Written by Cara Oldenhuis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior
On March 21, five girls packed way too much luggage into a minivan and set out on an eight hour road trip. Sounds like a typical college spring break, right?! Think again. While our peers headed for the sunshine and leisure of the beach, we arrived to the cold and snow of Chicago, looking to gain something more out of our trip than just a relaxing week off of school. Our week spent with the Little Sisters was nothing like the beach, but I like to think that the Sisters are way more fun than crazy students in Florida.
We were graciously met with a warm welcome upon on our arrival at St. Mary’s Home. True to the Sister’s vow of hospitality, they immediately made sure we had eaten and were comfortable in our living quarters for the week. I cannot thank the Sisters enough for how well they treated us during our stay! We will gladly come back anytime.
We also had time to tour the beautiful city of Chicago. We hit the sites such as “Sears” Tower, the Bean and the Art Institute. Sr. Ann also gave us a wonderful driving tour of the city, the highlight of which was seeing the city skyline near the lake at night. And of course, we ate way too much pizza while we were in town! Our group was divided on which restaurant was best, but I am definitely on Team Lou Malnati’s.
Even though Sisters made us feel so comfortable, they also had no problem putting us to work throughout the week! We spent most days serving the Residents in the dining room at meal time, which was my favorite activity. Although it was sometimes hectic, it was nice to see the same Resident’s faces three times each day and be able to form a connection with them while serving the food. By the last night’s dinner, we didn’t want to leave the dining room. All the girls also agreed that we look quite fabulous in hairnets.
We assisted in various areas of St. Mary’s Home. Most of our time was spent doing tasks as they were assigned by the lovely volunteer coordinator, Kathleen Kuritz. We cannot thank Kathleen enough for all her patience and support with us throughout the week. We secretly wished we were DePaul student so we could volunteer each week.
Our mornings included transporting Residents to and from physical therapy and we were able to encourage and chat with them while they completed their exercises. We spent time with the Residents each afternoon either in playing bingo in activities or simply visiting with them in their rooms. It was so wonderful to hear each Resident’s unique story. While each story was different, each had a valuable piece of wisdom to impart on us. Of course each of us had our favorite Residents and we all miss them dearly already.
While listening to the stories of each Resident, I couldn’t help notice the face of God in each one of them. Though not all the Residents are Catholic, there is no doubt that the God’s love dwells in each of their hearts. I was so moved each morning as we attended Mass with the Residents. Their dedication to prayer and their love of the Eucharist is inspiring. I know I speak for the other girls when I say that we were very moved by the faith of the Residents and Sisters. Each one of them trusts so much in God’s providence, just as St. Jeanne Jugan did.
As we packed up our van on Saturday morning, we once again looked like typical college girls on a spring break road trip. But instead of returning to Nebraska with a nice tan, we returned as young Catholics with a renewed faith and attitude of service to others. We cannot thank Mother Marcel and the Little Sisters enough for the opportunity to spend the week with them and the Residents.
Please know that the “Nebraska girls” will always consider St. Mary’s Home our home as well.
From left: Alyssa Sleight, Kathryn Kopetzky, Katie Harrison, Mikaela Hoxmeier, Cara Oldenhuis in front of the “bean.”