"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

Called to Action

By Associate Karen Martin

S. Donna Steffen (right) and Associate Anne Shaffer (second row, left) are two of the current Ignatian Spirituality Project retreat team members in Cincinnati.

“To speak the joy of my soul at the prospect of being able to assist the poor … and teach them to love God.”

Today these inspirational and motivational words from Elizabeth Seton dwell in the hearts of her followers and impel them to action. There is no negligible help in serving the poor, the homeless, the addicted. Every caring word, action, smile is monumental to the receiver. Several Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati and Associates, “urged by the Charity of Christ,” are serving the needs of many marginalized people of God. Some through retreats for those recovering from addiction, some with organized agencies, and some with recycled plastic bags and a truck!

“In all things to love and serve.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) retreats were begun by Bill Creed, SJ, and Ed Shurna in Chicago, Illinois, to offer experiences of hope, healing and belonging to those recovering from homelessness and addiction. In 2009, Bill met with S. Donna Steffen and several others from the Jesuit Renewal Center to begin ISP for women in Cincinnati. S. Donna continues today in Cincinnati with current team members, Sisters Nancy Bramlage, Annie Klapheke, Maureen Heverin, Martha Walsh and Associates Kathy McDonald and Anne Shaffer. S. Martha was invited to participate in one of the weekend retreats and at its conclusion she said, “I was invited to join the team and have been gratified to be part of it. This program is one where one receives while at the same time sharing and giving.”

Thirteen years ago, S. Teresa Marie Laengle began ISP in Dayton. “I fought with God for six months because I felt I didn’t know anything about relating to women who had been homeless, were in jail, had been abused and were drug or alcohol addicts,” she recalls. S. Teresa reached out to the ISP National Office for assistance. She invited women to help her, contacted recovery shelters, located a retreat facility, and wrote grants for money.

Today, Allison Loecke, regional representative from the Chicago National Office, coordinates the retreats in five cities, provides an agenda, Zooms in on meetings, assists ISP retreat leaders with materials and funding needed for the retreats. S. Donna describes her ISP participation: “I find that I am a learner with these women. They have had difficult experiences that I will never have, I may talk about ‘surrendering to God.’ These women have surrendered.”

ISP women retreatants come from several recovery centers and are required to be working a 12-step program, AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and be in recovery for 30-plus days. The retreat format is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are overnight retreats in facilities apart from the shelters (Transfiguration Retreat Center in Glendale, Ohio and Bergamo Retreat Center in Dayton, Ohio) and post-retreat evenings or days of reflection at the shelters. The overnight retreats are facilitated by a four-member team and include group sharing, learning different ways of praying, and witness talks from previous participants. The women receive a hand-knitted shawl, a journal and toiletries gift bag. A comment spoken to Anne Shaffer on one of the retreats was “how we accept them without judging, she seemed to be amazed at that, but then these women are judged all the time.”

ISP challenges include losing a former participant to overdosing or death, women experiencing difficulty during the retreat, hearing painful stories, planning for and wondering who will come, and transportation issues. S. Teresa comments, “We have come to the conclusion that whoever shows up was meant to be there.” Significantly greater are the celebrations, including expressed gratitude from the women, retreatants involvement in follow-up reflections and witness talks, hearing success stories, and continuing contact with participants after the retreat. One woman expressed to S. Maureen, “great gratitude to God and all who have been God’s messengers.”

Contemplating the challenges and celebrations S. Annie states, “The ultimate goal is for the women to grow in closer relationship with their Higher Power/God, and to know that they are loved and valued.”

“The vision of St. Vincent is to embrace the world in a network of Charity.” Frederic Ozanam

S. Christine Rody (center) volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul charitable pharmacy at the Neyer Outreach Center (Cincinnati).

The mission of the St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) Society is “a network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with service to people in need.” Faithful to the spirit of Saints Elizabeth Seton and Vincent de Paul, several Sisters and Associates volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Some Charity Sisters and Associates work out of parish SVdP conferences: Sisters Patricia Wittberg, Holy Family; Patrick Ann O’Connor, St. Dominic; and Associates Carol Herbert, St. William; and Debbie Weber, Guardian Angels. Each woman responded to an individual call to this ministry to provide food, shelter, medicine, prayer and friendship to the poor in their community.

Carol retired after 40 years of serving families from St. William Parish. She began with a basement closet food pantry that expanded to a modular extension of the school building. Mary Beth Gramman, current president for St. William SVdP Conference, says, “For us, Carol has been the face of St. Vincent de Paul in the community. She has been our guide and mentor.” Carol states, “God directs everything in my life … when I hear someone say, ‘thank you, Jesus,’ they get it. It is not us helping, it is the love of Jesus.”

Associate Debbie Weber (left) with her daughter, Amy, at Guardian Angels SVdP preparing items for distribution.

Debbie Weber was invited, motivated and inspired by her daughter to help assemble bags of food and toiletries, distribute vouchers for clothing and furniture and Kroger gift cards for needy people within Guardian Angels parish. She values talking with these neighbors, cherishing their stories and keeping them in prayers. Debbie says, “I am humbled to be able to serve my sisters and brothers alongside my daughter.”

While teaching in Indianapolis, Indiana, S. Pat Wittberg volunteered on Saturdays at a SVdP warehouse distributing furniture and clothing. When she retired and moved back to Cincinnati in 2015, S. Pat continued this ministry on a different level. Father Wenke, pastor of Holy Family, called S. Pat and others to revive the SVdP conference in the parish. This was just in time! In 2020 there was a huge apartment fire blocks away from Holy Family. Eight immigrant families in the parish lost everything and the Vincentians responded with beneficial help. The need continues in this area with at least 15-20 requests per week for help with rent, utilities, food, furniture and clothing. S. Pat remembers many of the people SVdP helped and cherishes their stories, “I just feel so good when we are able to help some of these people.”

S. Patrick Ann, while still working, is a valuable behind-the-scenes volunteer with St. Dominic’s SVdP Conference. She attends and begins the prayer session for the bi-weekly meetings to make difficult decisions regarding who qualifies for assistance. She is in charge of collecting boxes, the important logistic element for food delivery! “I feel this is not a huge help but those who fill and distribute the boxes are grateful that I take care of this item,” she says.

After finishing her term in leadership, S. Christine Rody responded to the need for a Spanish translator to help register clients at the SVdP charitable pharmacy at the Neyer Outreach Center. S. Chris also translates for pharmacy students while they perform clinical services for clients including blood pressure, medication and diabetes checks and vaccinations. She calls people, in English and Spanish, to remind them of appointments and needed documents. “It’s a very people-centered service that is of great help to folks!” she adds.

All these SC Vincentians face challenges of limited funds and volunteers to fulfill the needs of God’s poor. All celebrate the appreciation from and shared prayer with their less fortunate neighbors.

“Listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most.” Pope Francis

(From left) Florida Associates Debbie Garland, Anna Nelson, Liz Hickey, Geri Anderson and Helen Snoha bring crocheted mats and pillows to the homeless.

In Spring Hill, Florida, SC Associates* resolved to help the homeless and at the same time save the Earth by recycling plastic bags. Associate Theresia Griffin invited a group of Associates to engage in a project to crochet mats and pillows out of plastic bags that could offer some physical comfort for the homeless. Plastic bags were collected from stores, families, neighbors and friends. Gail Metcalf’s neighbors, with SC Associates and Candidates, work many hours collecting, folding, cutting, rolling into balls thousands of plastic bags for others to crochet. Gail is called the “bag lady” in her community! Theresia and Iris Ramirez crochet the plastic into mats and pillows and Associate Geri Anderson crochets lap blankets from donated yarn. Gail states: “The first time the group gave the pillows and mats to the homeless, the people were grateful with tears and disbelief that these items were for them to keep!”

In February 2023, a group of Associates met Ellen, foundress of the Nature Coast Community Services Foundation. She, with others, drive pickup trucks around Hernando County with bins full of clothing, shoes, food, and other needed items, for folks to “shop from.” SC Associates gave Ellen plastic-made mats, pillows and blankets crocheted from donated yarn. Later, Associates were told “our mats, pillows and blankets were a big hit and the recipients were delighted to have them.” Associates from St. Frances Cabrini collect nonperishable food items, pet food, sheets, towels, empty milk cartons to fill up with water for drinking or washing.

Gail was recently asked, ‘When will gathering bags and supplies end?’ She replied: “We will stop helping when there are no more homeless here in our county.”

“The Charity of Christ urges us on … urges us onwards day by day… Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ’s love will show us the way!

*Florida Associates mentioned above include: Gail Metcalf, Theresia Griffin, Liz Hickey, Cathy Palmer, Debbie Garland, Geri Anderson, Helen Snoha, Iris Ramirez, Peggy Brockman, Margaret Martin, Anna Nelson and Candidates, Pat Augustyniak, Pat McNiff, Janet Parente, Dianne Clark

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