Jems on a Mission

Welcome to our Mission Blog, where our Jems share their reflections on the work they are doing in the spirit of Mother Maria!

Chicago Reflection | November 13, 2019

By Gianna Fiduccia ’21

On the early morning of November 13, 2019, Mr. Kardish, Mrs. McCarthy, Ms. Brooks, sixteen of my classmates and I embarked on a service-learning trip to Chicago. Honestly, none of us knew we were getting ourselves into what would imminently become the experience of a lifetime. From touring the “Parallel Universe Villa” of Maria-Catalyst Charter School, to participating in a Harmony, Hope, and Healing music therapy session, to eating dinner and celebrating Mass with the sisters, we all had such a heart-filled and wholesome 3 days. During our time in Chicago, the group and I got to connect with many Sisters of St. Casimir, some of whom are Villa alumni. Not only did they share with us their unique paths to religious life, but the sisters also mentioned a few interesting stories of their time at “The Villa”. Whether they be about the mysterious swimming pool or the origin of the Thanksgiving Feast, we learned what it is like to be part of Villa’s living legacy, while simultaneously creating lasting relationships with the sisters and each other.

A highlight of the trip was reflecting with Mrs. McCarthy over Villa’s renowned motto, “Always More, Always Better, Always With Love”. This saying is holistically part of Villa and, therefore, had been lingering with us as we engaged in the living history of our school. We witnessed “Always More” in how Sister Elizabeth Ann graciously toured us around Maria Catalyst and the Mother House. We saw “Always Better” in Sister Immacula’s advice to go out into the world without fear of failure. And lastly, “Always With Love” was found in the way Sister Margaret took the time to know all sixteen of my classmates and I individually. The sisters showed us how to not only profess our motto, but to live it; how to not only learn about Mother Maria’s legacy, but to continue it. This immersion trip brought to light that the “Villa Sisterhood” is all about being part of a community of women willing to live life always more, always better and, of course, always with love.

Walking in the Footsteps of Mother Maria | June 4, 2018

By Lily Dineen '20

On June 4, 2018, six Villa girls and Mrs. McCarthy headed to Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania on our first day of summer. Coming out of an intense week of finals, we were all feeling an immense relief from stress as we drove out to western Pennsylvania. I went into this immersion trip seeking to learn more about Mother Maria and not knowing much about what to expect in Mount Carmel. In the weeks leading up to the trip, my classmates and I met a
few times discussing Mother Maria's legacy and how much she sacrificed to come to America. Driving into the town, I saw, what used to be a prosperous coal mining town, turned into poor, run-down streets with an incredible amount of abandoned buildings.

We arrived at the Mother Maria Kaupas Center, greeted by Jake. He gave us a tour of the town, telling us about the many churches in the town, and showing us the house that Mother Maria herself lived in for a period of time. The residents of the house were so kind as to invite us into their, which was a simple, white, twin house. Seeing where Mother Maria lived, where she went to church, and where she walked, gave me a sense of who she was and helped me to
see what her life was like.

All the girls on the trip were ready and willing to help with whatever needed to be done around the town. I did not know what to expect, but I kept an open mind. We did simple things like move boxes for the parish, cleaned up the cemetery, and cut up a huge block of butter. We reflected and prayed a few times a day, which really set the tone for everything that we did on the trip. The days went by slowly, but we were able to really take in our environment and enjoy being in the company of each other. By reflecting together, I was given a better perspective going into each situation, and each small act of service was done with a
genuine heart.

On the last day of the trip, we met Father Moran, happy and grateful to have us there. He made us feel welcome, and showed us around Divine Redeemer Church. We helped him bake cakes for the parish festival, and package up his belongings, because he was being transferred to another parish. Being in his upbeat and spirited presence was a wonderful way to end our trip and head back home. I will always remember this trip because it taught me that in doing
service, one of the most important things is to gain a deeper understanding of people’s lives and actions. No matter what kind of service I am doing, I will always try to do it with an open mind and an open heart.

Lenten Reflection | March 26, 2018

By Caroline Hall, Campus Minister

Lent is a “solemn liturgical season”. If that is true then what does that mean and why would we want to participate? Solemn isn’t a word that I want to describe my life. I want my life to be full, joyful, and deep. So why engage in a season of giving up, or one that asks for fasting, or that includes Good Friday? In my life experience the answer to these questions lies in the acceptance of paradox. Life is good, full of love and beauty. Life is also hard, full of sorrow and tragedy. There is a richness in life that can only be lived and felt when both are present. You can only be fully present to your life when both consolation and desolation are experienced. So a spirituality that ignores the desolating parts of life – the times we go without and the times sadness pervades – would be inadequate. Lent is a time to celebrate going without, to articulate darkness, to cherish sadness as sacred and real and whole, to even be attentive to death, and to look in those spaces for where God is present. Lent is a season that gives us an invitation into the realness of a hard, real, raw, and honest life. And Lent goes further than just giving us a space to be solemn; it creates in us an anticipation of nourishment from God, from Christ’s resurrection. And to me that is the heart of it: the duality of sadness sparked by hope, that is the beauty and the realness of Lent.

Lenten Reflection | March 19, 2018

By Jacqueline Armetta '19

For most students, junior year is the time to start looking at colleges and considering your future. One college in particular that stood out to me was Bucknell University. I visited the campus at the end of February, about one week after Lent started. After finishing the typical campus tour, my parents and I decided we would stay for their Saturday evening Mass, and the homily the priest gave was one that I will never forget.

He began the homily by telling the congregation that it is not enough to give up a kidney during Lent, and immediately he had my full attention. He further explained, that giving up a kidney is not sufficient because we have another one and can survive without two of them. Instead, he wants to see people making true sacrifices that make them uncomfortable.

After listening to his homily, I became uneasy because Lent had already begun, but I still wanted to challenge myself in the way that priest was describing. So, I decided that it did not matter that I had missed time, and I was going to make a sacrifice that put me in a situation where I was no longer living the same comfortable life. To do this, I have made small daily changes to challenge myself and my old ways.

Even though Lent is almost over, I invite you to make a sacrifice of your own and possibly continue that for the weeks following the Lenten season. Lastly, Lent is not about doing something that merely inconveniences your day; it should be about a change you are willing to make, a bad habit you are willing to break, or a new way of life you are willing to wake, all to show your gratitude and love for God.

National Catholic Sisters Week 2018

National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW) was celebrated from March 8-14. To celebrate, Sr. Immacula Wendt, Sr. Elizabeth Ann, and Sr. Margaret Zalot '67 participated in Conversations with Sisters and Scholars in Chicago. This event was held in the Maria Kaupas Center with students from the Catalyst Maria school. Photos of the event can be viewed here.

2018 marks the fifth year that this special week is celebrated, and it gives us an excellent opportunity to honor our founders and sponsors, the Sisters of St. Casimir! Mackenzie Spearing '18 and Allie DePascale '18 created this video for our Sisters. We wanted to share it with all of you!

What is National Catholic Sisters Week?

NCSW is an annual celebration that took place this year from March 8-14. Created to honor women religious, it is a series of events that instruct, enlighten, and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women. It's our chance to recognize all they have done for us. It's also our hope that as more young women learn about women religious, more will choose to follow their example.

For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, please visit:

Lenten Reflection | March 12, 2018

By Marissa Abel '17

When I was younger, I never fully understood the meaning of the Lenten season. I knew Lent to be the period of time that I could not eat meat on Fridays, when the priests wore purple, and I was forbidden to say the word ‘hallelujah’. I am now at a point in my life where the word ‘Lent’ has come to resemble more than just forty days of following tradition. To me, the Lenten season is now synonymous with a season of unconditional love. I have made it a personal goal of mine this Lenten season to use this time to reflect -- reflect on where I am, the journey I took to get here, and whose love I have been given along the way.

One of my favorite quotes, by Jim Valvano, reads “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special”. My goal this Lenten season is to do exactly that. We should all try our best to appreciate every day we spend surrounded by those we love; to cry whether it is tears of sadness or joy; to think about the path we have taken to get to this moment in time; to laugh until our stomachs hurt, even if you don’t know what it is that you’re laughing at. Lent is a time that reminds us that life is precious, full of unconditional love and happiness. It is a time to be grateful for the faith and trust we have in the Lord. We are given this season as a reminder to serve as examples of unconditional love to those surrounding us and to make the most of each day we spend using our faith as our guide.

Lenten Reflection | March 5, 2018

By Kasey McKevitt '18

During this Lenten season, I have focused on the theme of hope. Because I am a second semester senior, these past few months have proven to pretty difficult when it comes to keeping focused and trying to not get lost thinking about how close to graduation we are. So this Lenten season, I have decided to take on being a more active student.

I thought this would be something great to take on because often we get caught up in the never ending days filled with tests, quizzes, projects, presentations, and so on. We think, “When will we just be done?” but in the process we loose the value of our education. We are so lucky to get the learning experiences that we get because not everyone can. So I challenged myself to cherish every moment I have left in this school, every test, every quiz, every assembly, and every mass.

This Sunday the priest’s homily corresponded perfectly to these themes. It talked about how we tend to get so caught up in the future that we forget to “stop and smell the roses.” I feel that that is often what happens when seniors are near the end of high school. So, while we can hope for the future and what it brings to us, I think it is more important to live for today and be grateful for what we have. I challenge you to do the same.

Lenten Reflection | February 26, 2018

By Stephanie A. Weaver, Theology Department Chair

As we journey into Lent, I reflect on three key themes: the need to differentiate between “give-up versus take-on,” fasting, and the concept of suffering. Let’s start with “give-up versus take-on.” For myself, “give-up” evokes feelings of failure, listing items that I will attempt to do without for a period of 40 days, feeling concerned that I took on a bit too much, or I am seeking to achieve perfection. Quickly, it becomes a recipe for failure. As I have gotten older, I have leaned on the phrase “take-on.” Personally, “take-on” is a phrase that encourages a challenge, determination, strength, courage, positivity, and trying your best – to be the best version of yourself. The phrase “take on” puts distance between itself and perfection. If we strive for perfection, our faith feels so far out of reach; it becomes an impossible accomplishment and we only distance ourselves. During Lent, I strive not to be perfect, but a better version of myself; but, not just for those 40 days, let the energy carry into summer and fall to be reborn or recreated again in the spring. Language, the way we use it, suggests power. So, this Lent, what will you “take-on” instead of “give-up?”

Following from this, I reflect on “fasting.” I perceive fasting in an unconventional way. It is not just about food, eating a simple dish. I challenge myself: what is the fast I really want? I set some goals for the season. I want to fast from negativity, from over-thinking, second guessing, and being ungrateful. I want to fast from perfection, fast from planning every detail, and fast from refusing to live in and enjoy the moment. This Lent, re-define fasting. What would you like to fast from – what is the fast you really want? Finally, for myself, another Lenten theme I reflect upon involves suffering. In life, there is so much suffering. At times, the suffering and the bad news is overwhelming. Whether it is events in my life, in my family, in my community, or witnessed through the many injustices I teach about, at times, I feel over-exposed. In those moments, I remind myself to “hang it on the cross.” Give my burdens, my pain, my tribulations to God. I simply have to release it and let go; it is all in His time, in His hands, and His plan. I have found it is all what we do with the suffering. Often, I pray. I pray for signs. I actively try to see God in the people around me, in everyday events, and how the chapters of my life have unfolded according to His plan. When I find Him, and when I see Him in others, I am able to compartmentalize the suffering. It becomes an opportunity for growth – to become more morally mature, and to grow in faith. In suffering, I am better able to understand the difference between joy versus happiness. Everyone around us is carrying a cross – some heavy burden they bear. Am I compassionate and empathetic enough to help relieve it? This Lent, what are some affirming words or actions that we can extend to one another to lessen suffering and draw out that true joy?

Lenten Reflection | February 19, 2018

By Stephanie McCarthy, Director of Mission & Ministry

“Take nothing for the journey.” Luke 9:3

Lent is my favorite liturgical season. It is a special, sacred time that reminds me to reevaluate my priorities. I am challenged to realign my thoughts, prayers and actions to match my faith and values. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus challenges us to “take nothing for the journey.” He is asking us to let go of our worldly possessions and to have complete trust in His will for our lives. He, of course, promises us that if we let go and trust in Him, He will provide. This letting go, for me, can be very scary. I like to plan, to prepare, and to have control. During Lent I am reminded that my faith is enough. I am reminded to surrender my will, my plans, and my sense of control over to God.

As we begin our Lenten journey we are called to reevaluate our lives and take stock of our physical and spiritual being. What do we have in excess that we can share? What areas of our lives are in need of more time and attention? How is our relationship with God? What do we need to let go of in order to pick up our cross as we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday? Who do we need help from along the way? Whose cross can we make lighter?

Finally, Lent is a season of hope. As Christians we know that Jesus’ death is only part of the story. The best is yet to come! It is a season of second chances and inner conversion. If we are so willing to let go and relinquish our hearts to God, He will change them and make them new. Let us commit to a season of reevaluating, of letting go, of giving up so that we may be transformed.

What do I need to let go of this Lent? What do I need to take on?

Lord, help me to assess my life and realize what I can let go of so that my heart can be transformed. Amen.

Face to Face

By Madison Buchinski '19

The experiences that I had on Junior Retreat are truly unforgettable! I learned so much and I feel that this experience has helped me grow in gratitude and faith. My group of about thirteen girls traveled to a wonderful home called Face to Face in Germantown, PA. Face to Face is a service center in an area of Philadelphia in which many of the people are having financial, family, social, and health-related difficulties. The doors of Face to Face are open to these people who are in times of hardship. Not only are these people welcomed to eat in a dining room, take a hot shower, receive a fresh pair of clothing, take art classes, play games, and have access to a nurse and legal helper, but they are treated with respect and dignity. Face to Face is different from many soup kitchens and other service centers because they treat their guests with a “we serve you” type of attitude. The volunteers learn the names of their guests and treat them like friends.

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Face to Face on junior retreat. I was able to see amazing levels of passion in not only the volunteers, but also the guests. They were very jovial and found joy in each other and the meal that sat before them as they ate. The girls and I played games and talked with the guests. We put together bags of prizes for the winners of “bingo”. Although it may sound strange, the prizes were very eye-opening. Usually, when we play a game, our prizes are little trinkets that we do not need, or even want. When the woman told us to put toothbrushes, soaps, nonperishable foods, feminine products, and other necessary toiletries in the prize bags, we all kind of looked at each other and had a moment of realization of how fortunate we are to have everything that we have. After the game of bingo, we served delicious hot meals made of fresh foods to the guests in the dining room. They really seemed to enjoy the food! Then, we made peanut butter sandwiches for the guests to take as they left for the day. We learned that peanut butter sandwiches are the best type of sandwich to give away because they stay fresh much longer than a meat sandwich.

For a while, I sat with one of the guests and played a game of bingo with him. This gentleman told me some of his story. Although it was a little difficult to understand him at times, it was clear that he was a very passionate person, despite the hardships that he was having. He told me many things that I did not expect to hear from someone I had just met. Usually when I talk to someone for the first time, they tell me basic surface information about themselves and it is almost always positive topics. The gentleman that spoke to me told me many things that I considered to be rough, sad, and heartbreaking, but after I really thought about his story I was able to see how happy he truly is. He has a great love for the Eagles and his parents, who had passed away. I could tell that he found immense joy in having a conversation with me, and it made me feel good. From this experience, I was able to learn that hardships do not have to take away happiness in my life. Only one thing can take away joy in my life: myself. If I spend time dwelling on things that go wrong, I will never find true passion and love. If I see times of struggle as another learning experience, I can find happiness in everything that I do. I know God is looking out for the gentleman that taught me such an important lesson that day.

"It Actually Serves You"

By Megan Connelly '19

In the beginning of October, nine of my Villa sisters, Miss Hall, Mrs. Weaver, and I traveled to the St. Vincent De Paul Center in Germantown, Pennsylvania. As a Junior, I am learning more about the world I live in and the situations people are faced with. When we arrived at the center Thursday afternoon, we were welcomed with open arms and full of excitement to see what we would be doing. We spent the night chatting, cooking, and reflecting with one another about the importance of service. The nine other Villa students on this trip would agree that this experience was well enjoyed.

The following day, the ten of us were split in half to visit two centers. We spent the morning with people of all ages and got to see how the centers worked. Through our morning experience, I realized something very eye-opening: service comes in different ways and most of the time, it actually serves you. The majority of the people I met that morning just wanted some company. I sometimes take for granted the people in my life, not realizing how important it is to have supportive relationships. I was able to connect these real-world scenarios to what we have been learning in religion class. When we all reflected back at the retreat center, I could feel the love we had gained inside of us. We spent the afternoon cleaning up a park that many would gather in the next day. Working together was something so special!

Through Junior Immersion, I got to see different types of service come to life. My faith has grown through this experience and I got to see how service has also served me. From Junior Immersion, I am continuously working to improve myself and the world I live in. I am grateful for the people who were apart of this experience and for the open conversations we were able to have. I felt Villa’s motto, “Always more, Always better, Always with love,” throughout this experience and continue to live out the mission Mother Maria left for us.

Reflection on Haiti Service Trip

By Alexa Bannon '18

Just one short week in Bois-De-Laurence, Haiti was all that it took to fully understand and live out Mother Maria’s message of “Always more, always better, and always with love.” My trip with ten of my “sisters,” Brigid, Kaela, Kasey, Katelyn, Katie, MacKenzie, Maddi, Meghan, Rebecca, and Shannon, along with Mr. Kardish, is a trip that I will remember forever.

On Saturday, July 8, 2017, we arrived at Villa at 5:00 a.m., packed the cars, said a prayer, and headed to John F. Kennedy International Airport. As soon as we arrived, we checked our eleven suitcases filled with medical supplies, soccer cleats, and soccer uniforms. We boarded the plane and took off around 12:30 p.m. When we landed in Port-au-Prince, we traveled through customs, collected all of the suitcases and met Father Bavon and his staff outside of the airport. We all piled into two cars and started our trek to Bois-De-Laurence. We traveled up the mountains on bumpy dirt roads, and stopped only once halfway through the ride for gas. We safely arrived at the rectory around 11:00 p.m. We ate dinner, and everyone fell asleep shortly after because of the long day of traveling.

Our time in Haiti was jam-packed with a variety of jobs and activities. On Sunday, we went to mass. Mass was filled with singing and dancing. The Haitians love for God shows through their excitement for mass, and through their commitment to travel up to two hours to attend Mass. Afterward, we played with the kids and watched a soccer match – Shannon even played!

On Monday, we helped set up a medical clinic. We were in charge of counting pills, sorting almost one thousand medical records, and taking people’s blood pressure. Later on that day, I was able to sit in on a class that Deb, the nurse practitioner that traveled with us, taught to the teachers of the school. Since the closest hospital is two hours away by car, the teachers are learning essentially how to become the “doctors” of the town. They learned about different sicknesses and how to treat them.

Tuesday was filled with excitement. We woke up pretty early, ate breakfast, and then headed straight for the market! We walked around, and were led by the Youth Group at the church. We bought some pineapples and three chickens. After the market, we painted the school and the church. Then, we helped at the medical clinic again. This time, we weighed babies and children, and I even got to fill some of their cavities.

On Wednesday, we carried supplies to the school and played with the kids. We also planted breadfruit trees, and had to climb up the side of the mountain in order to plant them. Later that night, we went to mass again. After mass, we had dinner with the Youth Group. Even through the language barrier we were able to get to know them. They even gave us a present: a pillowcase with every one of our names on it to always remind us of our visit to their town.

The next morning we woke up early, packed all of our things, and headed to a resort near the Port-au-Prince airport. The drive was supposed to take around six hours, but it ended up taking about eight hours. Once we arrived at the resort, we went straight to the beach, and swam in the water. A little relaxation after our busy time in Bois-De-Laurence was a lot of fun.

On Friday, we woke up early again, and headed to the airport. We said goodbye to Father Bavon and the rest of his staff, and we went inside. As the airplane took off around 11:20 a.m., I thought of our time in Haiti, and hoped that we were able to make a difference in the lives of the people that we met.

Overall, my Haiti experience was the highlight of my summer. Each day was busy, yet we had time to reflect on all of our actions, making the week full of learning experiences for everyone. There were many eye-opening experiences throughout the week. Haiti showed me how to be appreciative of everything I have in my life, including running water and air conditioning. Haiti also brought out the best in me! I was able to fully give my best self and show the Haitians the greatest love I know. With each experience and action, I tried to live out the mission of “Always more, always better, and always with love” each and every day. Without knowing it, the Haitians also lived out Mother Maria’s message, teaching us a greater love for the people we encounter and an absolute joy for each and every experience. It is difficult to put into words, but there is no experience that will ever match driving hours on hazardous dirt roads only to find Men and Women of God that are like no other.

Expanding Mother Maria's Legacy

By Brittney Bell '17

The 2017 Chicago Trip was an unforgettable trip. While preparing weeks in advance to be able to see the Sisters of St. Casimir and further learn the legacy of Mother Maria, I can say that all 14 of us were enthusiastic but also anxious. Knowing that the Windy City would most likely be freezing at the end of the winter season, we all boarded the plane with our parkas, excitement, and anticipation; ready to meet the women who helped expand Mother Maria’s legacy to what it now is.

Although the whole trip was an unforgettable experience for me, a few aspects of it stuck out to me the most. One being when we visited Marquette Park. Marquette Park has a memorial in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. One thing I did not know prior to going to Chicago was that Sr. Margaret and Sr. Immacula marched with MLK Jr. through Marquette Park during a protest for open housing. They were there in support of the equality of everyone, no matter what race, gender, ethnicity, etc. After hearing about this quick stop we were making, I was excited to see the memorial that was put up for the 50th anniversary. However, after admiring the detail and artwork that went into the memorial, someone noticed that there were three faces carved into the stone. After asking Sr. Margaret about them, we learned that it was, in fact, her and Sister Immacula’s faces! It amazed me that out of the three faces chosen to be on this memorial, two of them were of Sisters of St. Casimir. What amazed me even more is how humble the Sisters are about it. Sr. Margaret did not even tell us about her being on the memorial until we asked. Marquette Park is now a piece of history that can be adored for generations, and the Sisters are a part of that legacy.

A huge testimony that the sisters share, I believe, is how humble they are. They are thoughtful, selfless, and extremely dedicated to their mission and the mission of Mother Maria. The legacy of Mother Maria has already spread to what seemed to be unattainable lengths, thanks to the Sisters of St. Casimir. Their sense of community, drive, and humility has advanced all throughout Chicago, and even here at Villa.

After coming home with all of this new knowledge of how much Mother Maria and the Sisters of St. Casimir have accomplished, I have gained a new appreciation for all that they have done for the Villa community, and even Chicago. Like the Sisters of St. Casimir, I hope to spread generosity and kindness in everything I do. The Chicago trip is now one of my favorite memories of Villa, and I am glad I get to say that I was a part of it.

Time with Villa Women of God

By Brigid Conmy '18

In March, I, along with eleven other Villa upperclassmen, braced the cold (and then the hot) weather and traveled one time zone over to Chicago to visit the Sisters of Saint Casmir. Our early morning arrival was brightened by Sr. Margaret and her suitcase full of snacks. We quickly jumped into our jam-packed schedule and drove to Harmony, Hope, and Healing (HHH). HHH provides relief to people in Chicago dealing with addiction, homelessness, poverty, and violence. This relief is brought through music. As a theater kid, I know how influential music is in my life, and to see it bring women together and give them a safe place was inspiring. This was only the beginning of feeling inspired and amazed at what the Sisters of Saint Casmir have accomplished.

On Thursday night, we had dinner with some of the Sisters, they made us pasta and cakes for two of the girls’ birthdays! The night was full of stories about Villa, both present and past, and even singing the Alma Mater. It was incredible to be able to relax and connect with the Sisters on a personal level. Meeting all of the Sisters at Franciscan Village was also a wonderful learning experience. I was able to sit with my fellow classmates and talk to the Sisters. They asked what Villa was like now and how my school year was going, and I even received extra prayers to find a Prom date. Being able to hear stories of Villa, some before I was even alive, was so interesting; I even found out that Villa used to have an outdoor swimming pool.

I never believed that I, a young high school student, would be able to connect on a personal level with nuns from Chicago. However, Villa was our common ground, and is our second home. To be able to meet the Sisters of Saint Casmir, who have dedicated their life to God, and realize that they do so much more than say prayers and read the Bible, changed my life. The Sisters of Saint Casmir are strong, intelligent, caring, selfless, Villa women of God, and I am so honored to have spent three days with them.

Make a Wave: Reflection on Junior Retreat

By Megan O’Neill ’18

Megan volunteered with Catholic Social Services at St. Anne’s Community Center in Kensington as part of Junior Retreat on February 17. Here are her thoughts on the experience.

“Make a wave....Each of us is one drop of water, but together we can make an ocean of change.”

This experience was one that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was placed into a setting that was very different from my everyday life. The people at the St. Anne’s Community Center helped me realize the beauty in life. These men and women were all so ecstatic just to be alive and participate in things that I take for granted in my life. These things range from working out to spending and enjoying time with their friends. Overall, this experience helped me to appreciate life and all of the ups and downs that it has to offer. I also realized that the elderly could teach you things about yourself that you did not know, and I hope to take the lessons I learned from my short time at St. Anne’s and apply them to my life.

This experience helped me realize that each of God’s children is made to do God’s work here on earth. I really felt that I was reflecting what God created me to do here on earth. Going off of this, my time spent at St. Anne’s showed me that I am capable of answering the Church’s call to be instruments of charity in our world. I was able to perform acts and deeds that were not only beneficial to the members of the St. Anne’s Community Center, but myself as well.

Mini-THON Reflection

By Erica Behr ‘18, Mini-THON Finance Committee Captain

Mini-THON at Villa is an extraordinary event, and it is an experience that I will remember and cherish forever. Mini-THON is one of my favorite days of the year at Villa, and this year, as I had the privilege to be a captain of the event, I have learned to appreciate this day even more. During Mini-THON, Villa students and the surrounding community come together to dance, sing, have fun, and most importantly raise funds and awareness to make a difference, For The Kids. Mini-THON is a truly inspiring event that perfectly reflects VJM’s motto from Mother Maria: “Always more, Always better, and Always with love.”

Always more: This year was Villa’s 5th annual Mini-THON, and each year we have raised more and more money and awareness, FTK. Each year Mini-THON is a success because Villa students are always willing to give more time, more energy, more money, and more of themselves in order to make it happen. Mini-THON definitely reflects Mother Maria’s idea of “always more.” Giving more is a truly rewarding experience, and I am so grateful that I was able to help give more to Mini-THON this year.

Always better: The goal of Mini-THON is to raise money and awareness to help make the lives of childhood cancer patients better. During Mini-THON, we give the best of ourselves in order to better the lives of other children. What's better than having the time of your life while dancing alongside your best friends for 10 hours? The only way it gets better is if you’re raising money FTK at the same time!

Always with love: Another reason why Mini-THON is so successful is because everything that is done to prepare for the event is done with love. The donors give out of the kindness of their hearts, the volunteers attend because they want to help make a difference, and the dancers participate because they want to change the lives of the kids. If you look closely at any part of Mini-THON, you can see the love that is poured into it, and the passion that the volunteers, participants, and donors, possess.

“Always more, Always better, and Always with love.” These three things capture the spirit of Mini-THON and give it an even greater meaning. I have learned so much from my years of participating in Mini-THON, and these lessons are things that I will always cherish. Dancing at Mini-THON and listening to the stories of the children is something that I will always remember, and will always be grateful for.

Junior Immersion Reflection

By Kasey McKevitt '18

My Junior Immersion experience began right after school on Thursday, October 20, 2016. We grabbed our things immediately after school and headed to the car. After a short prayer, we were off to the Saint Vincent De Paul Center in Philadelphia. When we arrived at the center we went over our itinerary for the next two days, then we set up and prepared for dinner. Sister Shannon made it a point to make sure that we worked together like a family unit, which included helping prepare for dinner and cleaning up after. This brought us together because we worked hand in hand as a group.

After dinner, we got in our pj’s and went back downstairs for an activity. The activity was a game kind of like heads up, where we had different stereotypes on our foreheads and we had to go around and treat that person based off of their stereotype. This set the mood for the day to come because we were going to interact with all different types of people.

The next day we got up, made ourselves breakfast and pack our lunches for the day to come. Following breakfast, we had a short prayer service that helped us to reflect on the day ahead of us. We then split up into two groups; one was off to an elderly day care and the other to a soup kitchen. I went to the elderly daycare where we played arts and crafts with the Elderly and also played bingo with them. Later on we met back together at the center and split off to go to two different after school programs at local schools. We connected with the kids by playing games with them, doing arts and crafts, and talking about their families. After that, we went back to the center, had a reflection on our day of service, ate dinner, and then packed our things.

“Always more, Always better, Always with love.”-Mother Maria Kaupas. I lived out our Villa mission on this trip by always giving more, always doing better, and always doing it with love. “Always more”: Whether at the center or at our service sites, we always tried to help everyone as much as we could. “Always better”: We always put our best effort forward to change the lives of those around us. “Always with love”: We connected those we met through love and put their needs before ours. Mother Maria provides an exceptional example of commitment to faith and education. By following her example, we successfully lived out her mission on this trip.

Bois-De-Laurence, Haiti Reflection

By Shannon Coleman '17

My week in Haiti with my Villa sisters is one I will never forget. It was the highlight of my summer and a week that I never wanted to end. I grew closer to and bonded with the girls on my trip, Abby, Alana, Eliza, Katie, Nikki, and Sara, and I will forever share something very special with them. We spent everyday together, doing different service activities varying from taking blood pressures and painting to playing soccer and jump rope with kids. We laughed, played, prayed, sang, and grew closer not only to each other, but to our faith.

Every night we would have a prayer service and would reflect on our day. We shared happy experiences, upsetting experiences, and what we learned that day. We talked about what we would bring back home with us, memories and a new outlook on life. We reflected on Mother Maria’s mission and how it played a part in our experiences. We realized that we wanted to do more and better for the Bois-De-Laurence community. We did it all with love because they deserve it. They are so eager to learn about health care and blood pressure, to go to school, to make their church and computer center look beautiful, and to feel proud knowing that they played a part in improving their community.

Each day we tried to do more and better for them, whether it was painting for the whole day instead of some of the day, staying outside for an extra hour to play with kids, or volunteering to teach adults about and how to take blood pressure. And most importantly, we did everything with love. Without knowing it, the Haitians live out Mother Maria’s message as well. They always do more for each other, whether its looking after someone else’s children or putting money in the church donation basket when they barely have enough money for themselves. They always try to do their best, even while doing the littlest tasks such as painting or playing in a soccer game. And they do EVERYTHING with love. Bois-De-Laurence is not just a community, but a family. It is a loving family that depends on and supports one another, just like Villa.

I am forever grateful for my experience in Bois-De-Laurence, Haiti with my 6 villa sisters. I learned a lot from my experience and I cherish the memories I have made. The nation of Haiti and the people I have met there will always have a special place in my heart. Some may overlook Haiti because of its poverty and the thought of the country as being “invaluable”, but, in my opinion, Haiti is one of the richest and most valuable countries in the world, maybe not in wealth, but something much more important.

Time with Our Sister-Sisters!

By Katie Connolly '17

Let’s all admit it—we were all jealous of the special bond Tia and Tamera Mowry shared on the hit 90’s television show, “Sister, Sister.” Lucky for 6 Villa students, they got to share in a similar special relationship with the Sisters of St. Casimir for a three days in March. At 5:55 AM on March 13th, the squad of Mr. Kardish, Mrs. McCarthy, Grace Flynn, Ani Javardian, Michaela Drobac, Gabby Hobbib, Katie Connolly, and Briana Hocker departed the Philadelphia International Airport with aspirations of a great trip.

The group was in no way let down—in fact, their expectations were surpassed! Through their time in Chicago, the group met many sisters and heard many stories of their times at Villa. For example, did you know Mr. G’s room used to be the sewing room? With the aid of gallons of coffee, the Villa “Chi-town” squad was able to make lasting relationships, volunteer at Harmony, Hope, and Healing, attend mass each day, learn how to sew with the guidance of Sister Elizabeth Ann, and indulge in Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza. Let’s not forget, tons of “sister selfies” were taken as well!!

You constantly hear the words “Always more, always better, and always with love” when you’re at Villa. However, our mission takes on a new role when you see it in another light. Not only do we live by this motto, but the Sisters of Saint Casimir live by it as well. In fact, they not only live by it, but they are inspired by it. Always more—not only were the Sisters of St. Casimir filled with exuberance, but they constantly wanted to give more of themselves. Always better—they showed me how to be the best version of myself, even when I was sleep-deprived and running on coffee. And always with love—the sisters showed me that no matter where I go and whom I meet, always give them my love. The Chicago trip was much more than service, laughs, and new friendships; it was a great opportunity to see how our mission has no limits.

A special thanks to Sister Margaret and all the Sisters of St. Casimir for welcoming us to your city! We will be back!

Quotes & Prayers from Mother Maria and the Sisters of St. Casimir

  1. “May you live by Faith. May you be blessed with graces of understanding, courage, fortitude in order to do all God wishes. May you bear all Joyfully.” - Mother Maria
  2. May you love one another for then God will be among us in the fullness of his peace.. may you remain peaceful.” - Mother Maria
  3. “May you refreshed and strengthened by God’s love and grace.” - Mother Maria
  4. “Fortified with a good intention, wherever you go and whatever you do, always keep in mind: God is here!” - Mother Maria
  5. “What will sustain us in these dark hours and encourage us to do the right, if not faith in God’s Providence and the hope of a better, brighter future and a complete trust and the help of the Most High” - Mother Maria
  6. “Let us remain peaceful under all hardships, humiliations, accusations, and condemnations regardless of their source.” - Mother Maria
  7. "He journeys with us, and immediately the going becomes less difficult, for we can do all things with Him.” - Mother Maria
  8. “Merely to give is not enough; we must always give our very best. Neither is it a matter of how much we give, but of how great a value is that which we give.” - Mother Maria
  9. “No matter where you live - whether it be in places surrounded by calm, peaceful nature, or in modest homes buried among city building in the midst of harsh nose and turbulence… I visualize all of you traveling together in communities of faith.” - Mother Maria
  10. “Let us follow Him with all our hearts and expend evert effort to be givers of love.” - Mother Maria
  11. “Never judge others. Consider yourself the servant of all.. Here we have a plan of action given by Jesus Christ Himself.” - Mother Maria
  12. “What a paradise life would be if each and every one, forgetting self, were to strive to manifest love for other by first cultivating it within one’s heart, and then expressing this in word and deed.” - Mother Maria
  13. “Strive not to judge the thoughts and intentions of others, for external actions and words are not always an indication of what is truly present in their minds and hearts.” - Mother Maria
  14. “Leave judging and fault-finding to small and mean minds; let our concern be this noble desire and aim: to love.” -Mother Maria
  15. “Do not allow this compassion to remain but an empty emotion, but actually help those awaiting our assistance… For His sake let us lighten the burden of others” - Mother Maria
  16. “He defended the persecuted and weak. You, too, follow His example.” - Mother Maria
  17. “Trust God in your difficulties and place the God’s hands… have great concern for the needs of one another. As our Lord asks: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’” - Mother Maria
  18. “We as a community have been so blessed - you should frequently recall all of the years of work and sacrifice done before you and presently occurring… Let us rejoice in all the good accomplishments.” - Mother Maria
  19. “Remain very close to Jesus and share everything with him…Every complaint, concern, joy, far, sorrow should be shared with Him. Pray, pray, pray and keep God’s presence in your life always.” -Mother Maria
  20. “Always pray for the grace to peacefully, joyfully, and courageously accept God’s surprises on your journey of faith through living your vows in today’s milieu.” - Mother Maria
  21. “Always more, always better, and always for the love of God and neighbor.” - Mother Maria
  22. “Live fully and love each other. Help each other on the way to perfection.” - Mother Maria
  23. “Don’t give up… Live a holy and happy life. Do God’s will and be satisfied with the outcome.” - Mother Maria
  24. “I want to give example to others by my life of prayer and service for God’s people.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  25. "At this time of our life the most important thing we can do is PRAY. Most people are too busy and have no time for prayer in their life. Therefore, we can keep everyone in prayer always.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  26. “We are called to be people of faith, joy, courage, hope, and above all, loving ourselves and those we serve.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  27. “Mother Maria, you know our needs and problems. Intercede us and ask God to give us the wisdom, strength, and determination to love God more dearly and serve God more faithfully.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  28. “Mother Maria, we need your help. Teach us how important prayer is in our lies and apostolate. You found time for prayer always even in you most busy time. Help us to appreciate the value of prayer. Amen.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  29. Dear Mother Maria, I ask you to intercede for us that we not fall into living a life of complacency, that we not seek our security by just living in a comfort zone, but that we constantly challenge ourselves to a continued conversion of mind, heart, and spirit. Amen.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  30. “Thank you, Jesus, for always being with me. I put my trust in you. Amen.” - Sister of St. Casmir
  31. "Dear Lord, we believe that you are always with us. We believe that all that has happened in our lives could have only been done with your divine assistance and grace. We thank you for all these blessing of your love.” - Sisters of St. Casmir
  32. “Today we struggle to understand all the changes and challenges we are experiencing. Help us walk humbly and courageously with your grace and assistance. Amen” -Sisters of St. Casmir
  33. “Mother Maria, intercede for to our Lord and Savior so that I, like you, may trust God unreservedly and walk the path marked out for me courageously with faith and hope. May god enliven us with his spirit to bring love and justice to our world.” - Sisters of St. Casmir

- Compiled by Jenna Pintimalli '19

Mission & Ministry Office

Stephanie McCarthy
Director of Mission & Ministry
215-357-8810 ext. 126