Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blessings in Salt Lake

by Paul Wizniuk

To be a Dominican Volunteer for a year ministering as an Assistant Campus Minister at the Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, how I have made my way through and enjoyed it!
Br. Gabriel, Fr. Peter, and Paul

My time in this capacity has consisted of two basic elements: living out a Dominican lifestyle and facilitating spiritual growth and greater community amongst the students and the parish. My days have been framed by the Liturgy of the Hours. I thank the Lord for the morning and pleasant rest, appreciate a mid-day’s moment of rest and refocus, and ask for blessings as I end my day. This prayer ritual, through the cycle I just described and the psalmist’s beautiful laments and praises has brought about conversion in my heart to deeper faith and reliance on God. Daily reception of Christ’s body and blood as part of my ministry day has been a large part of that conversion too.

Learning to live in intentional community has been quite humbling and inspiring. Among the lessons learned, obedience is surely the greatest, as well as accountability to more than just myself, but to those I live with whom I rely on and rely on me; especially for edible dinners, which I attempted to provide each Thursday. It is an interesting process of learning to live with and love individual quirks; some of mine I felt the need to qualify with a statement like, “You have to remember, I’m an artist.” (However, I’m not sure it clarify anything . . .)

My more specific ministerial duties that I stated above as “facilitating spiritual growth and greater community amongst the students and parish: have been rewarding and challenging. Trying to work to my strengths, I have focused on utilizing my people skills and sharing my passions in life. Most notably, in my opinion, are my efforts to provide tea time, building community and an open environment in the student lounge at the Center, as well as coordinating an Alternative Spring Break trip to Guatemala. I have been involved in many other projects and groups and roles in my ministry, but those two stand out for me. Although my desire to have tea time at a regular time and on a regular basis functioned more so as me serving tea throughout the day to students that came in and out (my most regular tea drinking companion being Stephanie, the Secretary), I believe the success of this venture was mostly in the power of the idea. Many people expressed to me how they thought this was a great idea and I think it opened people’s minds to the idea even if they didn’t come participate. I believe it helped people realize that is another world out there that they sometimes forget about, and in it there are some that still take a moment in the day to sit, enjoy a favorite beverage, reflect on the day and enjoy good conversation with friends.
Paul and members of the Newman Center

Coordinating the ASB trip to Guatemala was a wonderful experience for me because it offered me the opportunity to share some of my talents in areas I am really passionate about, namely serving others, specifically serving others in Latin America, speaking Spanish, and helping others experience the beauty of the people and culture of Latin America. I was able to use my passion for this kind of trip to get people excited about it and use my experiences to prepare them. Along with learning how to make this all go smoothly I had some unexpected lessons that Fr. Carl, the Pastor, described as “learning the ways of high finance,” or more specifically people reneging on their payments. Overall, the most outstanding lesson I believe was the experience of spearheading the trip and leading the groups through it; especially holding everyone together to the common vision and keeping the group united.

To be a part of the Newman Center community, which is described often (for good reason) as very special, and to participate in God's love with them was a profound experience as we worked to build the kingdom of God and make it present everywhere we are.  I am thankful to everyone there for playing the important role they did as a part of my experience, simply by being themselves and belonging to the community.  I move forward from this year of service with them enriched and more devote to Jesus Christ and for that I can't thank them enough.

Reflecting on a Year of Service

by Erica Stewart

Students of Immaculate Conception Academy
For the last few days in the month of June, I was blessed enough to spend time in Racine, Wisconsin with the sisters at their Motherhouse, the twelve other volunteers, and our wonderful program directors. This retreat provided ample time for reflection of my year of service and was the perfect ending to what has become one of the best years of my life. Have you ever made a decision—especially an important one—and just known deep inside you that it was the perfect for you? This was confirmed for me each and every day during my time with DVUSA, whether it was in my interactions with my students, coworkers, community members, or fellow volunteers. 

At our retreat, Mike gave us the opportunity to look over our applications that we had submitted more than a year before for DVUSA. This was such a wonderful experience for me to see the transformation I have undergone over the past year. For some questions, the answers have remained very much the same, like my desire to participate in service which I truly believe speaks to God’s intended path for my life: that I am called to serve forever and not until my contract ends July 13th

Erica and Kristen
Over the past year, even through long painful minutes of waiting for my students to quiet down and prepare for my lessons, tearful reflections about the integration of God in my service year, seemingly endless lists of tasks that I never thought would reach their deadline, and of course, hours of prayer, together and community, I have responded to the call to serve with a fervent “yes” that echoes the same response that Mary gave in the Annunciation.

Please do not confuse this statement with my thinking I am anything like a divine figure because Lord knows I am far from it, but she, along with the members of my religious community who pray to her daily, has become a strong role model in difficult times when I find that the answer of “yes” too often slips off my lips when I am asked to take on yet another responsibility. Though I was asked to do quite the variety of tasks, ranging from preparing lessons on Charlemagne for my Church History class to leading an Amazing Race challenge for our freshmen around the city to cleaning out our faculty room refrigerator to hunting down the students who have failed to hand in their homework to stay after school, I often found it difficult to say no when I was asked to do something, no matter how full my plate seemed to be that day because I often did see the benefit in my “yes” to complete these tasks, whether it be a smile, a thank you, or on the very lucky days, a Starbucks gift card when I finally won the Faculty Friday raffle.

Immaculate Conception Academy staff
At the end of the day, and reaching the end of my service year, I am thankful for my ability to say “yes” and hope that it will continue to move me down the path God intends me to travel upon in my life, especially as I move on to my next job working as a recruitment associate for Catholic Volunteer Network. I hope that I will inspire others called to service to respond “yes” to help those who are so often told “no” by everyone else. Thank you, my Dominican family, for inspiring me to say yes and helping to unite us all in one body of Christ!

What I Have Learned Throughout This Year of Service

by Sean Mundy

I was lucky and blessed enough to volunteer for a year at St. Pius V School in Chicago, IL, where I worked as a Resource Room teacher. 

As I sit here at the closing retreat in Racine, Wisconsin at the Siena Retreat Center (we are staying in a 15-room, Georgian revival mansion built in 1934, no big deal) run by the Dominican sisters of Racine, we are reflecting on our year of service.  These are the top 10 things I learned this year:

1.     The Four Pillars of Dominican Spirituality - I have and will continue to commit myself to living my life according to the Gospel through the four pillars: prayer, study, community, and preaching/mission/service.

2.     My Four Pillars - In an activity, we were asked to reflect on what would be the four pillars of how we live our lives.  Mine were: 
·      Acceptance and Understanding
·      Personal, Professional, and Spiritual Growth
·      Making a Difference One Person or Interaction at a Time
·      Living in a Spirit of Awe
Sean with his community at St. Martin de Porres.

  3.     Human Dignity - I have been exposed to many world issues this year.  I am learning that each of these issues all come down to human dignity or the lack thereof.  These issues include, but are not limited to immigration law, human trafficking, genocide, homelessness, poverty, the right to life, education reform, domestic violence, world peace, water (access to clean water, the bottled water industry, conservation, etc.), eco-justice, LGBT rights, prison ministry, gang violence, racism, military spending, fair trade, and so much more.

4.     Family Matters - I am thrilled to have such a positive relationship with my immediate and extended family.  Having approximately 850 miles between most of my family members and I has proven difficult.  This difficulty showed me how integral they are to my life.  Every time I came home to visit, I realized how much I need their love, guidance, and support.  Thank you!

5.     Teaching is My Passion.  The art of teaching and the profession itself is a craft that I want to perfect through continued study and professional development.  Affecting positive change in children is important to me.  I feel that I can truly change the world one child or one person at a time.  The ripple effect may go much further than I will ever know, and I’m okay with that. 

Sean in the classroom
     6.     Dominican Vowed Religious are Awe-Inspiring.  Their dedication to the Catholic faith in the Dominican spirituality is tremendous.  Their years of service in education, healthcare, social services and so much more are beyond compare.  Their fighting for social justice and human rights issues is inspirational and commendable.  Every interaction I have had with a sister (especially our weekly interactions with four Dominican Sisters of Springfield at the St. Martin de Porres Convent in South Chicago) and a friar (especially our monthly interactions with the Dominican Friars of the Central Province Priory) has been a pleasant, enriching, and beautiful experience.

7.     “No I Don’t Want to Become a Priest” - It was a lighthearted joke amongst some DVs to count the amount of times we are asked if we will become a friar or sister.  I still don’t feel called to join religious life, but I have learned throughout the past few years that when I plan, God laughs.  Life has been full of twists and turns, but it always works out in the end.  I now trust that God will lead me wisely, even if it seems difficult or scary at the time. 

8.     Labyrinths are Amazing - For those of you who may not know, Labyrinths are large mazes cut into the grass or painted on the floor that have one entrance, one path, and no dead ends.  There’s no right way to walk a Labyrinth, but often you pray or meditate before and then you leave something in the center before making your way back out.   They have brought me peace and helped me along my journey.
Sean and staff at St. Pius V School.

    9.     Relationship is at the Heart of Ministry - I have been so blessed to meet a number of people who have been so integral to my service year.  I’m going to mention a few of them here. 
·      Nancy Nasko, my principal at St. Pius V School and supervisor, is beyond supportive.  Every week she would tell me how blessed she is to have me at my ministry site.  She is so full of love for her students, faculty, and staff, but honestly, I know she has that love for everyone she encounters.  The highest honor at St. Pius is the Peacemaker award.  This spirit of peace permeates throughout the school and we rarely have behavior issues.  I think this safe, loving, and caring atmosphere it largely in part due to the leadership of Nancy.  She is a great role model for peace.
·      Br. Chris became my spiritual advisor in the winter.  I truly appreciated his insight, openness, and advisement (even if he is Franciscan – just kidding!).  He really helped me get my personal prayer life going again and truly helped me throughout my journey this year. I will be forever grateful!
·      The DVUSA staff has made my life as a service volunteer as stress-free as possible.  Michael, the director, and Erica, the assistant director, work so hard to develop the program and be in tune with the volunteers’ experiences.  It is clear that they truly care about each volunteer and really try to keep relationship at the heart of ministry.

10.  Overall, my volunteer year was a huge success.  Despite any negative experiences I have had this year, I truly love everyone with whom I have come into contact and the positive experiences have greatly outweighed the negative ones. I grew personally, spiritually, emotionally, and professionally.  I truly feel I have made a world of difference.  And hey, I actually got hired by St. Pius V School to be a 6th grade teacher for next year!  See, volunteering can lead to employment!