Living the Gospel
By S. Kathryn Connelly
As schools resume after summer break, the most often asked questions “What did you do this summer?” “Where did you go?” How was it?” are often responded to by a ‘show and tell,’ some phone pictures, or perhaps a great summer tan. S. Sandy Howe’s response to these questions can really be found in the Mission Statement of the Sisters of Charity “Urged by the love of Christ and in the spirit of our founder, Elizabeth Ann Seton, we Sisters of Charity strive to live Gospel values. We choose to act justly, to build loving relationships, to share our resources with those in need, and to care for all creation.”
As service coordinator for Seton High School in Cincinnati, S. Sandy arranged several mission trips for students to give them a hands-on experience of serving, loving and understanding. S. Sandy led some 50 students and several adults on expeditions that provided no ‘show and tell,’ no great summer tan, maybe some phone pictures, but so much more – an experience in the urgency of the love of Christ; an understanding in practical justice; the privilege of establishing relationships with others of different backgrounds and cultures; the opportunity to develop realistic skills in doing for others; and of course, growing in respect for God’s creation.
S. Sandy’s motivation for her summer activities of mission trips was grounded in Gospel values – to live the Gospel, to bring Christ to the students who accompanied her, to bring Christ to the persons in places afar, to live as Jesus did in simple sharing with others. These journeys stretched from Cincinnati to Guatemala.
S. Sandy provided two opportunities for students to work with homeless in Cincinnati. One was with St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati. They participated in the Rooted in the Vine program which worked with agencies in Over-the-Rhine to provide students a retreat experience of daily prayer and reflection, to meet with and learn about agencies working for justice, and to serve the needs of many in the inner city of Cincinnati.
The other opportunity the students had was with the Franciscans for the Poor Summer Youth Program where they were able to serve the less fortunate in soup kitchens and thrift stores.
At another venue, and in collaboration with students from Mount Notre Dame High School, more than 20 Seton students traveled to Liberty, Ky., to work with a farm community, doing some rehab work as well as working with mentally challenged children in an orphanage there. Liberty is the location of an Amish community and students learned first-hand of a culture and lifestyle very different from their own. Under S. Sandy’s tutelage, it was here that the building of loving relationships became a reality for students and adults alike.
A trip to Guatemala to the Agua Viva Children’s Home found Seton students working in coffee fields and painting the Sunday school. The constant oppression of poverty impacted the students with the desire to share their own resources for the good of others in need.
The highlight for Sandy this summer, however, was a trip to Evansville, Ind., with Sisters Marie Irene, Mary Dolores and 11 students. “It was extremely rewarding to work with our Sisters in the Vincentian federation of the Charity Family, doing much the same work as Elizabeth and Vincent,” she said.
St. Vincent Center for Children and Families, run by the Daughters of Charity, for children ages 1 to 3 living in extreme poverty was the focus of this mission experience. The Daughters also run a thrift store which received some capable helping hands from the Cincinnati crew.
The community service program impacts the lives of both the students as well as the recipients. After experiencing so much need, after serving those needs in a variety of ways, after watching struggles and feeling the suffering of God’s people, the question becomes, how does one go back to the everyday life in the teenage world of Seton High School? How does one try to bridge the haves and have nots? Why am I the one so blessed? The program can be life changing. To grow to maturity and awareness of God’s blessings requires that the Christian get out of her comfort zone, and walk the Gospel.