Surprised by Epiphany

Brooke Buth praying with students and staff at Cristo Rey KC High School

by Brooke Buth, current Precious Blood Volunteer

When my husband Koby and I first applied to be Precious Blood Volunteers, we knew that the year would be hard. I wanted to work at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School, which provides a college preparatory education to low-income and minority students from Kansas City at little to no cost. Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago and going to college in the middle of nowhere Indiana, I knew the culture change would be a difficult adjustment. And it is.

I wanted to do a double placement to get a wider range of experiences here, so I also work at Bishop Sullivan Center, a social services organization that offers a food pantry, free dinners, and rent and utility assistance. Having almost no long-term experience working in social services, I knew learning and adapting to that work would be hard. And it is.

Don’t get me wrong – we were very excited about this year and have had a wonderful time. Koby works at KC CARE Health Center, where he loves interacting with patients and helping them learn more about their health. My Cristo Rey kids are wonderful, and I’ve been able to have some great conversations about faith and life with them. In addition, Bishop Sullivan Center just opened their newly renovated kitchen, which was designed to add dignity and choices to the dining experience. It’s a beautiful new location, and I am honored to be a part of their work.  

But the year has been difficult – in that good way that means you’re growing. By far the hardest thing about my volunteer year was completely a surprise. I have found it incredibly hard to live eight hours from my family, even though I went to college four hours away and two of my siblings don’t live at home anymore. Because I work at a high school, I had almost two and a half weeks for break, which were spent with our families. It was a wonderful time to reconnect with them, do puzzles with my in-laws, watch cheesy movies with my little sisters, and play games. The time flew by, and then we were headed back to the second half of our year.

After driving back from Chicago to Kansas City on the Feast of the Epiphany, I arrived tired, hungry (when you’re on a small stipend, you pack snacks instead of stopping for fast food), and quite homesick. I expected to come into our large community house in the dark, put a frozen pizza in the oven, and scarf it down before running to make 5:00 pm Mass. Maybe later Koby and I would watch Netflix and procrastinate on unpacking.

Instead, we pulled up to cars filling the driveway, all the lights of the house on, and a bright party in our living room. Food filled the dining table, which is large, seating 10 people easily, and drinks were moved to the kitchen to make space for even more food, which kept arriving. We had forgotten about the annual Gaspar House Epiphany party, held by our community priests and Companions of the Precious Blood. There were tamales, macarons, a King Cake, beer, queso, turkey roll ups, and more kinds of cookies than I could count.

All these people, most of whom I had met before, greeted me warmly, asked about the break and Christmas season, and expressed genuine joy to have us there at the party. Some I hadn’t even met before – they had just heard about us through the Precious Blood grapevine. I quickly texted a local friend, who told me about the 8pm Mass at the Cathedral – there was time to spare for the party! And at Mass I ran into another new friend I haven’t seen in some time, reminding me that even though Kansas City can feel lonely, I have many more connections than I often realize.

On the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate the Magi, who traveled from “the east,” following the light of a star to find the baby Jesus. As it would go, Koby and I also came from “the east” (just Chicago and Michigan, but still, east) here to Kansas City. Even now it’s hard to say what light we were following – service, Catholic community, a new experience, a chance to break out on our own, the voice of God calling us to take a risk and trust him, delicious Kansas City BBQ, or maybe all of the above. We were definitely inspired by the work that we would be able to do here, each in our own fields but in a new experience. Even though we had hoped that Koby would go right from college to Medical School, something about this service year just seemed like the right decision.

Brooke Buth working at Bishop Sullivan Center’s food pantry

In a way, we followed that light and we came upon Christ incarnate. We had both experienced the presence of Christ here before that – in Koby’s patients, Mass at St. Francis Xavier, prayer with my students, and the people who work at Bishop Sullivan Center– but, for me, I had never experienced that arriving, coming home, being surprised by the presence of Christ here in Kansas City as I experienced it the night of the party. Those who saw us at the party may be surprised to hear this – I was so tired and hungry that I don’t think I was a very merry dinner guest, and we retreated early to unpack – but the feeling that stuck with me all night was one of welcome, love, and community.

I imagine it was a little like the Magi felt – traveling so far away from home, away from all their comforts (and a side note: how many snacks can a camel actually carry?). They traveled all that way looking for a new king, and I am quite sure they were surprised by the baby they found, in humble conditions. Did they feel that sense of “Ah, yes, now we have made it”? Were they surprised by Mary’s generosity and hospitality? Did they feel like the journey was worthwhile, and more importantly, that their discovery was worth the journey home, along the back roads to avoid Herod?

We can’t answer those questions about them, but for me, the Epiphany Party reminded me of why I originally chose to come out to Kansas City, and showed me that my journey here, and the next six months, would be worthwhile. This Feast of Epiphany, I was surprised by the great light of community surrounding me here, for this time, supporting me, praying for me, and feeding me with Christmas cookies.

Brooke is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School and Bishop Sullivan Center.

To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org

Ignorant Bliss

by Lina Guerrero, Precious Blood Volunteer

It was around 7 o’clock in the morning on October 10th, 2011 in Austin, Texas. I was seventeen years old and sitting outside on the porch of my house with our pastor Fr. Bill Wack, C.S.C. (now known as Bishop Bill, but I still can’t help but call him Fr. Bill). It was a Monday morning, the usual day when the trash collectors come. I remember sitting there in silence with Fr. Bill watching the world go by and workers going about their day trying to make their living. The collectors reach my house and just passed by, because we hadn’t put the trash bins out. They go along, but we stayed there, sitting still. I turn to Fr. Bill and say to him, “It’s weird how they just go about their day, and they have no idea what’s going on in this house or why our trash bins aren’t on the curb.” He just looks up, smiles, and says to me, “Yeah, it’s almost like an ignorant bliss.”

About an hour before this scene my aunt—affectionately known as Tia Mari—had died after a long five-month stint in hospice care in my home. She had been battling breast cancer for a long time, and that moment on the porch after her painfully long death was filled with a crippling sense of anger, sadness, relief, and confusion. How can people like those trash collectors go about their day when we’re sitting here with our world rocked by the death of our loved one? How can the world go on when we’re sitting here still, feeling like we can’t move, or even breathe? I remember feeling angry about this realization, specifically because the world and the people in it move everyday in the “ignorant bliss” of so much death and suffering.

Fast forward to December 5th, 2018. I’m sitting in the large gathering room at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois. There is a heaviness and stillness in the place, much like that morning on the porch, and I’m feeling that same sense of anger all over again except this time it is for a very different reason. That morning we woke up to the news that one of our young men in our programs was killed during the night. He was 21 years old, and appeared rather frequently at the center. I interacted with him occasionally, but not enough to know him on a personal level. However, many people at the center knew him very well for many years. This young man is the latest PBMR family member to die, and unfortunately death is known very well here. The reality of death is with us everyday, almost as if we are constantly waiting for it to happen, but hoping and praying that it doesn’t.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a weird relationship with death. During my  year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Kansas City, I remember crying in the middle of a bar with my spiritual director while talking about the spirituality of death. Everytime I hear that someone has died, I sort of get a sense of numbness. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know if this numbness comes from me having multiple experiences of people close to me dying, or if the concept of death just scares the hell out of me.

2018 Day of the Dead altar at PBMR

So why do I currently volunteer/work at a place where death is a common occurrence? Hell, I ask myself that question everyday. But if there’s anything I can say, I think it comes from the fact that it’s one thing to die from an illness, a car accident, or natural causes- things that we have no control over-but a completely different thing for someone to die from violence, a cause that can, should, and could have been prevented by various measures. The deaths we encounter most at PBMR are deaths of the latter kind- deaths that because our society is structured and conditioned to value some lives more than others, rock communities and individuals to their very core.

But like that morning on the porch and that morning at the Center, the anger at the ignorance of death–whether it is intentional or not–makes me feel some kind of way. I think of the way people are killed in the streets everyday, and people go about their lives as if it doesn’t matter. Jesuit Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries has said that, “The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives.” How many people in our society would ask whether the young man who died was a gang member? A Black man? Someone who lived on the south side of Chicago? Why was he walking late at night? Did he deserve to die even if all of those things were true? These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself since that morning. And I can definitely tell you that according to the many people who knew this young man here at PBMR, he didn’t deserve to die. His life mattered, even if the ignorance of others says otherwise.

I’m going to be straight up and say that I don’t have any answers to what I speak of here. But what I do know is that I’m tired of living in a world where we have to convince people to care about others, to pay attention to their own privilege, to not be in their own “ignorant bliss” about the lives of others due to the perception that some lives matter more than others. I get angry a lot about these things now-a-days, and I think that’s okay. Jesus got angry and flipped tables too. But also like Jesus with Lazarus, He made space to honor the anger of Martha, to weep and mourn the death of His friend. And even though we know that death doesn’t have the final word, the anger, the weeping, and lamentation are holy too. And that’s where I want to be.

Lina is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago. 

To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.

Introducing the 2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteers: Lina Guerrero

2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteer Lina Guerrero

Lina will serve at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois and will live with Dayton Precious Blood Sisters in the Bridgeport neighborhood. She was born and raised in Austin, Texas then graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland with degrees in international studies and Spanish. She spent the last year serving as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in western Missouri with the Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund. She has committed to serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer for a full year.

  • Why do you want to volunteer?

“After being a Jesuit Volunteer this past year, I felt a call to do another year of service because I felt like I wasn’t ‘done’ yet. There is still so much work to be done, systems to tackle, and things to learn about people for me to not try to volunteer again.”

  • Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“After meeting, living with, and attending a parish with Precious Blood priests, I truly enjoyed and was spiritually nourished by their examples, ministries, and spirituality. I also have had a Precious Blood priest as my spiritual director this past year, which also allowed me to discern my desire to continue volunteering as well as working with the Precious Blood Community. Also, us Jesuit Volunteers spent a lot of time with the Kansas City Precious Blood volunteers over the past year, with some of our placements overlapping with theirs. So in short, all things Precious Blood were of great support to me and my fellow Jesuit Volunteers during our JV year in Kansas City. ”

  • What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“Being able to continue serving in many ways that I did as a Jesuit Volunteer, but also have the ability to learn, serve, and grow in ways that I didn’t during my JV year. Just the fact that this experience will be very different from my previous volunteer experience is exciting for me.”

Introducing the 2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteers: Koby Buth

2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteer Koby Buth


Koby Buth will serve in Kansas City at KC CARE Health Center and will live in Gaspar Mission House. In June of 2018 he married Brooke Buth who will be serving at Cristo Rey High School and Bishop Sullivan Center. Koby grew up in Coopersville, Michigan near Grand Rapids. He graduated in May of 2018 Bachelor of Science in biology and also in honors humanities through the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University. Koby has committed to serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer for a full year.

  • Why do you want to volunteer?

“I wanted to volunteer because I wanted more clinical experience going into medical school. When going to college, it’s easy to work on academics, but much more difficult to volunteer and work in the healthcare field as preparation for medical school. ”

  • Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“I wanted to volunteer with Precious Blood volunteers primarily because it’s a Catholic organization. I went to a Protestant college for four years, and it will be nice to spend a year with devoted Catholics.”

  • What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am looking forward to moving from the academic sphere of college to the practical sphere of the clinic, talking with patients, better learning how the medical field operates, and making connections to other healthcare professionals.”

Introducing the 2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteers: Brooke Buth


2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteer Brooke Buth


Brooke will serve in Kansas City at Cristo Rey High School and at Bishop Sullivan Center and will live in Gaspar Mission House. In June of 2018 she married Koby Buth who will be serving at KC CARE Health Center. Brooke grew up in Aurora, Illinois a suburb of Chicago. She graduated in May of 2018 from Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana with degrees in youth ministries and honors humanities. Brooke has committed to serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer for a full year.

  • Why do you want to volunteer?

“I want to serve people who have been on the margins of society. I want to learn how the Church and the community can better support the poor and our youth, and I want to meet Christ in the people I serve.”

  • Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“I love Precious Blood Volunteer’s focus on spirituality and reconciliation in service, and I appreciate that they have long-term connections with the city and the organizations where we serve. I think it’s a sustainable way for the volunteers and the city to benefit from our service.”

  • What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I’m excited to spend time focused completely on others – college is an intense time of self-growth and encourages you to focus on your own knowledge and studies, so I am excited to transition into a time of being other-focused. Of course I’m excited to live with priests! And to see the Kansas City library!”