Thanks and Giving

by Ryan W. Cornelissen, Precious Blood Volunteer

As a full-time volunteer, there is always a sense of give and take that exists between a volunteer and the organization. You aren’t the “go-to” person for any particular thing, but at the same time people seem to “go to” you for nearly everything. At Cristo Rey Kansas City High School I am volunteering outside my field of civil engineering, but every day I seem to find new opportunities to give the best of myself to the school. That being said, the experience continually opens my eyes and humbles my heart to see the students living in more difficult situations than anything I’ve ever known. As the holidays draw near, thanks and giving are two themes in the minds and hearts of most people (I hope!). The following reflection of my volunteer experience thus far is a collection of thanks and giving, the give and take of my time at Cristo Rey.
First of all, I am thankful for the Precious Blood and Cristo Rey communities that have welcomed me to Kansas City. Without these people I would not physically here today. I am thankful for Fr. John Foley and the other Chicago Jesuits who in 1996 stood up for one of the core values of their society by seeking to provide education to those in need; thus the birth of Cristo Rey schools. I am thankful for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth who took the risk of opening a Cristo Rey school in Kansas City. I am thankful for the faculty who took on pay cuts, new subjects, a longer school day, a longer school year and additional responsibilities to support the mission and students of the Cristo Rey Network.
On a more personal level, I am thankful for the students. Even though all the students live in financially strained homes, they don’t walk around the school sulking in their problems or complaining about how hard their life is. Would I be able to do that? I recently started driving buses to help relieve a temporary driver shortage. I have the unique opportunity to walk through a full day in the life of a student. I pick up the first student in Kansas City, Kansas around 6:10AM and usually get them home around 5:30PM. This schedule does not include extra curricular activities, sports, or the time needed to do homework. Would I be able to do that for four years?
I am thankful for the safe neighborhood I live in here, and the safety I have taken for granted all my life. Students in my advisory and on the volleyball team I helped coach cannot go for a walk or run after school to dissipate stress because their neighborhoods are too dangerous. I am thankful I have never once had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Luckily, Cristo Rey Kansas City provides a hot breakfast, lunch and after school snack for students each day. The reality is that some students may not eat in the time between leaving school and showing up the next day. What would I be like during the day if I had to live that life? I am most thankful for the motivated, dedicated, smiling, happy students who show up each day ready to do something for their future. That determination is something that no one else can give them.
As I realize how completely different my reality is from the life of these students, I ask myself, what can I give them? Sure sometimes it comes in the form of homework help or explaining a difficult math problem, but I think the greatest need does not surface in academics. I can give the students my time. I can give students my ears to listen to them when it may feel like no one is listening. I can show students what it’s like to have someone believe in them. I can do my best to show students forgiveness and kindness, maybe for the first time on a regular basis. I cannot give students a diploma, a steady family life, or money and food to support them, but I can give the gifts and talents God has given me.
Learn more about our placement at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School at
To learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer go to our home page

A True Thanksgiving Story

“The First Thanksgiving, 1621” was painted by Jean Leon Jerome Ferris between 1912 and 1915. Historians note that the scene depicted here is not historically accurate. The clothing worn by the Pilgrims is incorrect, the Wampanoag did not wear feathered war bonnets, nor would they have been sitting on the ground.

by Dennis Coday, Precious Blood Renewal Center

A teacher who was a guest on a National Public Radio show on November 24th described a scene I could remember from my childhood and my children’s elementary days too. Michelle Portera, an 18-year veteran teacher described how she used to celebrate Thanksgiving in her first-grade classrooms:

You make the Native American headdress, and you make a medallion with your Native American name on it and put beads on your shirt and make all those fun things — and the turkey activities. And then you would have a day where you dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans.

I vividly recall making those construction paper pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses. I remember my children bringing home these same creations, almost as if their teachers and mine had used the same patterns. It left us with good feelings, pride even, about the founding of our nation: stalwart Pilgrims who overcome the odds, surviving and then thriving.

But as Portera continued her story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, she also admitted to a nagging feeling she couldn’t shake: “I didn’t feel like we were teaching truth.”

What most school celebrations of Thanksgiving ignore or at best gloss over is that the Pilgrims were colonizers, intent on taking land away from the Native People’s whose home this was before the landing on Plymouth Rock. In a few short years, the European newcomers would use all means available to kill Native people, up to and including giving them blankets infected by smallpox and drive them from the land. It is an ugly chapter of our national history.

The rest of the NPR program talks about how teachers are adapting their lesson plans to better reflect the reality of the roots and consequences of that first Thanksgiving.

As I was thinking about all these things, I ran across a couple of news stories about a satirical play by Native American playwright Larissa FastHorse called “The Thanksgiving Play.” The premise of the play is, as described by Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty, “Four adults [are] on a difficult progressive mission … to devise a Thanksgiving pageant for an elementary school that will pass muster with today’s unforgiving standards. … [They are] determined to pull off an unobjectionable Thanksgiving commemoration in which no animals will be slaughtered and no Native people will be demeaned.”

McNulty writes:

FastHorse, a Native American playwright whose work has challenged blind spots in America’s historical narrative and cultural presumptions, isn’t setting up straw men. The disagreements and spats among the characters reveal entrenched conflicts and prejudices that continue in a sanitized form the Pilgrims’ erasure of indigenous reality.

“The Thanksgiving Play” incorporates as interludes skits that are taken from actual lesson plans and classroom ideas for Thanksgiving activities posted by teachers on Pinterest. The casual racism, exhibited in silly songs and playful reenactments, would defy credulity were it not so deeply ingrained.

Reexamining our relationship with Native Peoples was the focus of a program, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Hope, Precious Blood Renewal Center hosted in October. Participating in that program opened my eyes to how the dominant culture shapes – distorts – history. History, as they say, is written by the victors. The program left me with a nagging question: What can we do about this history of injustice?

Why should this matter to us? Precious Blood Father Robert Schreiter has written that a foundational task in the work of reconciliation, a key component of Precious Blood spiritualty, is the healing of memories; this is a first step toward reconstructing societies riven by violence and conflict and crucial to creating safe and hospitable spaces in which the work of reconciliation can take place.

Undoubtedly part of the healing of memories — especially when it comes to reconciling our relationships with Native Peoples — is discovering the truth of the past. Because our Thanksgiving traditions have perpetuated false narratives about our relationships, this time of year is probably an ideal time to do this.

Adults interested in a clearer history may want to look up Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States or, a book that I recently finished by Harvard historian Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States, which has just come out in paperback. For kids, one of the teachers on the NPR show suggested these books: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Smith, When We Were Alone by David Robertson and The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp.

But we would all benefit from learning more about our particular situations. What do I mean by “our particular situations”? I mean this: Do you ever wonder about the people who occupied the land where we now live? How many of us know who those people were and what they were like? Part of healing a memory is bringing it into clear focus.

A good exercise for this time of year, then, is learning as much as we can about the Native People who had stewardship of the land we now occupy.

I live in Clay County, Missouri, which is also where the Precious Blood Kansas City province has been headquartered since its inception. Did you know that the official, marked Lewis and Clark Trail runs along Pleasant Valley Road, which forms the northern boundary of the Precious Blood property in Liberty?

This is what I have learned of the people who lived here before us:

The Nebo Hill archeological site near Excelsior Springs, Missouri, has revealed evidence of a culture that flourished here between 3000 and 1000 B.C. These people were the predecessors of the Kansas City Hopewell peoples who lived along what we call the Missouri and Kansas Rivers between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D.

The Hopewell peoples, living in oak and hickory forests were hunters and gatherers, but established permanent villages. They also traded extensively. Archeologists have found in Missouri sites volcanic rock from the Yellowstone, copper from Lake Superior, and shells from the Gulf Coast.

But the stewards of this land when Europeans began their migration to North America were a tribe who called themselves the Niutachi, which in their language, Chiwere-Siouan, meant “People of the River Mouth.” Because of misunderstandings and bad translations, when French traders encountered the Niutachi in the late 17th century, they dubbed them “Wemihsoori” or “Mihsoori,” roughly meaning “people of the wooden canoes.” The name stuck and the Niutachi became the Missouria. (A Catholic footnote to this story: It was the Jesuit missionary priest Jacques Marquette who recorded the name wrong.)

Writing in Missouri Life magazine, Ron Soodalter describes their life:

The Missouria were hunter-gatherers who spent time farming. Semi-nomadic, they would plant their crops — beans, corn, squash — in the spring … leave their villages to go on extended buffalo hunts throughout the summer, and return to harvest their crops in the fall. The fullness of their larders reflected the bounty of their crops, the availability of various species of nuts and fruit, and the success of the hunt.

The Missouria lived in frame dwellings of various types. Some were covered in woven reeds or rushes; others were overlaid with slabs of bark. Some of the lodges were elliptical in shape; others were round.

According to Michael Dickey, site supervisor of Arrow Rock State Historic Site, the Missouria were deeply spiritual and monotheistic, worshipping Waconda, the Earth Maker or Creator. (I found one reference that called the Creator Maun.) The clan, the extended family, was the basic societal unit. While men were polygamous, the women were allowed only a single partner. The women, however, owned the clan lodges and all the possessions therein. While they followed strict gender roles, boys and girls were equally valued in the family.

When the Niutachi and the French met, the tribe numbered some 10,000 members and dominated the territory north of the Missouri River in present-day Missouri. But by 1804 when the Niutachi, met Lewis and Clark at the outset of their Corps of Discovery Expedition, Clark referred to them as “once the most powerful nation on the Missouri River” and reported only about 400 members. Their contact with Spanish, French and American traders exposed them to infectious diseases, especially smallpox that decimated the tribe and made them vulnerable to their traditional enemies, the Sac and Fox. To survive, the Niutachi merged with their close relatives the Otoe around 1790-1800. Together they maintained their territory, but that would not last.

Settlers from the east seeking rich farmland coveted the traditional lands of the Otoe-Missouria people. They fought to keep their land, but the settlers came in multitudes. By 1855, native people and white settlers were in open warfare and the U.S. government intervened, sending troops to confine the Otoe-Missouria to the Big Blue River reservation in southeast Nebraska.

Their tribulations did not end there, however, as the history page on the Otoe-Missouria tribe’s website attests:

Life on the Big Blue Reservation was hard. The tribe was not allowed to hunt for buffalo. The government encouraged a shift from a migratory lifestyle to an agrarian one without consideration of long-established tradition or social structure. For years the tribe watched as acre by acre of their land was sold off by the government to non-Indians. They suffered as treaties were broken and food, medicine, livestock, and basic essentials were not delivered as promised. Sickness was rampant, children starved and the mortality rate climbed higher year after year. In 1881 they were moved to Red Rock, Oklahoma, where the tribe is currently located.

Theirs is the land we claim for ourselves now. What can we do about it now? FastHorse has said, “To acknowledge indigenous culture and history in this nation, we have to acknowledge complicity. And that if you’re here, you’re on stolen land, however you got here.”

If we are about the work of reconciliation, it seems to me that the first and least thing we can do is learn as much as we can about the people who walked here before us.


McNulty, Charles. “Review: The politics of Thanksgiving, served up as lukewarm satire.”

Mosley, Tonya and Allison Hagan “In ‘Thanksgiving Play,’ Native American Playwright Larissa FastHorse Tackles ‘Wokeness’ ”

Otoe-Missouri Tribe. “Otoe & Missouria: Five Hundred Years of History” and

Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Otoe and Missourias Tribes”

Peace Studies, University of Missouri. “Alternative narrative from the perspective of the Otoe and Missouria tribes”

Precious Blood Renewal Center. “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change”

Schreiter, Robert. “Theology of Reconciliation and Peacemaking for Mission,”

Soodalter, Ron. “The Tribes of Missouri Part 1: When the Osage & Missouria Reigned”

Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio. “Teaching Thanksgiving”


Vietnam Mission Candidates Volunteer at Mid-Autumn Festival

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On September 22nd the Initial Formation Candidates of the Vietnam Mission volunteered at a charitable event to minister to children suffering from leprosy. Tinh, Khương, and Blir worked hard at setting up the tents to host the event, and then ministered to the children by playing games and singing songs with them. The candidates enjoyed working with a religious brother and some nuns on this joyous occasion celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Tinh was actually one of the leaders of this fun event for the children.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with full moon at night. It is a time for gathering, giving thanks for harmonious unions, and praying for a good future. It is known as Children’s Festival in Vietnam because of the event’s emphasis on children.
In the Vietnamese tradition, it was believed that children, being innocent and pure, had the closest connection to the sacred and natural world. Being close to children was seen as a way to connect with deities. Upon hearing of the happiness expressed by our Initial Formation Candidates in serving these physically challenged children, it is obvious to me that the Vietnamese people still feel connected to God through the innocence and purity of children. We join them in prayer for a promising future for these children.
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Giving Thanks

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.

-Maya Angelou
Dear Friends,
As we celebrate this family feast of gratitude, a story surfaces. Three years ago, when giving retreats in Tanzania, one of the missionaries told the story of a man who was on a hunting trip in Africa. He awoke early one morning because he couldn’t sleep, so he grabbed his gun and went out in search of wild game in the jungle. He came across a couple of wild turkeys—the birds not the booze—and bagged them. He tied the turkeys to his belt.
On his way back to camp with his bounty, he sensed he was being followed. He stopped and pointed his rifle at the surrounding landscape until he saw an adolescent boy, trembling and obviously starving. Seeing the boy’s hunger, the hunter placed the gun on the ground, untied the turkeys from his belt, and approached the boy. The hunter placed the turkeys a few feet in front of the emaciated youth but the boy did not move. Gesturing for him to take the turkeys, the hunter turned to leave. When he looked over his shoulder, the boy was still standing in the same spot with outstretched hands, as if he were asking for something else.
“Go ahead, take the turkeys,” the hunter said. “I want you to have the turkeys.” But the boy did not move. He stood there waiting with outstretched and open hands. Not knowing what else to do, the hunter picked up the turkeys and placed them in the boy’s hands. The boy smiled and bowed in gratitude.
The missionary telling me this story said, “You see, the boy, famished as he was, could not take the turkeys and run away. Though he was desperate and hungry, he refused to take the birds. He waited until they were given to him. Only then could he receive them as a gift.”
We are a gifted people who have received many blessings from our generous God. With outstretched hands and open hearts, may we realize all is gift and always be grateful for the gifts we have received. As Pope Francis writes in his Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera, “The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open.” During the Holy Year of Mercy Pope Francis would spend one Friday a month with a group or organization practicing a corporal work of mercy. “I was able to experience in a tangible way the goodness present in our world,” he writes. “Often it remains hidden, since it is a daily expressed in discreet and quiet gestures. Even if rarely publicized, many concrete acts of goodness and tenderness are shown to the weak and the vulnerable, to those most lonely and abandoned. Let us thank the Lord for these precious gifts that invite us to discover the joy of drawing near to human weakness and suffering.”
May God continue to bless you, your family and all those you serve each day in quiet and discreet gestures of tenderness and compassion. I am profoundly grateful for being in your great and gracious company! Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
With peace and gratitude,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.
Provincial Director

Give and Take

And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
Luke 17, 15-16

Dear Friends,
When I was in Tanzania in September, I once again became aware of how much I take for granted in my life: clean drinking water, sleeping without a mosquito net, an infrastructure where four-lane highways are the norm. I take so much for granted, like how easily accessible the Internet is and how my frustration level rises when the connection is too slow.
Taking things and especially people for granted reflects a lack of gratitude. We can become so privileged, so satisfied, and so ungrateful for the many ways in which we are blessed.
I don’t know what the other nine lepers thought when they suddenly saw their disease disappear. But only the Samaritan, the outsider, came back to thank Jesus. The Samaritan had been left out for so long that he took nothing for granted.
Thank you. This is our first prayer. This is our first impulse. What did our parents teach us when we are given something? “What do you say?” Thanks. Thank you very much.
If we want to avoid the “taking for granted” syndrome, give thanks.
It’s all about giving and taking—give thanks and we will take less for granted.
Thank you for all you do to further God’s realm. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
With peace,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.
For the Leadership Team