Archive 2008 - 2019

Mississippi Trip

by Katie Connors

Mississippi Mission Trip Makes a Difference


St. Mary's teens in front of a tree destroyed by Hurricane Katrina that was later carved into a sculpture on Gulfport Town Green.  From left: John Cronin, Courtney Muller, Jake Demuro, Steve Hennessey, Dan Miller, Brian Barone, Brittany Watling, Courtney Lunny, Emma Twomey, Chelsea Dubin, Brittney Galeaz, Katie Clark, Kelsey Catanzaro

 The world has a way of forgetting disasters. One would think that five years after Hurricane Katrina, volunteers would have moved on to more recent tragedies, but thankfully, this is not the case for a core group of young people from St. Mary’s Church in Holliston. So deep are the bonds that have been formed with the community in Lizana, Mississippi (just up the road from Gulfport, MS, which was under seventeen feet of water after the hurricane) that the St. Mary’s crew just keeps coming.

This year, St. Mary’s sent a group of 71 young people and 21 adult chaperones; some of them have come for three or more years and have built relationships with the people they have helped over past summers. For those who arrive in Lizana for the first time, the area around Gulfport may look surprisingly functional and even fully recovered. After hearing the stories from some of the storm’s survivors, however, we understand that there is still so much to do, so much pain and heartache still affecting the people, and that our presence still means a lot to the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The “Mississippi Summer Mission Trip” actually begins in the early part of the year, when teens commit to months of fundraising, team-building, service work, and prayerful preparation for what is meant to be both a spiritual and literal journey. Youth Minister Matt Chick, and trip coordinators Jeff McLinden, John Mulvaney and Gary Watling spend months working on getting the teens and adults acquainted with each other, and ready for the challenge of working and living as a small Christian community for a week. Meetings during the winter and spring focus on praying for one another, reaching out to new people, pulling one’s weight in the fundraising efforts, showing up for commitments, and staying focused on those we hope to assist with rebuilding.

Once in Mississippi, the group is welcomed by Karen and Glenn, the coordinators of the Project Hope and Compassion ministry at St. Ann’s Parish. Karen is “Den Mother Extraordinaire” – she gives us the rules, invites us to feel welcome, and puts us to work like family. It was truly impressive to see how well the work ethic is established, and that teens who at home may never empty a dishwasher are suddenly jumping in and helping to make lemonade, fill jugs of ice water, wipe down tables, or clear dishes away. Karen and Glenn keep things humming, and every night there is a huge meal provided for all the volunteers.

Monday is the first work day, and that means starting with 7 a.m. Mass for a sleepy but eager group of kids who would not have believed that they would sign up for such a tradition. Not only are they in attendance and on time, but most of them are singing and truly participating! Glenn Daly and his band of musical troubadours get us all rockin’ and clappin’ to everything from “Come on People Now” to “This Little Light of Mine.” Starting the day in the cozy church sets the tone for the spirit of loving service that is our mission.

From that quiet beginning, all then becomes organized chaos, and the rest of the day’s routine is a flurry of quick breakfast, everyone assembling their own lunch and getting it to the correct van; donning our work boots, team work shirts, maybe a bandana or two, and making sure everyone has plenty of water and sunscreen. The teams head out to work sites for the day, and reconvene at dinner late that afternoon. Teams take on carpentry, painting, landscaping or land-clearing; some work in a local soup kitchen, and a few selfless souls stay behind at St. Ann’s to help with cleaning and kitchen chores so all is ready for the group’s return and dinner.

Evenings are centered on reminding us what we are here for; speakers who lived through the storm come to share their stories; one night we hear from two teenage girls who lost their homes. One of them poignantly observed how little she now cares about “clothes and bags and jewelry, and all that stuff teen girls care about.” There are few dry eyes when she says she knows now that what matters to her is “family, only family.” Another night we hear from Malcolm Veazey, who has met some of our teens before; he assures us that we are appreciated deeply, explaining that some of those we help may not be able to express their thanks because of the shame and pain of being in need. Our group sits in stillness and silence, riveted by imagining all that these people have endured and all they have lost.

Prayer is part of everything we do, and the shout-out that gets everyone to attend and be quiet is “God is Good!” to which the group responds “All the Time!” – this becomes the theme and keynote of the week; we pray with sympathy for those whose needs we try to meet; we pray in gratitude for the meals we eat each day and the camaraderie and joy of working together. Silently, many of us give thanks for all the blessings at home that we take for granted all the time. We pray for each other, and for those at home. Many adults pray that this week will open the hearts of teenagers who may not feel God’s presence at home; here in this affectionate and encouraging circle of friends, we hope they sense that God is at the center of it.

 St. Mary's chaperones at Gulfport Town Green."  From left: Jeff McLinden, John Mulvaney, Katie Connors, Joe Catanzaro, John Demuro"

Before we can believe it, the week is finished; many of us do not want it to end. Projects have progressed to a great degree but many of us feel we would like to do just a bit more. Some of us love the communal living and the prayer-centered structure of our days so much that returning to “normal” life seems dull by comparison. As we gather in circles on our last night, we share “affirmations,” small observations of the goodness in each of us. We leave feeling more loved, appreciated, and blessed than we ever knew possible—changed, and ready to come back, again and again.