|Dominican Volunteer Sean Puzzo serves at the St. Francis Center in Redwood City California.|
Picture this: ten years from now a group of friends is getting back together for a reunion. They
begin to share stories of what they did right after college. Some talk about the first “grown-up”
jobs while others talk about moving back in with their parents, and still others talk about
changing careers or different paths their lives took. I say, “Well, I lived in a convent and
ministered with sisters for two years.” All drop their drinks and look wide eyed. My friend blurts
out, “You what?” I then begin to tell them of two of the most transformative years of my life.
Religious sisters have never been strangers in my life; they have been mentors, educators,
spiritual directors, and as of most recently housemates and co-workers. It was the last two that I
never imagined were possible, however through my two years as a Dominican Volunteer
(2017-2019) I lived in community and ministered with Dominican Sisters.
Discerning what volunteer program you may want to take part in can be a daunting task. There
are so many things to consider: the type of work you will be doing, living and financial situations,
short/long term benefits, etc. There was one thing about Dominican Volunteers that set itself
apart from many other programs I was looking at. Volunteers in the program live in “…diverse,
intergenerational communities [who] live out the Dominican mission of preaching the Gospel
through the four pillars of Dominican Life: ministry, community, prayer and study.” That seemed
like an amazing opportunity to me to dig deeper into my faith and discern my future path in life.
My first ministry site was the Dominican Youth Movement USA, a organization that connects
today’s youth and young adults to the Dominican Tradition of Preaching in ways in which they
can become preachers with their lives and talents. It was exciting to work on programs that had
a huge impact on my desire to think about participating in a service year.
I was blessed as our office was in the Dominican Sisters of Amityville’s Motherhouse. Each day
I was able to spend time with the wonderful sisters and hear their incredible stories of service,
leadership, and compassion. They were truly warriors of their days. I learned more from them
and their courage to just say yes as “itinerant” preachers, responding to the signs of the times,
than I ever could have in four years of college. My work had me interacting and collaborating
with sisters and communities all across the United States who were involved with the formation
of youth and young adults. It was truly amazing to see so many sisters who had a vested
interest in the youth of the church and saw us as future torchbearers of their Dominican
One particularly touching moment was when one of the elderly sisters came to our office and
expressed great concern for the future of the Order as there had been less and less vocations
to become sisters, nuns, brothers, and friars. She expressed with great joy that she had come to
realize that the youth were indeed part of the future of the Order and able to spread the Good
News in ways never imagined before, something St. Dominic tasked us with many years ago.
St. Dominic was said to have had these last words when he died in 1221, “Have charity for one
another, hold fast to humility, and make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.” These words
were an unspoken mission statement for the four Dominican Sisters I was living with in my first
It may come as no surprise that going into the year I had preconceived notions about what living
with four catholic sisters would be like. Safe to say, all of those ideas were thrown out the
window within the first week. I quickly learned that sisters are just like regular people; they joke,
they cook, they cry, they work, they may drink, and on the rarest of occasions - they may say a
cuss word! Sisters are educators, chaplains, counselors, social justice activists, and so much
more. In my case they became a second family who I was challenged to live out Dominican
Charism and the four pillars (prayer, study, community, and ministry) with.
I am currently in my second year as a Dominican Volunteer. I enjoyed the work I was doing in
my first year, but there was something missing. I wasn't sure what it was though. As the year
moved on I figured it out - I was called to direct service. It was the times in my ministry in which I
was working directly with students and members of the Dominican family that I found the
greatest joy and fulfillment.
Soon, I found myself embarking on an incredible new journey across the United States to serve
in a ministry that would capture my entire mind, body, and spirit and quite perhaps change my
future plans, once again. Despite my excitement, that first cross country flight had be rethinking
my decision every minute!
I minister at the St. Francis Center in Redwood City, CA. It’s hard to describe just what the
center is as does so much good, in so many areas. The center is committed to serving the
community and whole person in ever-changing ways (including education, housing, and direct
services) through their motto of “compassion, not judgment.”
At the center I work as an ESL Tutor & 5th Grade Religion Teacher at Holy Family School. We
aim to “reduce and help break the cycle of poverty by providing a solid value-based education to
economically impoverished client family cohorts.” I have the unbelievable honor to share my
faith and mold disciples who are the future of our beautifully diverse Church. My hope is that
through this year they become models of Christ’s servant leadership.
All of the amazing work at the center would not be possible without the tireless vision and
leadership of S. Christina Heltsley, OP who I have the pleasure of living with at our community,
Casa Alianza is a quiet and peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the St. Francis
Center. Living with S. Christina and my fellow DVUSA Elizabeth has been an enormous blessing
in my life. God is truly present here in our house. Everyday, S. Christina models the words
Jesus gave us - that we “come not to be served, but to serve.” S. Christina has allowed me,
without judgement, to explore my Catholic faith and better understand what it means to be a
21st Century disciple.
In ten years, I will be able to tell the stories of how living and working with sisters made me the
person I am today and changed the way I lived, what I want to do in life, and became some of
the best mentors and friends I have. They are the sisters I never had and never knew I wanted!