Society of Mary USA, Marist Ministries Society of Mary, Marists in the USA, Roman Catholic Priests, Brothers, and Laity
Nicholas Ravry, Marist School alumnus and Craig Cronin, student, at work in West Virginia
Nicholas Ravry, Marist School alumnus and Craig Cronin, student, at work in West Virginia

From Georgia to Michigan, Marist students choose
to become instruments of mercy

Atlanta: Marist School Mission Trips To Appalachia
By Fr. Bill Rowland, SM

Marist School in Atlanta provides its students with a variety of mission trip experiences both outside the country and within its borders. There are two mission trips to Appalachia that are a continuation of the Society of Mary's own mission to this part of our country that began in 1902.

Then Bishop Patrick J. Donahue entrusted pastoral care for the territory of Buckhannon and Richwood in West Virginia, an area almost twice the size of the State of Delaware, to the Marists who were truly missionaries. Since then, the Marist religious have ministered in West Virginia and continue to serve the people at Holy Rosary Parish in Buckhannon and at the Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling. The Appalachia region is among the poorest in our nation. It has been hard hit by the environmental effects of coal mining and the loss of that industry that began in the late 1900s.

Beginning in 2008, Marist teacher Mr. Reinald Yoder was instrumental in organizing a domestic mission trip to complement the international ones that Marist School was already encouraging. In 2009, he helped Marist to connect with the organization known as the Appalachia Service Project (ASP). This group has served the people of Appalachia in the states of West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina for 45 years.

The ASP specializes in organizing youth groups and church groups to do various kinds of home repairs and construction projects that would otherwise be left undone. Each summer, Marist has taken 10 students and four adult chaperones, usually members of the faculty, staff and alumni.

Our students typically stay at a local school where they bed down in classrooms and gymnasiums. Breakfast and dinner are provided as is lunch, prepared at the school and eaten at the work site. In the evenings, the volunteers gather for prayer, reflection and singing. On some nights, both the volunteers and the families they are serving gather to listen to stories from the region and to enjoy some of the homespun bluegrass bands.

In 2009, Mrs. Susan Mistretta, registrar at Marist School, was instrumental in connecting Marist School with the Catholic Heart Workcamp (CHWC). This group was founded in 1993 by two youth ministers in Florida and, in 2012, had seven teams of staff who conducted 47 camps across the country and in Jamaica with over 12,500 campers participating. Since 2009, the participation by the Marist students and faculty/staff has grown from five students to 30 in 2014. For the past three years, our students have gone to serve in Betsy Lane, Ky.

Like ASP, our students and chaperones in the CHWC program sleep in classrooms and gymnasiums of the schools where they are housed during their stay. Breakfast and dinner are provided and the lunch is prepared at the school and then taken to the worksite.

Upon arriving at the base camp on Sunday, the different youth and school groups are divided into work teams of six youth and two adults. The groups are assigned a work site for Monday through Thursday. The morning and evening programs are dynamic, fun, and inspirational. The concluding Friday is a free day.

Each group of volunteers participate in group-building activities. On each of the four work days, each group goes to their assigned worksite. Painting, cleaning, building, repairing, gardening and grass cutting are typical of the work that is done.

Marist School also partners with Christian Help of Mingo County, West Virginia, the 13th poorest county in the United States. This mission trip is limited to 15-20 students from the seventh and eighth grade. The main activity of the trip is the distribution of Christmas gifts to families who have very little, even for basic necessities.

The students who participate on mission trips often comment that they get a lot more out of the experience than what they give. For many, it is the first time away from home and their first experience of poverty that is "up close and personal." It is an "eye-opener" for them and for some, their mission trip will become a life-changing experience.

When asked to describe the impact of the ASP mission trip on his students, Mr. Yoder said, "Our students gain confidence to serve. They learn that a willingness to serve and a mind to plan carefully, and a team to work with, can help them tackle very daunting jobs. Our students are reminded that it takes more than money to truly impact change in the world. Most of our first-time students have never employed power tools (drills, circular saws) and have not done formal construction until this trip... I delight in seeing students gain confidence and satisfaction at working successfully with their hands to construct something permanent."

Mrs. Mistretta added, "The most powerful thing for me is that our students have an opportunity to see poverty up close and realize that it cannot be fixed if people will just stop being lazy and get a job. They learn to see the humanity of the uneducated, the beaten down, those who have no context of working hard, and those who can't make their own lives better. I know from my own children that this sticks for life."

It is wonderful to see that as the presence of the Marist religious in Appalachia diminishes, the Marist mission and presence continues through the love and generosity of the Marist students and faculty and staff. For years it was often said among the Marist religious, "You really aren't a Marist until you have served in West Virginia." Perhaps that explains why the students and faculty/staff who have gone on these mission trips seem to intuit that there is something very "Marist" about the people and the ministry there that seems to be a natural fit even to a new generation missionaries who, too, bear the name Marist.

Jenna Sosik with Treasure. Jenna took part in Notre Dame Preparatory School's Summer in the City program this year, which brought her to Detroit. Notre Dame Prep is located in Pontiac, Michigan.
Jenna Sosik with Treasure. Jenna took part in Notre Dame Preparatory School's Summer in the City program this year, which brought her to Detroit.
Notre Dame Prep is located in Pontiac, Michigan.

Pontiac: Notre Dame Prep Students Inner-City Service
Story coordinated by Cathy Zaccaro and Fr. Paul Frechette, SM

At Notre Dame Preparatory School in Pontiac, Michigan, Christian service is an integral part of the student experience. Students at the school are encouraged to increase their interaction and direct contact with people in need whom they can benefit through service. The experiences allow students to personalize issues of inequality and injustice, both of which they are called to be concerned about.

Four students who participated in Notre Dame Prep's week-long mission trip to Detroit this year, titled Summer In The City, talk about their decisions to take part in the program and what the experience meant to them.

What was your motivation for going to Detroit? What did the experience mean to you?
So many times we think we have to travel across the world to third world countries to find people to serve, but I realized that I have a place just an hour south of me that needs all the help it can get. My name was called, and I answered. My fears stemmed from a lack of experience with the program and not knowing what to expect each day. Those ended up being the best moments though - the unexpected glimpses of hope and community being raised up through our service.

Was this a one-shot deal?
In September, we will be painting plywood murals for a Detroit neighborhood (Brightmoore) to hang on abandoned houses and buildings in an attempt to beautify the area. Brightmoore is a neighborhood that Summer in the City serves and we as a Notre Dame Prep and Marist community want to continue servicing them, joining them in the hard work they have already put into lifting up their area.

What was your motivation for going to Detroit? What did the experience mean to you?
I believe that in any service project the server is guaranteed to see the face of God. All I want is to see His face as clearly as possible each and every day, and therefore I was motivated to serve in Detroit. I faced the fear of the unknown, since this was my first year serving with Summer in the City. However, I trusted God and His plan for the service project going into the week, and He guided me through it.

Notre Dame Prep's Summer in the City team.
Notre Dame Prep's Summer in the City team.
What was your motivation for going to Detroit? What did the experience mean to you?
I believe that if we spend our lives focusing on ourselves, we experience only who we are. When we focus on others, we also get to experience who they are. We become a part of their lives and they become a part of ours. If we make this interaction positive, we can push both our lives forward in a positive direction.

What did this experience have to do with your Catholic faith?
I saw the face of Jesus most in my buddy (the child Oliva worked with). She was very kind and enjoyed all that we were doing. It was so nice to see her have fun. I found happiness in helping her and in seeing her happiness. It was a very rewarding feeling. I can relate the verse of Matthew 5:16 to my work. It says, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." This verse really sums up my feelings about what I did on the trip. I shared my "light" or talents with the people there. I really feel Jesus was calling me to do other mission trips in my life. I have already been researching out of country mission trips for next summer.