by Steven Dougherty, Precious Blood Volunteer
Steven Dougherty is a Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois. In the three reflections below, Steven paints pictures of hope he has encountered while working there.
My second week in Chicago was one of the most violent in recent history. Waiting for the bus, I saw a man and a woman talking. They spoke slowly. The air was thick and hot. As she was leaving, the woman leaned in and hugged the man. Then she held him for a moment at arm’s length. She looked him in the eyes, and with worry in her throat she said, “Be safe.” Her words, thick in the hot air. They were desperate wounded words, heavy with fear. This was a command, a salutation, a wish—something impossible, or at least it seemed so at the time. So many people had died. Then she let the man go, freeing him from her temporary protection, hoping her wish would be enough. I thought it was beautiful how much she cared for this man, how well they must have known each other. Then the woman came to me and did the same!
In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have witnessed struggle, I have witnessed pain, and I have witnessed loss. I have been asked many times about hope. How can I stay hopeful doing the work I do at PBMR? I struggle with this, because finding hope feels like a privilege. If I say that I have hope that this community I work in will be revitalized and not gentrified, if I say that I hope the people we help can get jobs and will be treated fairly, or if I say that I hope people will stop dying so young, I am doing so only for myself. I think these things because at the end of the day I am tired. I have done what I know I can do, and the rest seems impossible, so I hope. I am not saying this is a bad thing, only that is not the thing I want it to be. Access to hope has become a privilege. It has become a way of distancing ourselves from the responsibility of the world’s problems. Hope for things to get better keeps things the way they are.
But there is another side to all of this, because hope does not have to be something that is stagnant. Hope can move through us and into others. When this happens, when hope draws us together, there is power—power for real change in the world. When people work together with a united vision of hope, when they know exactly what they want to accomplish, hope can be actualized. We can reach out with hope and work together to make sure that everything will be okay, and although it is hard, we do this work anyway.
In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have also witnessed this: a new kind of hope—a hope that does things in the world. It is a hope that people share with strangers. It is mixed with fear and pain, but it is strong enough to overcome them both. Since it was given to me by the woman at the bus stop, I have seen it all over Chicago, I have even used it myself: “Be safe.” There is so much behind these words. They carry a message that you are cared for, and they carry a promise that although there is so much danger that I cannot solve, you have my protection. Anytime someone leaves the Center you hear all of this. Everyone is not always safe. In fact, our participants are rarely safe—but will still hope. We believe the impossible and together we make it a little more possible.
The man in front of you seems old but you know that time does not pass here as it does elsewhere, so in the letter to your friend you will call him worn. He is asleep. He has been asleep since you got on the bus, and since you got on the bus, the bus has filled with heat and pressure.
In the letter to your friend you will compare it to the sun—the bus—and now it grows loud. A child begins to scream. The heat and the pressure move through your spine and you feel beyond heavy—you feel worn.
You cannot make out the words of the child. In the letter to your friend the back of the bus will be another world, one that is burning in its closeness to the sun. All you hear is longing. Longing that makes you think to write a letter to your friend. Longing to be heard: the painful pulling apart of a body from its limbs. In the letter, you will call it gun violence in Chicago. The man in front of you who you will call worn, but who you know is old for this bus and the violence, whispers with his eyes still closed, “Hey now, it’s gonna be okay.” You are not sure who he means to say it to, the child or himself. In the letter to your friend he will say it to everyone because “it” is a delicate thing: the bus and the child and your spine and Chicago, but you believe him anyway.
Steven 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 May 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.
2017-2018 Volunteer Alia Sisson
By Alia Sisson, Precious Blood Volunteer
2017 was a year of immense and tremendous change for me. It stands as a testament, not to my own strength, but to the power of God to work through broken people. He writes straight with crooked lines. At the beginning of this year, I was underemployed, fighting depression, and feeling directionless. I had lost my spark.
Little did I know, one choice would end up changing my entire life for the better. I started going to Mass on a regular basis. For Catholics, this is standard operating procedure. But this was pretty radical for a Presbyterian! Having attended two years of Catholic grade school and three years at the Marianist University of Dayton, I still had never pictured myself going to Mass by choice.
A candlelit midnight Christmas Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio inspired me to keep coming back. Slowly learning the ancient Mass opened my eyes to the sacredness contained in everyday living. During Lent, I grew more devout and began going to daily Mass and praying the rosary. I also gave up alcohol, which, for someone who adored wine as much as I did, felt like a big sacrifice. As distractions fell away, throughout those 40 days, I developed a real relationship with God.
By the time Easter arrived, I knew I was ready to convert. As much as I loved attending Mass, I yearned to be in full communion with the Church and receive the Eucharist at Christ’s table with my brothers and sisters. Rather than feel like an outsider, I wanted to experience the sacramental graces as a full-fledged Roman Catholic. Nonetheless, I had to wait until September until RCIA classes began.
Artwork by Alia Sisson
Although I could not partake in Holy Communion, I grew closer to God in adoration every week. One hot summer evening, still unsuccessful at finding a good job, I prostrated myself on the floor of my favorite adoration chapel and begged God to open a door for me. I prayed over and over, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders / Let me walk upon the water / Wherever you would call me.”
I did not expect God to take my request so literally. The next morning I received an email from Tim Deveney, the Director of Precious Blood Volunteers, inviting me to apply to be a volunteer in Kansas City, Missouri. I finally had an opportunity to grow “where my trust is without borders.” After a quick Google search to make sure Kansas City wasn’t totally lame, I called back with a surge of joy. I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into the volunteer program the next month.
In September, I packed two suitcases and flew to Kansas City to start my year of service with the Precious Blood Volunteers. More than a few times, the thought crossed my mind, “What on earth am I doing, picking up and moving to the middle of the country where I don’t know a soul?” Despite momentary flashes of doubt, my overall feeling was a deep sense of peace. Once I met Tim and my fellow volunteers, I knew I was right where I belonged.
Community living with great volunteers and two amazing priests in a eight-bedroom Tudor home is absolutely as fantastic as it sounds. But even more perfect is my volunteer position at Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO). Having invested three years of blood, sweat, and tears in law school, this gave me the perfect opportunity to use the skills I have, and gain indispensable knowledge for my future practice.
I consider myself so privileged to be the first Precious Blood Volunteer placed at LAWMO. My job now is to assist the Domestic Team in obtaining full orders of protection, child custody, and dissolution of marriage for domestic violence victims who cannot afford a private attorney. This position has given me a new sense of purpose in helping those who have been victimized by society transform into powerful survivors. Talk about redemption!
Sometimes being a volunteer isn’t easy. We do not have a lot of spending money, but that has turned into a blessing itself. Instead of buying things to be happy, we share our time, talent, and stories – and that is more than enough. Especially interacting with the clients I serve, I have never been more appreciative of a home cooked meal, a roof over my head, and knowing I live in a safe place. I also just celebrated my ninth month of sobriety.
I am thrilled to be welcomed into full communion with the Catholic Church on Epiphany Sunday: January 7, 2018. This day is especially meaningful to me, not only as the day before my birthday, but also as the day after the birthday of Saint Gaspar! There is no better present than being welcomed home into the Church that awakened my soul.
Over the last year, the Lord has performed nothing less than a miracle in my life. Through His mercy, I went from hopeless to hopeful, purposeless to purpose-driven, from bondage to freedom. I will continue to keep an open mind and heart as the next chapter of God’s plan unfolds. Through Him all things are possible.
Alia is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Legal Aid of Western Missouri.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
This reflection was published in the January 2018 edition of the New Wine Press.
2017-2018 Volunteer Alia Sisson
Alia Sisson was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Dayton in 2013. Alia graduated from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law with her Juris Doctorate in 2016. She plans to serve the poor and practice public interest law as her vocation. She was awarded for completing over 200 hours of pro bono student legal service. In her free time, she loves to sing and play guitar. Alia will be serving from September to at least June of 2018 and will serve in the domestic violence division of Legal Aid of Western Missouri.
- Why do you want to volunteer?
“The following verse sums up my philosophy on volunteering: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matt 10:8). I have been given so much in this life that I haven’t earned, through God’s grace. Not everyone is so fortunate. I have the gifts of my time and education to freely give, which I hope can lend a hand to help get people back on their feet. We all need help from time to time, and I am happy to offer what I can to others in their time of need. Serving the poor reminds me to keep a grateful heart and a humble attitude.”
- Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?
“I want my faith and my vocation to be inextricably combined, with one breathing life into the other. Missionaries of the Precious Blood represents the highest values to which I aspire, especially walking with those who suffer. I went to law school to be able to help those in need to the best of my ability, and working at Legal Aid of Western Missouri will ensure I can do just that.
Recognizing the inherent dignity in every human life, no matter the circumstances, is truly loving our neighbor. It is easy to love those like us, but loving those who are most unlike us is what Christians are called to do. As a Precious Blood volunteer I will seek to help reconcile broken bonds in the Kansas City community and build bridges where there is hopelessness. Along the way, I look forward to learning a great deal from those I will work with.”
- What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?
“This volunteer experience offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give service where it is truly needed. I am eager to work with clients that I will hopefully be able to help in a deeply meaningful way – to find or keep their housing and stay safely off the streets. I am also looking forward to the freedom from material distraction that living minimally in a faith community offers. By volunteering, I hope to grow my heart and my skills as a lawyer. I look forward to forging friendships with my fellow volunteers, the priests we live with, and the Kansas City community as a whole. (I also hope to improve on my cooking skills whenever I make dinner for the household!)”
Precious Blood Volunteer, Martin Echtler, serving dinner at the Bishop Sullivan Center
The Bishop Sullivan Center’s mission is to provide basic necessities to people who are unable to do so, and to assist those who are able to become financially self-sufficient by finding employment. The Bishop Sullivan Center’s Troost location is located in the heart of Kansas City at 39th St. and Troost Ave. and provides food for those are hungry, assistance for those who need it, job training/placement for those looking for work, air conditioners for the elderly and emergency assistance. On weekday evenings the Bishop Sullivan Center hosts meals at their Community Kitchen where people can be nourished by food and community.
The Bishop Sullivan Center has two other locations in Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. They are one of the largest distributors of food and emergency assistance in the Kansas City area.
As a Precious Blood Volunteer serving at the Bishop Sullivan Center you will have the opportunity to walk with and serve others in a variety of ways. They include supervising the community kitchen, working with the Kansas City Medicine Cabinet, helping out with the food pantry and assisting in their job placement/training program. This placement is for you if you are looking for a career in social services, non-profits or ministry.
You can learn more about the Bishop Sullivan Center by going to their website.
Read a reflection by former Precious Blood Volunteer, Nora O’Connell, about her experience at the Bishop Sullivan Center here.
You can apply to serve as a Precious Blood Volunteer at the Bishop Sullivan Center on our Apply Page.
by Kara McNamara, Precious Blood Volunteers Alumna
In my work for the past two years at an afterschool program for at-risk teenage boys, I got to see my students at their very best, at their screaming, fighting worst, and at every emotional stop in between. They certainly saw my full range of days too! I saw them go through hard times, saw them achieve great honors, saw them demonstrate resilience and ownership over their lives, saw them hurl ugly words at other children when they were hurting too badly to control themselves. I also, every so often, would have a luminous moment with a student in which I thought, This moment, right now, is exactly how God sees this child all of the time. I can think of an example in which one of the boys (who had been in foster care from a very young age and generally held himself apart from other people) celebrated his 18th birthday with us. We got him a cake with his name on it and sang to him and cheered his name (some of the students also tried to give birthday punches when I wasn’t looking). He was such a reserved, quiet young man, but in that moment, he couldn’t bite back his smile any longer, he couldn’t hold in the bright light inside him, and he let us see love and joy in his eyes. He quietly thanked everyone and mumbled something that sounded an awful lot like, “Love you guys.”
In looking at the transformation of this young man for those fleeting moments, I can remember thinking, This is why it’s so easy for God to love us. He must see us like this all of the time, with all of the potential for such good on full display.
In considering that moment, I was brought to thinking about all of the times that I’ve seen people at their best. Those moments are so inspiring, when you can see the purpose and joy living in a person. And I also thought about all the times I didn’t allow people to be their best or didn’t try to find their Creator in them. I missed so much beauty and joy in those missed opportunities!
Kara McNamara with some of the kids she worked with as a Precious Blood Volunteer
In times of lack of unity and tension as we are seeing now on a large scale, we as Precious Blood people know that we must seek reconciliation, and as an initial step towards this, I am recommitting to seek Christ in those I meet, to encourage those around me to be the best version of themselves, and to recognize my own identity as God’s creation when I’m not at my best. If we could even begin to see each other as God sees us, our world could be a place of such healing and love, not division and hopelessness. If we can find that commonality, we can then begin to do the hard work that must come to address pain and inequality: standing in the margins, holding steadfast as peacemakers in the midst of tension, and starting the work of realizing God’s vision for the human family and environment.
After all, as Mother Teresa shared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” I hope you’ll join me in working and praying for reconciliation and recognition of God’s presence in those around us.
Kara McNamara served as a Precious Blood Volunteer in Crownpoint, New Mexico in 2013. She is a graduate of the University of Dayton.
To learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To apply to become a Precious Blood Volunteer go to https://preciousbloodkc.org/pbv-apply/