Spring break volunteers give sisters' projects a boost

This story appears in the NCSW 2017 feature series. View the full series.

by George Goss

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When a Kansas City-based congregation of sisters hosted two groups of university students in search of an atypical spring break service experience, both the sisters and students got a boost.

"It's like a shot in the arm to work with all these wonderful, smart, strong, healthy young people who are willing to give up their spring break and not go to the beach," said Sr. Vicki Lichtenauer, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. "And they get to see what sisters are like in 2017."

A group of students from Creighton University spent March 4-10 working with the sisters after they were matched through the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice, and Marquette University students were similarly partnered March 12-18 through the Marquette Action Program. The projects coincided with National Catholic Sisters Week, which ran March 8-14.

The Creighton student volunteers spent their days working on Sisters of Charity projects, including updating documents and filing records for the sisters and staff at Cristo Rey Kansas City. The high school "provides a Catholic, college prep education enhanced by an innovative corporate work study program to culturally diverse students with economic need," according to its website.

"They're providing enthusiasm, for one thing, but they're providing support for our staff and hopefully learning about Cristo Rey," said Sr. Linda Roth, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth who follows up with Cristo Rey graduates.

Creighton students also swung hammers and buzzed through lumber with power tools on a Habitat for Humanity site and helped gather recyclable materials for members of Kansas City's L'Arche community, who have intellectual disabilities, as part of its Green Studio Express recycling program.

The Marquette students packaged food and sorted clothes at the Seton Center, which runs a food pantry that executive director Sr. Loretto Marie Colwell estimates serves 700 families every three weeks. It also comprises a thrift store as well as a dental clinic with almost 10,000 patient visits per year.

"When you are in a place like this, which I call 'holy ground,' you are experiencing God up front in terms of people in need — their spirituality is so strong," Colwell said. "And it is an added joy having the volunteers here. They really help us out."

At reStart, an organization committed to ending homelessness in Kansas City, the students painted rooms and served food.

The Creighton and Marquette students are now back in class, but here are the intangible things they carry with them from time spent with Lichtenauer, Roth and their sisters.

Joyful work

"My biggest takeaway from working with the sisters would far and away be the amount of happiness and smiles that can be shared. The sisters' life calling is to help those in most need. It is not a chore, but something they are happy to do and look forward to each day. I love volunteering, and this trip offered me everything I wanted in the span of just one week. I was happy to sign up and come along for the adventure."

— Sebastien Feren, Marquette University class of 2019


"My biggest takeaway from working with the sisters was learning to treat everyone with compassion and love. We often have more to learn from those we serve than we could ever hope to give them."

— Rachel Mauro, Creighton University class of 2020

Service to others

"I wouldn't say any of us are called to be a sister per se, but in terms of our vocations — and I am speaking for myself — my focus kind of shifted in terms of what I want to be. Whatever career I enter, I want to serve others. I would have never been exposed to this community without this trip. I am very grateful for the opportunity."

— Bailey Hassman, Creighton University class of 2019

Make time for contemplation

"My biggest takeaway was being able to reflect with [the sisters] after a day of volunteering. They would occasionally participate in our nightly reflections, and these reflections were truly a growing experience for me. It helped me to efficiently process my day and remember meaningful conversations I had. The sisters caused me to learn so much about social justice issues, such as poverty and immigration, in the Kansas City community. This knowledge assisted me while volunteering because I would more deeply understand the issues the citizens of Kansas City are going through. 

"It was great fun spending time with the sisters by playing board games and roasting marshmallows over a campfire at the end of the day. By the end of the week, the Sisters of Charity house felt like my home away from home. The house is always filled with love and laughter."

— Yvonne Danko, Marquette University class of 2019

The feeling is mutual

"One thing we're doing as part of National Catholic Sisters Week is to pray for all those we've ministered with in our lifetimes, including the volunteers with us today, some of whom have never even met a sister, and yet here they are, working side-by-side with one. It's been a tremendous opportunity, not only for us, but for them, too, to see an alternative lifestyle. It brings me joy when I hear them say that the sisters are so happy."

— Sr. Linda Roth, Sister of Charity of Leavenworth who works at Cristo Rey Kansas City

[George Goss is in charge of special projects at NCR. His email address is ggoss@ncronline.org.]