Letter from a Volunteer on the Piarist Outreach Program.

The following is a letter written by Jennifer Bollich, the Youth Minister at St. Mary of False River Catholic Church, on what brought their parish to work with the Piarist Outreach Program and the aftermath of their mission trip to eastern KY.  The volunteers who come to eastern KY to donate their time and efforts do so out of a calling from God to help those in need. These volunteers stay at the Piarist Frontier Camp. This was the old Oddfellow’s Camp and was renamed after Audrey and Ed took over as caretakers and managers of the property. The Piarist School Outreach is eternally grateful for the help volunteers provide. We could not do our work without theirs. 

August 28, 2017

 

In 2014 Fr. Tom Carroll, a priest from the Piarist order, visited our church parish in New Roads, Louisiana, and spoke to the congregation. His visit wasn’t announced prior to his celebrating mass with us so I was a little surprised to see an unfamiliar priest in the procession. He said mass in a very quiet, calm manner and delivered his homily the same way. It was through the quiet and calm voice of this humble priest that the Holy Spirit began to speak. He told us of His children suffering in eastern Kentucky. He spoke of the traditions of the Appalachian people, and of their joys and sorrows. He told us of the economy, and lack of educational and job opportunities that kept His people in this cycle of generational poverty. He spoke of His Piarist order that had been sent out to the poorest parts of the world to teach. He spoke of the conditions in rural Appalachia that seemed like a third world country when compared to the rest of our nation. Finally, the Holy Spirit called us to help. He called us to reach down deep and give of our money, resources, time, and talent.

At mass that weekend, our parishioners gave the largest sum of money ever collected that wasn’t pre-announced—and they kept giving in the weeks to come. But more, they kept talking about Fr. Tom’s words, and the Holy Spirit kept moving. Soon, I was prompted to contact Fr. Tom by telephone who then gave the phone to Audrey, his Outreach coordinator. Through emails and Facebook messages, our first mission trip began to take shape for the following summer.

Twenty-three youth and adults made plans to travel to Kentucky in July of 2015. We spoke after mass, placed a multi-page insert in the bulletin, and again the Holy Spirit began to move. Donations began pouring in and enthusiasm continued to build. We rented a small U-haul trailer and packed it with donations: school supplies, bedding, first aid kits, cleaning supplies, and bottled water. Not quite knowing what to expect, or what Christ was going to ask of us, we headed to Kentucky and the Piarist Frontier Campground. (In hindsight, had some of my drivers known the road they had to drive to get to the camp, they may have cancelled. But God is good, and asks us to trust Him one step at a time even when we can’t see the whole journey.)

It’s hard to comprehend the range of emotions I experienced on that trip. Nervousness—I was in charge and had never done anything like that before. I had never even stepped foot in Kentucky and had no idea what to expect. Terror—I was driving a large van full of teens up, down, and around a narrow and steep dirt and gravel road into a mountain wilderness. Relief—the first time I safely navigated to the camp. Exhilaration—when I could drive the road without blinking an eye–even in the rain.  Shock—at the amount of work that needed to be completed before the tuition-free Catholic school could open at its new location in just a few short weeks. Awe—at the amount of work our teens and adults accomplished in just a few short days. Exhaustion—at the amount of work we did in just a few short days. Gratitude—at the prayers, meals, and financial support our faithful parishioners sent with us. Heartbreak—at the living conditions of the beautiful children and families the Outreach serves. Admiration—for the way our teens embraced the mission and the people of eastern Kentucky. Wonder—at our teen’s abilities to look at these poor children and see the joy, and value in each of them. Reverence—for Christ shining in each face I encountered during that week.

Each of the 23 missionaries from that first trip returned home to Louisiana changed in some way. Friendships were built. Eyes were opened. Hearts were touched. But most of all, the Love that is Christ grew in each of us as it was poured out on others.

Unfortunately, due to necessary repairs on our home church and catastrophic floods in our own area, we were unable to return in 2016. However, in 2017, I and my good friend, Kim, were able to take 9 youth back to the Piarist Outreach to work again. Again, I was nervous. This time not because I didn’t know what to expect, but because I did. And I wasn’t quite sure how Kim and I could pull this off with 9 kids on our own. Of course, we weren’t really on our own. (Never discount the work of the Holy Spirit. He can magnify your meager efforts to supernatural proportions if you simply say “yes” and get to work.)

He provided us with willing hearts, enthusiastic youth, prayer support back home, and Ed.  Ed is Audrey’s husband and helps her run the Piarist Frontier Camp, manage the groups, and do whatever else Audrey and Fr. Tom need.  Ed got “stuck” teaching us carpentry skills on the jobsite. Somehow through the intercession of St. Joseph, the miracle worker, and the help and guidance of this man, our motley crew built a new deck with steps and a roof for a family on Audrey’s list in three-and-a-half days. (To say this was a miracle is a vast understatement and I’m still amazed at God’s faithfulness.) All the experiences from the first mission trip were again present, but in many new faces as well as many I recognized from before.

The impact the Piarist Outreach has had on my family and me is hard to put into words. I originally wanted to take my children on a mission trip to show them what true poverty looks like. I didn’t expect for Christ to show me what He really looks like. And yet, isn’t that what He asks of us all? Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta) said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus, this one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

We each must ask ourselves, “Where is God calling me to serve today?” Service starts in our families, spreads into our communities, and out into the rest of God’s vast creation. I’m thankful for the time God called me to serve in Kentucky and I hope, with His help, I will be able to return many, many times in the future.

 

                                                                                                                        God bless you,

                                                                                                                        Jennifer Bollich

                                                                                                                        Youth minister,

                                                                                                                        St Mary of False River Catholic Church