2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteers: Raechel Kiesel

2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Raechel Kiesel

We are happy to announce that Raechel Kiesel will be serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer for the 2021-2022 volunteer year. She will be serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Raechel is from Fort Branch, Indiana. She served this past year as a volunteer at Dismas House in Worcester, Massachusetts. Raechel graduated from the University of Notre Dame. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Theology, along with a Minor in Business Economics.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“I spent the past year at Dismas House with folks who were formerly incarcerated or homeless. After hearing their stories and learning from their experiences, I am excited to keep asking questions as a Precious Blood Volunteer about how our country thinks of and pursues justice and how to continue seeking reconciliation.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“This past year especially has revealed the deep need for reconciliation within our country and in ourselves. I am excited to join Precious Blood priests, brothers, and laypeople in their fearlessness to enter into those depths. As I write this on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I am reminded that those who are poor, vulnerable, and hurting are able to relate to Christ more closely through his passion and death. In the coming year, I hope to bear witness to that reality, as well as the hope of resurrection and redemption by his same Precious Blood.”

What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am looking forward to living in community with other volunteers in the same neighborhood in which I will be serving. I have so much to learn, and I am so excited to learn from and with those around me.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.

Tales from the Front Lines

Dr. Nate Balmert, Precious Blood Volunteer alumnus from the 2013-2014 Volunteer Year

by Dr. Nate Balmert, Precious Blood Volunteer Alumnus

In March 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, I remember my ICU attending supervisor reflecting about how boring it was rounding on an entire floor of patients affected by the devastating virus.

I remember feeling helpless during my first weeks as a resident in the Intensive Care Unit—and so little was known at that time about a virus that could kill previously young and healthy patients with such devastating quickness and prove to be harmless for others. I remember the annoyingly loud “I’m Walking on Sunshine” that rang out overhead whenever a patient was discharged. This contrasted with the eerie silence that rang out through the rest of the hospital, with visitors restricted and elective cases canceled.

Being a healthcare professional during a once- in-a-century pandemic very quickly became a mundane experience, as hospital volume slowed, and the air surrounding the very patients we were called to help as doctors, but more importantly as Christians—became poisonous. We learned how to gown up and protect ourselves before going in to save our patients, remembering that “during a pandemic there are no emergencies.”

It was too dangerous to perform morning physical exams, and the patients quickly became numbers on a computer. It was unimaginable to have to call family members and tell them that their loved ones were doing poorly. We were able, however, to provide one last benefit for a patient before he or she was intubated and drew their last breaths of air on their own. We had tablet computers in the ICU. In the past, these devices were symbols of a disconnected society. I will never forget the gratefulness in their voice, telling families they could video chat and the love that they were able to share miles apart.

The pandemic’s victims were not only the patients in the intensive care unit. My colleagues suffered from terrible burnout. I remember talking to one senior resident who had become suicidal—not from overwork, but from the time at home alone and emptiness of “social” distancing. Helplessness was rampant, and doctors often no longer felt that they were able to continue helping people in the ways they had envisioned when they went to medical school.

I read recently that nursing home residents were not just impacted physically by the virus—with visitors restricted, many suffered from loneliness. They couldn’t get the same care and attention from the nursing home staff. My grandfather, Richard Balmert, was one of those who died during the pandemic at the age of 96. He never caught COVID, his heart failing just as my parents and family were restricted from visiting him weekly in person at the nursing home. He had survived World War II, outlived four wives and countless friends, but would not survive 2020. Fortunately, he was able to move into my uncle’s house and be with those who loved him during his final breaths as his heart finally failed him.

I write this now, taking a break as I recover from COVID-19 myself. Even though I likely caught the virus while helping to take care of patients with COVID-19, I still have guilt that I cannot keep working. The symptoms are at the same time strange and familiar as I struggle tasting foods I once loved. I also remember seeing patients come into the hospital with the same symptoms as I have now, shortness of breath, sweat, fatigue—but most of all fear of what might come.

One father and son I remember presented with COVID-19, out of breath and afraid. I knew I could not promise that they both would leave the hospital alive, but I also knew I could promise I would be there for them at that moment. The son was stricken more by fear—of his health and of his father’s—than of the virus itself. This all-consuming fear can be as contagious and as destructive as the virus itself. Fear breeds mistrust of our fellow American, of leaders who were not able to rise up to the occasion, of our economic future, and fear that God will abandon us when we need him the most.

I am feeling much better than I did last week, and with vaccines in production I know that the end of the pandemic is in sight. I know that this year has changed me, as I have learned so much about medicine and about healing and about myself. But I also know that God was with us this whole time.

God was there in that final conversation between loved ones before intubation. He was with families waiting patiently by the phone day after day. He was with those whose livelihoods were forever altered by the pandemic. He was with my wife Sarah and me, as we married during a pandemic with only our immediate families. But he was also there via Zoom as our extended families and friends watched and celebrated while watching on YouTube. For those longing for God and the saints with religious ceremonies canceled or moved online, God will be with us wherever we need and look for Him. And he will be with us when someday soon we can love and offer the sign of peace in person once again.

This reflection originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of the “New Wine Press.”

Nate served as a Precious Blood Volunteer in the 2013-2014 Volunteer cycle at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

For Means With

Thomas, center, working with others to set up a recording studio in a former bathroom at PBMR

by Thomas Weiss, Precious Blood Volunteer

I’m getting better at this. Summarizing, synthesizing, selecting particularly poignant moments laden with “spiritual significance.” My parents ask me to do this when I visit home. We sit around the kitchen table fidgeting with our coffee mugs and they, God bless them, ask me questions as if I’m returning from overseas. My friends on Chicago’s north side hush their voices when they ask me about my work day, like we are passing notes in the back row of middle school algebra. I hope Ms. Hopewell doesn’t catch us! Or, put on the individual level, it’s like a child flipping through the pages of forbidden fiction beneath the bedsheets, flashlight in a vice grip between incisors. The (mostly white) circle into which I was born is undeniably fascinated with my work, just a minute fraction of the labor Precious Blood clergy, lay workers, and Companions devote toward the ultimate renewal of the world. Needless to say, I am gladdened by their fascination. Many are even fascinated enough to offer generous donations, and for this, of course, I am delighted.

And yet, there’s a nagging dissatisfaction when the evening ends and I am alone. At the end of it all, I do not want your money: I want your allegiance.

The most outspokenly Catholic kid in my class at college proudly toted a MAGA hat around campus. His sweaters were Burberry, his shoes Sperry’s, his parka made from goose feathers. I believe he is now discerning the priesthood. After the shooting in Kenosha, another young lady from my college made sure to let me know that Jacob Blake was a rapist, and that Black Lives Matter’s founders were Marxists not to be trusted. She later invited me to Mass the following evening.

Let me be clear: I am not exempt from my own criticism. My parents gave me a car, debt free, on my sixteenth birthday. I attended highly privileged high school and university, never having to work a job outside of class to keep myself afloat. I went to summer church camps with water slides and power boats.

I’ve been to Europe on four different occasions. My family has vacationed in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Alaska. My story bears the indelible mark of unapologetic privilege.

I suppose that’s why I felt I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus last month, walking down Michigan Avenue.

A few of the boys I mentor at PBMR wanted to drive downtown to Millennium Park to see the Christmas lights. As we walked toward the park, we saw an old man, homeless, sitting on the sidewalk, his back curled up against the concrete retaining wall that runs along Michigan Avenue. The man was singing, wailing, head tilted up into the yellow street lights, colored intermittently with the red beams of brake lights. He jingled the coins in his Big Gulp like a tambourine.

One of the young men raced ahead of the group and dropped half of what he had in his pocket into the man’s cup. Another of the young men droped in a few bucks as we passed. They told him to stay safe and we walked on toward the Christmas tree. “Man, I just hate to see people like that,” one of them said to me. “If I make it to college, I’m going to open a homeless shelter. I hate to see people like that.”

I was dumbstruck by the unbridled Catholicism of these young men, neither of whom were religious. Both boys would be considered “poor” as we commonly understand the label. Yet, there they were, giving away their few and precious resources to a man they have never met before. I saw a mixture of the Good Samaritan and Mary Magdalene, anointing Jesus’ feet with her precious perfume.

Jesus was for the poor; this much is obvious. What I find to be often forgotten is that Jesus was poor. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus tells those of us with two tunics to give one away to those who have none. As if this were not explicit enough, he says to do the same with food. Fundamentally, Jesus means that to be for the poor is to break bread with the poor. It means giving beyond what makes us comfortable. It means giving $10 to a homeless man on Michigan Ave when you have $20 in your pocket. I ask myself daily what it means for me, and I ask the same of you.

To give a sizable amount of cash can change lives. It ferries resources into resource-scare areas. It opens doors which were formerly closed. But the real act of service stems from the realization of equivalence: just as Christ “emptied himself ” and took on the flesh of us sinners, we must realize our kinship with the beaten, hungry, weary, and alienated. Though we are not Christ, together we might become like Christ through allegiance to one another. This is the call of Christ, not toward judgment, skepticism, and cowardice, but toward radical hope, healing, and hospitality.

We—the privileged, the well-fed, the comfortable—risk the fate of the Pharisees if we do not soon recognize that Jesus’ teaching explicitly commands us to eradicate the existence of privilege. The ball is in our court, and the stakes are high. I pray that we, stirred by courage and humility, may sift through the distractions and delusions which obscure the substance of the Gospel: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This reflection originally appeared in the January 2021 edition of the “New Wine Press.”

Thomas is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Introducing the 2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteers: Mike Nguyen

Mike was born and raised in Lahaina, Hawaii, and is our first volunteer from Hawaii! He will be serving at both Cristo Rey Kansas City High School and Bishop Sullivan Center. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2020 with a degree in neuroscience and Japanese. This year he will be applying for medical school where he hopes to continue his dream of becoming a doctor.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“I want to volunteer to serve and learn from communities different than my own. In my pursuit of being a doctor, I have seen how important it is to truly understand the people we serve so we can walk with them in compassionate solidarity. By interacting with underserved populations while living simply, I hope to understand those who need help them most. This year I am excited to work as a teacher and mentor so I can prepare myself to be a better doctor who empowers patients to be informed advocates for their own health.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteer Ministry?

“Doing volunteer work has always been something I enjoyed, but I realized during my time in college that I had more to give. Joining Precious Blood Ministry I have the opportunity to help those in need in a sustained and personal way. By living out the Precious Blood Mission to build community and walk with those who suffer, I know I will be able to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most. I am extremely excited to serve the Kansas City community, and I know with the support of Tim and the Precious Blood Ministry I will be well prepared to do so.”

What are you looking forward to most?

“I am excited to meet new people and I looked forward to building strong friendships along the way. This year will undoubtedly present me with challenges but I am excited to learn from them and grow from the experiences.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.

Introducing the 2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteers: Thomas Weiss

2020-2021 Precious Blood Volunteer, Thomas Weiss

Thomas Weiss will be serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in the Program of Liberal Studies, Notre Dame’s Great Books education.

Why do you want to volunteer?

“The most formative experience of my education was the summer service program I completed after my sophomore year at Notre Dame. Living in intentional community at Hope House and serving at PBMR will hopefully be an equally illuminating and restorative experience for me.”

Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?

“The values of Precious Blood Volunteers outline the kind of life I hope to live. Commitment to serving those from suffering communities and a drive to redevelop often backward social systems resonate with the direction of my heart as I transition out of college and toward a career informed by Christ’s message of peace and compassion.”

What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?

“I am excited to step out of the classroom and into the real world. Having spent four years mostly reading books and writing essays, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to put my ideals into practice and to learn to sharpen my understanding of social realities through first-hand experience with those living on the south side of Chicago.”

Learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers at preciousbloodvolunteers.org.