Life on Campus
I don't remember the last time I went sledding. Or rather, I don't remember the last time I went sledding before this past Saturday. Covered in a beautiful blanket of snow, the many slopes of Saint Vincent's campus provide ideal spots for this winter activity. While the heavy snowfall has had a huge impact on the Northeast this past weekend, I would say that Saint Vincent is quite fortunate to have received it without the biting winds that often cut through campus and through even the thickest winter coats.
I've been getting back into the groove of things here at Saint Vincent this semester, which is certainly a good thing. But, like with any good thing, even familiarity can reach the point of excess. As much as I love all of my classes this semester, there comes with academic responsibility a certain routine that develops over time that tries to consistently organize class, work, meals, etc. If students aren't careful, they can easily find themselves in a rut, worn into the ground by their own two feet.
I am a rut-dweller myself. It doesn't take long for me to find the most efficient routes to my classrooms, the best times for me to do my schoolwork (in the most efficient order, no less), and the most convenient ways to fit in that meal I skipped earlier in exchange for some extra sleep. To top it all off, I'm not easily prompted to do things that deviate too much from my routine.
I am incredibly grateful for the weekend's fresh coat of snow precisely because of how inflexible my routine can be. The cold weather provided me with an opportunity to refresh myself by sharing excitement with some friends. And while my fingers may have gone a little numb, the experience left me feeling quite warm.
The weather is a great source of opportunity because we can't control it. We can only say, "Okay, here's what we've been given," and then decide how to respond to it. So when you're a group of Catholics on a bus and you're given enough snow to leave you stuck on the turnpike for more than twenty hours, you respond to that snow by making an altar out of it and having Mass on the side of the road (photo credit to Marielle Lafaro, Tweeted by Michelle Ahrens).
What might appear like madness to some people was no doubt an incredibly significant experience to others. It was an opportunity to express courage and even joy. What is bad weather to those whose happiness comes from something greater than their circumstances?
When we take these opportunities to go sledding, or to have Mass on the side of the road, our routines are broken and we are temporarily taken out of our ruts. And we sometimes find that, upon returning to them, something is different. The things we do daily may seem less monotonous and instead more substantial, more beautiful, more significant. I can only imagine what everyday life might look like now to the people who had Mass in the snow.
As the semester goes on, and I continue to work myself into my routine, I hope that I can find those opportunities to grow and to refresh my outlook. I hope the same for all of my fellow students. Through those "out-of-rut" experiences, we can come to appreciate our routine-based lifestyles a little bit more. They are just as important to our everyday lives as the routines themselves.
Not a day goes by without learning something new. Transfer students know this all too well.
I was blessed to have transferred to Saint Vincent this past fall. But from dorm living and late-night study sessions, to monk sightings and homesickness, there’s a lot to get used to at SVC.
As we settle in for spring, I would like to share a few lessons I’ve learned for a successful, peaceful and exciting semester from one new student to another.
- Ask questions! It seems like a little thing, but it’s tough not to feel foolish asking questions all day long. But questions like, “How do I get food in the Shack,” and, “Are there any bathrooms in Alfred?” are important to ask! You can make life a lot easier for yourself by giving up a little pride, making friends with strangers and asking questions!
- Be understanding with yourself. Especially if you’re coming from another college where you knew the ropes, it’s easy to be hard on yourself for not knowing how to do something simple or for failing that quiz or feeling awkward in conversation, but really, it’s O.K.! It will be hard. It can be stressful. It might be lonely. But remember – you’re making a transition. Cut yourself some slack when you need it, take care of your body and your mind.
- Revel in the little things. Like knowing where all your classes are without checking your schedule or learning how to work the toaster. (Go ahead and laugh, but the cafeteria’s toaster is unlike any you’ve seen before.) It’s a beautiful thing to feel victorious once you’ve mastered the perfect lunch combo, or found the perfect route from the library to Sebastian’s Garden. There are lots of opportunities for simple moments of beauty or fun - stop by the practice rooms in the music hallway and mess around on the piano or just sit and people-watch in Carey. These aren’t big things, but they can add up to some priceless experiences.
- You are Benedictine. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, every student has a place at Saint Vincent to grow and learn and live within the Benedictine community. Saint Benedict’s Rule was designed to be universal, to move beyond monastery walls and impact the individual right where he or she is. This is something I’ve learned and come to love. Whether it’s the history of the monks, the spiritual hallmarks or the friendly brothers you encounter on a daily basis, there are so many benefits to going to school on monastery grounds. There’s an atmosphere here that is unlike any other, and you have a place here.
- Take your time finding your community. Anywhere you go, there will be tight groups particular to a certain interest. Ski club, Frisbee team or the entire biology major - every good school will have groups that will help you deepen your passions and skills. Saint Vincent is no exception. I’ve found that SVC has a strong bond of community influenced by the monastery next door. It might take a few weeks or even a full semester, but you will find a place. (Without sounding like a Hallmark card,) I encourage you to find a niche where you can be comfortable and truly thrive amid the unique personalities and beautiful people here at Saint Vincent College.
I still have so much to learn, but these five lessons were hard-won last semester and I am sure they will carry me through the next few weeks. Whether you’re a freshman or a transfer student, I hope you find your place here at SVC!
For many, the dawn of the New Year shines with a bright and hopeful light. The New Year is a time to herald in the new beginnings, new challenges, and new hopes, while kicking yesteryear’s bummers to the curb (and don’t cha come back no more, no more).
- We aren’t ready to change. It’s New Year’s Eve. Inspired by the evening’s rosy glow of promise and excitement, you have told everyone who cares to listen (and even a few who don’t) about your New Year’s Resolution, and how you are going to make big changes in your life (starting tomorrow, of course). Full of hope you watch the ball drop, exchange some celebratory smooches with your fellow partygoers and finally find your way to your bed in the early hours of the morning. However once you wake up, the dewy (and potentially impulsive) promise of change you made last night sounds less than appealing…Maybe next year?
- We get sucked into the “False Hope Syndrome.” As a culture, we tend to want things on demand. We have little time and (generally) even less patience. This deficiency can affect how realistic our resolutions are. Now, I’m not saying that every resolution that we have ever or will ever conceive will fall into this category, but some of the resolutions we make tend to look better on paper. Making a resolution to work out five hours a day like the pros while trying to balance other life demands like work, school, relationships and the human need to goof off once in a while? To move to a new state in two weeks? To lose 70 pounds in two months? For your sake, health and sanity, you might want to revisit the drawing board.
- We meet our resolution…and still aren’t happy. This idea can be counterintuitive to what we usually think when we imagine conquering our resolutions. So your New Year’s resolution was to lose 40 pounds in 4 months, and you did it. Congratulations! Most likely, you are on your way to a healthier body and lifestyle. And yet…you are still left wanting. You thought by now you would be more confident and that your personal, social and work life would whip themselves into shape just like you have…but nothing has changed. This feeling of dissatisfaction can be harmful, especially to our motivation to keep making progress. When making resolutions, make sure to address the core of the issues you want to change. Is it really the weight that is bothering you, or is it just a cover for something else (a lousy job, unsatisfying major, etc.)? Be honest with yourself.
- We are too specific. Many of you probably read this header and asked yourself, “What does that even mean?” This idea can be hard to wrap your head around, as we are often pushed in many facets of our life (in classes, at work, when giving directions, etc.) to be as specific as possible. Yet, when we are too strict in how much of something we want, or how long we have until we reach that want, we often open ourselves up to things like cheating or inflexibility. So when crafting your goal, try to think more broadly, such as focusing on an area of your life instead of a specific part of that area.
P.S. If you would like to read the article I cited in this post, you can find it here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201312/why-we-dont-keep-our-new-years-resolutions
Photo Credit: GretchenRubin.com
Hi there! My name is Morgan. I'm a senior English education major at Saint Vincent (I'll be graduating in May!), and I'll be blogging here for the spring semester!
I wanted to create this post as a quick hello and to tell whoever reads my blogs a little bit about me. Since you seem like a nice person, I'll give you the SparkNotes version:
-I am a huge English nerd (don't look now, but I'm probably silently correcting your grammar).
-I love mac and cheese more than I should.
-I'm addicted to buying books. And shoes. And clothes. And makeup.
-Hobbies include: singing (kind of okayishly), tap dancing, writing, reading, being an overachiever, daydreaming, and poking around the interwebs.
More to come...
As the holidays are approaching, finals are in full swing. But Christmas cheer can still be found on campus. We hope you enjoy our rendition of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” about our Fred Rogers Scholars Christmas Party:
Twas the first night of finals, when all through the college
Not a student was stirring, gaining some knowledge
The Scholars were celebrating with joy in the air
With hopes that finals soon would be bare
They sprang to their presents, to each other gave cheer
And with their presents in hand, they had not one fear
But we heard them exclaim, as they walked out of sight
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Adam & Maura
Group shot modeling one of the gifts, a photo prop kit!
Trying out some props from the photo prop kit!
Jules, Sydney and Maura striking a pose in a fun frame!
Dr. Cook and Jules posing in a festive frame!
Dr. Harvey and Maura modeling their matching presents, a 2016 Fred Rogers desk calendar!
Adam here! I hope you are enjoying the last few weeks before Christmas! In this holiday season, it is important to remember those less fortunate. Here at Saint Vincent, we are all about helping those in need!
The Education Department and Dr. Kathy Beining started a program three years ago called SVC Wraps! The department joins forces with the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau to buy presents for children who may not get any presents under the tree! It is held the last weekend before finals and starts on Saturday at the Latrobe Kmart.
Kmart opens up at 6:30 a.m. for all of us to shop! Every student gets at least one child to shop for along with a budget and a wish list! It is so much fun trying to find the great bargains to extend your budget as much as possible!
The weekend ends on Sunday with a wrapping party at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve! The volunteers wrap the presents from Saturday and enjoy some great food, great music and great prizes! The wrapped presents are then loaded into a truck and delieverd to the Children's Bureau! It is such a great program, and I am truly blessed to be a part of it! Take a look at some great pictures from an exciting and rewarding weekend below!
I hope it's a beautiful Christmas in your neighborhood!
Education Faculty getting everything ready!
Students are ready to wrap!
Oranments and picture frames are in place!
Annie, Adam, Rachel and Frank trying out the picture frames!
Annie wishes she could wear one of her presents!
Jess is playing peek a boo behind some angel wrapping paper!
Adam and Maura here! We both are junior Fred Rogers Scholars here at Saint Vincent. Adam is a history secondary education major. Maura is a psychology major with a minor in children’s studies. Both of us have worked closely with the Fred Rogers Scholars for the past 2.5 years, and one of our favorite projects is the monthly Sky Above Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood planetarium show.
On Saturday, Nov. 21, we welcomed our first group of families for the year. Each month we provide a variety of crafts and activities for the families to enjoy after the 20-minute show. Our activities include fishing for stars, making Daniel Tiger masks and puppets, making your own paper moon like Lady Elaine in the show and a variety of other fun activities. We also have our very own wooden trolley photo booth! See below some photos of our activities.
We hope to see you at the next show on Saturday, Jan. 16 at 12:30 p.m. in the Dupre Science Pavilion.
We hope it's a beautiful day in your neighborhood!
Adam & Maura
Fred Rogers Scholar Michaela takes a pic in the trolley with a friend!
Fun for All Ages!!!
Maura catches some serious air while playing with one of the kids!
It’s hard to believe that my junior year at Saint Vincent College has come to a close. It has been a while since I last posted, which goes to show just how busy I have been. This year has probably been one of my most successful so far, only because I have learned so much about myself and my fields of study: communication and graphic design.
Let’s start with the reason I am here and what is fresh in my mind: this past semester’s classes. Besides, I just finished all of my finals! I made sure to fill my course load this semester with 19 credits. Here’s a brief overview of my classes and what I learned:
- I became a forensic scientist in my Chemistry and Crime class/lab and learned many valuable life lessons about how easily evidence can be misinterpreted. All I know is that if I ever have to serve on jury duty, thanks to Dr. Bettie Davis, I’ll be more prepared in making a just decision.
- I was able to bring out my inner photographer in my Digital Photography and Post Production class. This was my third class with Mr. Joseph Materkowski, who has taught me a variety of different techniques that will always be helpful to know and understand, especially in my future career. The best part of this particular class was trying to find people who were willing to be photographed and have their picture shown to a class full of students. I think the award goes to my niece who actually let a salamander crawl on her face when I asked her to do it in order to get a funny photo:)
- I learned more about the many types of art in my Art History II class and conceptual art was my favorite to talk about. I think it is so interesting, because it makes you think, even if it doesn’t make sense or seems weird, and it challenges what art is all about. I also learned that my professor, Mr. Ben Schachter, is not only a painter, but also creates some amazing sculptures and works of art with electrical pieces. How cool is that!
- I enjoyed learning different drawing and painting techniques in my 2-D Design class. Br. Mark Floreanini taught me last semester for my Stained Glass class, and he has always been helpful and supportive of my talents. Check out this interesting and colorful self-portrait of mine that is composed of hundreds of dots of color and another drawing I created of the Saint Vincent Basilica window with a hatching technique.
- I became a public relations specialist in my Writing for Media class and composed a portfolio full of valuable writing samples related to Elk County Council on the Arts, a non-profit organization close to my home town that I worked at for two summers. These writing techniques and tools will definitely be valuable for the future, and Ms. Beth Michalec really helped me to develop my reasoning behind writing and encouraged me with kind words throughout the semester.
- Most importantly, I conquered my fear of reading in my Children’s Literature class! Since I have such a creative mind full of distracting thoughts, I have never been much of a reader. I want to give a shout out to Dr. Marybeth Spore, who really inspired me to overcome my apprehensions and, because of her support, I was able to successfully read 14 books; some in less than even two days. I would say that’s a pretty big accomplishment!
I was able to vividly remember and express my positive thoughts towards my teachers and my professors this semester because it is fresh in my mind, but I want to thank all of my wonderful teachers who have been so inspirational in my journey so far at Saint Vincent College. The best part of attending college at such a small campus is the special bond created with the professors, who truly care about and become invested in their students. I could not be happier with the progress I have made because of these amazing individuals.
Next, I’d like to mention my opportunities for work on campus. I’ve been working with Campus Ministry since my freshman year, and it is always so rewarding to get involved with the Catholic campus in such a special way. I am able to meet so many different students and invest my time into the planning and promotion of activities that bring the community together. Secondly, I work for the Marketing and Communications department, which involves many fun and exciting projects that have been the most effective in providing me with hands on experience in my fields of study. I started off in the fall knowing very little about the Adobe software and a program called MailChimp, which I use to create the School of Social Sciences, Communication and Education newsletter every month. However, with encouragement and help from Simon Stuchlik and Suzanne English, I have been able to blossom and learn so much in so little time.
One of the biggest projects I completed recently was the school outcome brochures that get sent out to prospective students. I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to everyone who works in the Public Relations and Marketing and Communications department who have been influential in my growth as the design intern on campus. Also, back to the newsletter, I am very fortunate to be able to work with a fine group of ladies and Dr. Spore on the SSCE newsletter, where my main role is to use my design skills to turn the text and photographs into a visually appealing masterpiece for all to read and enjoy. I also can’t forget to mention a very special person, George Fetkovich, who was recently hired as the graphic designer on campus. I have the privilege of working next to George, who has played a pivotal role in teaching me the ins and outs of graphic design. Every little bit of new information counts and I am so blessed to be able to learn new things every day beyond what I gain from being in the classroom.
Now, it’s actually 1:20 a.m. and I’ve been writing this for quite some time, but I can’t seem to stop. Besides, I’m headed home in about 12 hours and, by the time you read this, I will already be home enjoying my first few weeks of summer. This brings me to my summer job. I am very pleased to announce that I will be interning with Generation Life, which is an amazing missionary organization that mainly works to spread the messages of chastity and respect for human life to high school and college students. I will have an opportunity to do some traveling and work with the organization’s communication department, starting in June. I am so excited to be able to gain experience by investing my time into a mission that I care deeply about and try to uphold through my position as vice president for the respect life club on campus.
Another person who has contributed to my growth spiritually is Fr. John-Mary Tompkins, O.S.B. who generously meets with me weekly to discuss matters of the faith. I have become a stronger person because of his advice and am able to live out my faith more fully on campus because of his continued prayers and support.
There are just so many people who have touched my life in these past three years and chances are, if I know you, then you have touched my life in some way, shape or form. Thank you to all of you who share your smiles and laughs with me and show me how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who care. Whether you are a friend, family member, teacher, mentor, boss,... you have made an impact on my life, and I thank you for sharing part of your journey with me.
Well, I could go on and on about how special Saint Vincent has been for me so far and how amazing the students and faculty are, but all good things must come to an end. I could talk to you about my crazy roommate who I grew up with since kindergarten, but I’ll save that for next time. I've got to prepare to enter my senior year of college! (YIKES!)
Oh! and on a completely random note, I tried deep fried ice-cream for the first time last week at Don Patron, a new Mexican restaurant in Latrobe. Talk about a great way to celebrate the end of a great semester!
After weeks of anticipation, long plane rides, warm weather, over 1800 pictures, and time spent with amazing sisters and beautiful children of all ages, spring break in Brazil is one experience that I will never forget. Please enjoy this breakdown of my trip and how it helped me grow spiritually and learn how much more meaningful life is when God is involved.
Day 1: (Friday)
A small group of students, along with Fr. Killian and Fr. Jean-Luc, left campus on Friday, Feb. 28, to spend spring break in Brazil for a mission trip that was coordinated by campus ministry. We rode in vans to the Pittsburgh airport and waited eagerly as we received our boarding passes, checked our bags and walked through security. In the main area of the airport, we all ate lunch and waited to board the plane. We received news that our flight would be delayed for a few minutes because they were checking the brakes on the plane. We weren’t really worried at this point, because we had a layover in New York, where our connecting flight would take us to Brazil.
Finally, we heard the signal to board the plane and walked to our seats. The door closed, instructions were given and after buckling up, we were ready to go but...not so fast! After waiting longer than normal in our fastened seats, an unexpected announcement was made. The pilot exceeded his limit of hours for the day and we had to de-board the plane. One thought went through all of our heads: “Are you kidding me?” We were forced to wait longer in the airport by our gate until we could figure out other arrangements. We all sprawled out on the middle of the walkway while we waited in line. We were hoping for the best but the delay set us back too far and we ended up having to stay at the Sheraton hotel in Pittsburgh overnight and fly to Atlanta the next day. This was not the best of news, but we all tried to remain positive and while in the shuttle on the way to the hotel, the song “I Will Survive” played on the radio. We all laughed and appreciated an enjoyable meal and a good night’s rest in the comfortable beds of our own hotel rooms.
It all ended up working out, especially because we had a student who appreciated the extra night to overcome an illness and another student who was a day behind us because of Visa issues. We got to know each other better and geared up for our second attempt at leaving the Pittsburgh airport. Today I learned the importance of patience and trusting God’s will by knowing that everything happens for a reason.
Day 2: (Saturday)
Today, we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel then left the Pittsburgh airport for Atlanta. It was a pretty short flight and at the Atlanta airport, I had a cup of Starbucks coffee and a Nathan’s hotdog for the first time. Then, the group boarded the plane for the long trip to Brazil. This was the first time I ever had a meal on an airplane, and let’s just say I would be happy if I didn’t have to eat that kind of food again for a while. I sat beside a complete stranger who only spoke Portuguese and it was hard to find a comfortable position to sleep. Luckily, the invention of television screens made the time go by a little bit faster. I also didn’t realize that my seat reclined until we had about an hour left of the flight so I couldn’t wait to land. The traveling wasn’t as bad as I expected but I was glad to finally be in Brazil. Today I learned that the journey isn’t always easy but there’s always a destination to look forward to.
Day 3: (Sunday)
It is now early morning and we finally made it to Sao Paulo, Brazil. This begins the feelings of anxiety while everyone around us spoke a different language. The air was warm and the sun was out. I definitely was not missing the snow at home. We were received by two monks, Br. João Marcos and Br. Alexandre, and rode a bus to the place where we would be staying for the week. The hour long ride was breathtaking. We rode by beautiful scenery which included palm trees, a bright blue sky, tall buildings, colorful houses, and interesting graffiti everywhere. After arriving at our destination, a gate opened and we were welcomed at the convent of the Sisters of Christ. I could not believe how calm and peaceful it was. The girls and I made our way down to our sleeping area, which was one room with beds lined against the wall and 2 bathrooms. There was a door that led outside with a view of the scenery and it was just so incredible to be in another country and soak up an entirely different atmosphere. Mass was celebrated in the chapel and then we had our first meal in Brazil that was prepared by the sisters. I had rice with chicken and a mango and some really delicious fruit juice. There were also baked beans, but I decided to skip those.
Then, we all relaxed on the porch for a bit and were introduced to Samuel, a young man who would be translating for us for most of the week. After resting for a bit, we took a bus to Veneto and visited the Sao Bento Monastery that is connected to Saint Vincent. We had an opportunity to see parrots and monkeys that live on the grounds. Then, we walked a short distance to a replica of the Christ the Redeemer stature and took our picture. We had an amazing view of the city and visited a small museum that was attached. We then headed back to the monastery, and the altar in the church was designed just like the one in the Saint Vincent basilica. We sat while the monks said vespers and even though we couldn’t understand them, it was still really beautiful to see and listen to what they were saying and see how similar the process is. We ate pizza for dinner with the monks and then headed back to the convent where we were staying and played Taboo, which pretty much became the game of the week.
When I went back to the room, I found an unexpected surprise. There was a cockroach in my shower bag that I left open on the bed! I may have given a little shriek, but I was able to dump it outside. Luckily, this was the first of only a few creatures that showed up unexpectedly throughout the week. We were all settled in and ready to begin a new day. Today it was incredible to embrace the beautiful landscapes in a different country, experience a different culture, and visit the monks who openly welcomed us into their home.
Day 4 (Monday):
We woke up early and had our first breakfast in Brazil, which consisted of bread, lunch meat, fruit, and really good tasting coffee. Our group split up to help the sisters with odd jobs throughout the morning. We would have normally spent time with the kids at the schools, but the schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday because of the Carnival of Brazil taking place. Two of the girls and I helped the sisters sort clothes into different piles to be used in a second hand store that they have for needy families. For lunch, I had rice with chicken and gravy and tried papaya and a chili pepper for the first time. I am a pretty picky eater but I tried to step outside of my comfort zone a little bit and luckily, most of the food was more than satisfying.
After lunch, I helped to sort some books in the library with a sister who didn’t speak any English, so it was interesting trying to figure out what the books said while trying to understand where to put them. Then, I sat down and helped to sort receipts that that sisters have to organize each day. These small tasks seemed somewhat tedious, but it was rewarding to help the sisters in even the smallest of ways and become part of their everyday routine while feeling like a part of their community. We said vespers together as a group and had mass and a little reflection about our day.
After eating dinner and trying a soda from Brazil that was similar to ginger ale, we all walked a short distance to the mall to find a money exchange. There was a band playing music inside and a tree that spread through an opening right in the middle of the mall. We got ice cream and it was some of the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had. Samuel’s cousin and his wife came with us and they were so friendly and nice to talk to. On the way back, we stopped at a supermarket where I bought a shirt and some coffee and candy to take home. I was also excited when I found German chocolate eggs with a toy inside that I used receive when I was a child. It was so nice to walk outside in shorts and enjoy the beautiful weather.
That night while getting ready to shower, a little lizard came out of nowhere and scared me. I’m not sure why I was being targeted by all of the little creatures but I screamed really loud and one of girls captured it and took it outside for me. I was ready for another day. Today I learned the significance of helping with the smallest of tasks and witnessed true hospitality.
Day 5 (Tuesday):
Today after breakfast and Morning Prayer, the group traveled to Mae Magnificat, which is a home for the homeless and abandoned elderly that was started by a 24-year-old man named Amarillo, who is now just 31 years old. We had an opportunity to listen to his beautiful testimony and how he started his journey by attending to homeless people in the streets by cutting their nails and hair. With a call from God, Amarillo accepted the task of taking in the sick and elderly on the streets and even had to beg in their place. He said that most of his inspiration came from the Gospel in Matthew 25 where Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” It was so humbling to see a young man trusting in God enough to give up his personal plans in life and accept the challenge to help others.
We had some time to visit with the residents and even though we couldn’t really speak to them clearly, the joy in their eyes was evident. These men and woman now have a safe home to live in where they are clothed and fed, all because of one man’s sacrifice and the help of several volunteers. After lunch, we visited one of the best wineries in Brazil with the sisters and it just so happened to be a place that was visited by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. After dinner, we had a great opportunity to visit the home of our translator’s sister and her husband and see how a typical working couple lived. The house was very small, clean and modern and we had to walk down steps from a garage next to the street to a lower level where the rooms were. There were only three rooms and it was pretty bare with little decorations, much different from our homes filled with clutter in America. There are no screens in the windows and the doors are always open to let in the warm and fresh air. We were welcomed by such great hospitality and enjoyed spending time with some of their family members while eating some Brazilian snacks.
Today I also remember Sr. Luciana, a younger, hardworking sister in the convent that spoke some English and also translated for us throughout the week, say, “My work is prayer.” She was such a great role model for what it truly means to surrender one’s life to God and do good works for others. I learned that serving others is a sacrifice, but as long as it is for God, there will be a great reward.
Day 6 (Wednesday):
This morning we listened to a human trafficking presentation by a woman who started an organization to help people who are facing horrible circumstances. The sisters also showed us how they are involved in the movement and go through extreme conditions to help others. They are even planning to build a house for children who need a safe place to stay. These amazing leaders risk their lives every day to save others from destruction, and they are a target and could even be killed for their selfless efforts.
After lunch, another student and I spent time with a few kids and played games with them. I was actually pretty easy to interact with them, especially because most of them were learning a little bit of English in their school. Then, a large group of smaller kids and their teachers came out for recess and played musical chairs. It was satisfying to give attention to the kids and learn ways to communicate to them through simple words and hand gestures. One little girl even gave me a kiss on the cheek when I left.
After another delicious dinner, our group from Saint Vincent traveled to the city of Jundiai and participated in the Ash Wednesday mass that was celebrated by the Bishop. The church was beautifully decorated and the music was unlike anything that I ever heard in a church. It was also interesting that ashes were sprinkled on top of the head when we were used to having them placed with the sign on the cross on our foreheads. This notion that they accept in Brazil corresponds to the Gospel that states how we should not boast about our prayer or fasting but keep it hidden.
After mass, we all got a group picture with the Bishop, who stood next to me and kissed me on the cheek after joking with me when I shouted to the sister who was taking the picture to tell her where the button was. We ended the night playing games as a group and sharing in more laughs and fun. Today I was happy to share my joy with the children I met and I saw the beauty of celebrating mass in a different culture that has unique traditions but still practices the same Catholic beliefs.
Day 7: (Thursday)
Today our group spilt up and half of us went to a school close by while the other half stayed at the school connected to the convent. I went to the other school first where there were different age groups of children. When we first arrived, a group of kids were in gym class and as soon as they saw us, they ran to us and grabbed onto us, especially Fr. Killian who attracted them like magnets. We spent most of our time playing with the younger 2-3 year olds and they were so full of joy. I held a little girl who kept crying because she missed her mom and she was so sweet and loveable. She even reminded me of one of my nephews at home which is why she stole a special piece of my heart. This same girl fell asleep while Fr. Killian held her and then I tried to feed her lunch but she didn’t want it.
All of the kids took a nap in a room filled with little rod iron beds, almost like it was out of a movie. In the afternoon, I helped served lunch to some of the kids and then played outside with some of the older kids. They enjoyed getting their hair braided and playing jump rope. For dinner, we were taken out to a surprise dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse where they walk around with all different types of meat. It was delicious and unlike anything I ever experienced and it gave our group a good time to bond and reflect on our week. Today I learned how attached I could become to young kids who were basically strangers and that we can all communicate as children of God, no matter where we come from.
Day 8: (Friday)
Today we passed out toys and stuffed animals to the kids at both schools that we collected and brought with us to Brazil. The kids really appreciated these gifts and were full of excitement and energy. While our group was taking a break in the afternoon, a bunch of kids came in herds and gave us hugs on the porch and it was a great feeling. In the afternoon, we went to the city of Sao Paulo and visited the monastery where the two monks lived who translated for us and provided us with transportation throughout the week. The building and the church was beautiful, and there was even a room marked off where Pope Benedict had once stayed. It started pouring down rain but we had an opportunity to do a little bit of shopping for souvenirs.
We concluded the day by visiting a local mall and, luckily, we had a translator to help us order our dinner. At one of the places, a cashier asked us if she could take a picture with us because we were the first American she ever saw. It was pretty interesting to hear but we all joyfully participated. Today I learned the importance of giving and how small acts of kindness can mean the world to someone.
Day 9: (Saturday)
After we packed and cleaned the room we stayed in, we all had a farewell meal with the sisters. After lunch, we sang a thank you song in Portuguese and played a little bit of music with the sisters. We all took group pictures and enjoyed being in each other’s company. Some of us took a last minute trip to a local supermarket and I was surprised to hear Shania Twain’s song “You’re Still the One” over the intercom. It was bittersweet to think that our time in Brazil had come to a close. We left for the airport and took the long trek home. Today I really appreciated my time spent in Brazil and was truly thankful for the hospitality and generosity that surrounded our group the entire week. We were served while we served others, which was a beautiful dynamic to experience.
Day 10: (Sunday)
We finally returned home and it was definitely hard adjusting to the colder weather and trying to get back on a regular sleep schedule. It seemed strange to hear English regularly again and I wanted to blurt out Portuguese words everywhere I went. Classes started the next day and it seemed like spring break never happened because it went by so fast. There was so much preparation and it was over in the blink of an eye. However, the memories and experience from this trip are something that I will carry with me forever and I would definitely not be opposed to going again next year. Being able to offer my time and love to others who are less fortunate is so remarkable and I felt at peace the entire week.
Overall, I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible, especially those who donated money, sent their prayers, and coordinated the trip. This was my first time out of the country and I am so happy that I decided to overcome any inhibitions and attend the trip. Our entire group meshed together well and we became friends rather quickly. My faith has grown stronger and I hope to apply the lessons I learned every day of my life by growing closer to God.