Volunteers transform Province campus

Volunteers from three high schools in Michigan came to the Province Center in July to pull weeds, prune trees, trim flower beds, and clean out sheds. The effort was timely, as the Sisters are selling the property in Normandy and needed to have the campus look inviting and fresh for potential buyers.

Undaunted by extreme weather, the volunteers — 23 Catholic high school students and five adult chaperones and youth ministers — worked for three days in sweltering heat with 100 degree temperatures and high humidity.

Alive in You volunteers

Youth and adults who came to the Province Center are affiliated with a nonprofit called Alive in You. Alive in You is a Catholic conference and service camp that serves people in need. The goal of Alive in You, according to the organization’s founders, is for youth “to dive into their Catholic faith and have a blast hanging out with other young Catholics.”

While the outdoor work in deep summer was challenging, it was also rewarding.

“The experience was amazing,” said Kimberlin. “I’m hot and dripping in sweat, but I would come back again. It’s been fun getting to know the Sisters and bonding with other kids from Michigan that I didn’t know before coming to camp.”

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Sisters made sure the volunteers stayed hydrated with plenty of water and protected themselves from the heat by taking frequent breaks in the shade.

It’s a fluke how the volunteers ended up at the Province Center.

God sent them to us. This happens all the time.
Have you ever heard of Providence?

“We were told we were going to be painting a school,” said Olivia. “We brought gallons of paint and old work clothes for painting. But the school cancelled at the last minute and we ended up working with Sisters of the Good Shepherd. To be honest, I prefer working outside and gardening. Getting to the know the Sisters has been awesome.”

Sister Mercy de Leon supervised the volunteers. She said, “God sent them to us. This happens all the time. Have you ever heard of Providence?
“Believe me, it works. Providence works better than Facebook,” Sr. Mercy said.

Believing in something

Jim and Heather Weir, the founders of Alive in You, built the organization 14 years ago around the belief that through service, young people learn what it means to believe in something, why belief is so important, and how Catholic beliefs can shape world views.

The Alive in You summer camp had two parts: a Catholic identity portion and a service component. The Catholic identity segment of the camp combined keynote speakers, daily Mass, Adoration each day before breakfast, prayer, the life-giving sacrament of reconciliation, and Holy Communion.

Service and community loomed largely throughout the camp, as young people tackled the Province Center landscape. The idea behind the agenda was to give youth volunteers the opportunity to make the summer experience of faith more personal.

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The conference had six goals:

  • Challenge youth spiritually
  • Help youth learn more about the Catholic faith
  • Process the service work young people completed
  • Build community among the youth’s parish family
  • Prepare young people to enter the working world
  • Help youth apply the themes of the week to their daily life

Importance of prayer

Prayer played a big role in the conference and camp. Alive in You had a prayer team that began praying for the participants and their parish before they left. The prayer team continued to pray for them throughout their entire Alive in You experience. The conference and camp wove prayer throughout the experience to bring youth’s hearts closer to Jesus and open their lives to his merciful love. Many of the activities throughout the week provided young people with the opportunity for personal reflection and prayer.

For example, Zak Mirzadeh, a Catholic convert from Islam, is an illusionist. He performed for the group in St. Louis, weaving his personal story through a mind-blowing show of illusion to communicate God’s plan of redemption.

Steven Joubert has served as a musician at Alive in You each summer since 2010. The goal of his high energy performance is to help navigate youth into worship.

Luke Grant, one of the youth ministers who accompanied the volunteers to St. Louis, said, “Alive in You is the reason I’m still Catholic. I went through it as a high school teenager and am now a high school youth minister and confirmation coordinator at Our Lady of Consolation in Rockford, Michigan. It would make me happy if Alive in You became a camp for youth service work all summer long.”

Kyle said this was his first experience on a mission trip and that “it’s been great getting to know other kids and really great being able to help the Sisters.”
As for Sr. Mercy, she said, “Working with these young people has been a terrific experience!”

Sharing the Good Shepherd story

Sister Mercy ordered pizza for the work crew and introduced them to the international students who are currently living with the Sisters in the St. Louis Community. She also spoke briefly about the Good Shepherd charism and shared with them inspiring stories about Saint Mary Euphrasia as a young girl. She also spoke with the Michigan youth about Vista Maria, the province ministry in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, that helps girls who have been trafficked restore their lives and regain their dignity.

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Sister Mercy de Leon supervised the volunteer effort in July.

Sister Mercy wrapped up her talk with the young volunteers by saying, “Like Jesus, Good Shepherd Sisters reach out to help everyone. And you young people – this is what you are about too. You are really reaching out to others to be of service.”

Neil, one of the adult chaperones, rolled up his sleeves and fixed the courtyard door that had been broken for years. He asked Sister Mercy why the Sisters were selling the St. Louis property. In response, she said, “The campus and buildings are too large for us now that there are so few of us living here. We feel that selling the property will give way to others.”

Special thanks

Youth performed service for Sisters at the Province Center from July 10-12, 2019. While they worked on the Normandy campus, their peers from Alive in You performed service work in Tampa, Florida; Columbia, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Dallas, Texas.

As a special treat and thank you to the volunteers, the Sisters took them to the popular St. Louis ice cream and frozen custard shop Ted Drewes. The group then went on to visit several other iconic locations, including the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park and the famous Arch – Gateway to the West, before heading back to Michigan,.

You can read about the sale of the Normandy property in the March issue of Items of Interest.

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Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com