last community dinner with a small group of sisters in Queens, I spoke about the uncertainties that plague my future, as happens with all volunteers who draw ever closer to the end of their year of service. There, I received some advice: Write down a pros and cons list and put it under your pillow while you sleep. I was also encouraged to think critically about my place in our work and to analyze what drew me, what keeps me, and whom I actually serve.
That conversation made me realize that sometimes I can feel lost because I have actually found where I am meant to be, but that doesn't adhere to a physical form like I expected. My personal calling is not bound to a certain type of job or a certain city, which is why nothing feels quite right in an online job search engine: You can't check a box for "strong sense of purpose."
In essence, I feel at home in a mission, not in a certain place. I am drawn to the mission of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and to all the places that mission takes shape, including both of the volunteer placements where I have spent the last two years. To feel lost when you've unknowingly found exactly what you're looking for is a unique catalyst for confusion, and one I need to embrace.
I notice my love for all things "Good Shepherd" when I experience the immediate mood boost in speaking with the program coordinator and executive director of my volunteer program and the ways I find my zeal refilled during our dedicated community and spirituality nights.
As long as there is a community and a mission to be supported, volunteers will serve. More than that, as exemplified by the life and work of Sister Paulette, this mission can become home. When our work on diversity and inclusion comes back with calls to consider a good work/life balance, I can't help but picture the life of someone for whom they appear to be one and the same. With such a great example to look up to, and in our supportive community environment, I am confident we can find our home, too.
As Sister Paulette hopes for a more updated image of the sisterhood, I'd like to nudge the compass to a direction in which we also update how we as Good Shepherd Volunteers and Good Shepherd mission-carriers view ourselves. We are all a part of propping open the green door of the motherhouse in Angers, France, and continuing to welcome in the weary.
I won't ever be able to know for sure, but I have a hunch that this feeling is what drew the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in from the beginning, and this will be how we see an even more updated version of religious life.
"Become animated with the thoughts, feelings, and affections of the Good Shepherd, of whom you should be the living images."
—St. Mary Euphrasia, foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
[Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City.]