Our Youth

Youth Summer of Service to C.S.J. Sisters

We always knew that attending a school that is part of the Sisters of St. Joseph Community was a special opportunity. This summer, the eight of us were given a chance to take the sisters’ mission, which we learned about in school and put into practice in real life.

We spent a whole week tending to the needs of the elderly sisters at their summer place, St. Joseph’s Villa in Hampton Bays, L.I.

First, let us introduce ourselves. From Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst, Jasmine Ali, Alessandria Vicario and Jerina Carmosa came with their chaperon campus minister, Sister Rosemarie Figlia. The students from Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge, were Kristen Weidlein and Catalina Gayá. They were accompanied by campus minister Jennifer Uzzi-Silverio and C.S.J. club coordinator and math department chair Sister Helen Herley.

Joining the Brooklyn girls were our new friends from Academia Maria Reina in San Juan, Puerto Rico: Janelle Molière, Claudia Coira and Veronica Cádiz and their chaperon and English teacher Neda Negron.

Untitled1None of us knew what to expect before we arrived at the villa. Sister Kerry Handal, who was in charge of relief work the week we stayed, had plenty for us to do to help. We rotated jobs every day.

Each morning started with “the roll run” with Sister Kerry: a trip to the local supermarket for fresh warm breakfast rolls and the things we would need to make the meals of the day.

We then attended Mass with the sisters. Some of us served as lectors or presented the gifts during the offertory. Father Kevin Abels, diocesan vocations director, was there to say Mass each day; he always encouraged us and thanked us for however we participated.

Some students had pantry duty, which involved helping Sister Noelle with dishes following meals. Other girls were assigned to the sisters’ living quarters where they assisted the nuns with their bed linens, laundry or whatever needs they had.

Sometimes the sisters just wanted someone to keep them company, to chat with them or help with one of the huge 1,000-plus piece puzzles in the common room.

We all worked together to set up for, prepare and clean up from the meals, which were all home cooked and delicious.

Part of our responsibilities also included grounds keeping. Heather Ganz, a C.S.J. novice, taught us about weeding. She was so encouraging in all we did and even shared her story with us on how she came to be called to vocational life.

“Just by being here and focusing all of their energy, these girls are changing the world,” Ganz told our chaperones.

We also had the chance to learn about the sisters’ mission in Hondo Valle in the Dominican Republic, how they care for some of the Caribbean’s poorest and sickest people and what we can do to help when we return to our schools.

On a fun note, one night Claudia and Kristen even choreographed a song and dance number for us to perform for the sisters after dinner.

It was a lot of fun as the students from Puerto Rico tried to teach the girls from New York how to sing lyrics in Spanish and dance merengue!

By the end of the week, we were exhausted but sad to leave our new friends from the other schools and the sisters we grew to love so much.

“We came here with the idea that we were going to help do a little work and have some vacation time,” rising junior from San Juan Janelle Molière said. “But when they started giving us all the responsibilities involved with taking care of the sisters and helping in every way, we learned to enjoy work. We all feel fortunate enough just to serve other people, which is the sisters’ mission.”

Rising sophomore from San Juan Catalina Gayá said she felt like her week serving the sisters really “reinforced the C.S.J. charism of inclusive love, unity, reconciliation and respect for all creation” which we all learn about in school.

None of us wanted to leave St. Joseph’s Villa, and we all hope to be chosen to come back in the future and reunite with the sisters (and each other!) again during our high school years.

We are also planning to keep in touch with each other once school starts via Skype sessions and working together on projects to help the sisters’ missions in the States and the Caribbean.

As we packed up our things on our last day together and tidied up the cabin we called home for a week, rising junior from San Juan Claudia Coira wrote a farewell note to the nuns we had stayed with.

“This has been a life changing experience,” she read from her note when it was done. “For all the stories…the way all of you tell us that we did a good job or [give us] a simple smile…thank you, thank you, thank you. I really hope you enjoyed this time as much as we did!”

Thank you, Sisters of Saint Joseph, for welcoming us with open arms and giving us the chance to learn about the value of service firsthand. And thank you to our schools, Academia Maria Reina, Bishop Kearney H.S. and Fontbonne Hall Academy, for choosing us to have this unforgettable summer experience.