Memories of Volunteering in Louisiana with the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic in 1978 and 1979 - influenced by Sr. Fara Impastato, OP, a "Religions of the World" teacher I had at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Pic: Sr. Fara's 50th Anniversary (2001) with Keith and Family Present
San Pedro Pescodor Song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C9hNUETcb4
One summer, when I was a Freshman in college at Loyola University, I had the opportunity to do volunteer work with some nuns in New Orleans – they were known as the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic. I got to know Sr. Fara Impastato, OP, who was my teacher in “Religions of the World” that semester and was very inspired by her teaching and example.
One of the books we read in Spring class was Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. It was so neat to learn from Sr. Fara about the monks and the cloistered life that they lived that I decided to take a bus trip to Conyers Georgia, where they have a community, during Easter week then. What a blessing it was to be with the members of that community during that solemn time.
Sr. Fara also helped to enlighten us to all the religions of the world and to find the commonality in many of them – especially as it related to the common paths they have for members to take the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of spiritual growth. Another great book we read that semester was Interior Castles by St. Teresa of Avila.
On the light side, even though Sr. Fara and most in her community did not wear the usual “Habit” that was and still is associated with women in a religious order, she used to relate that it came in handy when she had to catch the streetcar on St. Charles Ave., as she was not required to pay a fare if she was recognized by that apparel.
Sr. Fara and her other community members were very dedicated in their faith and commitment to serving God, so when she announced in class that her order sponsored a summer volunteer program, I became very interested. Even though I had a part-time job all through college at the Loyola Book Store, I made plans to take off the month required to join other lay people in outreach with the Sisters.
My assignment was for Yscloskey, which is a small community in St. Bernard Parish south of Chalmette and Arabi – which is probably very sparsely populated after Hurricane Katrina devastated most of that area. Sr. Luisa was the nun I worked with there, and we had another volunteer from Arizona, Maria who helped us.
Fr. Roch Naquin was the Pastor of the parish, San Pedro Pescador (“St. Peter the Fisherman”), where we stayed at during that tenure – there was a trailer for Fr. Roch and me, as well as one for Sr. Luisa and Maria. It was a simple and carefree area with mostly residents who made their livelihood off of fishing with many great places nearby like Delacroix Island, Hopedale and Shellbeach. The Church was shaped almost like a boat and a long net was hanging from one of the walls to enhance the theme.
Most of things the volunteers did in outreach with the Sisters during the Summer involved home visiting and coordination of apostolic activities for the families – especially in educational and social activities with children. We ate lunch every day with one of the kind families who opened their homes to us – and usually with so much seafood goodies that we couldn't eat much for breakfast or dinner!
Besides a lot of fun and growth in maturity, I was inspired to write a song about the experience:
You've shown me what love
Can do for a soul
Both withered and old
You've shown me how love
Was meant for us all
And this is your call
*** Open your heart
Don't let love be apart
Just let it grow
And then you will know
That your love is what God has sent
And you and I are what were meant
And now while I'm gone
You know I'm still there
My presence I share
To give to God's children
Both young and old
And this you have told *** http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C9hNUETcb4
The experience was so moving and enriching that I did another summer of volunteer month with another volunteer and the Sisters the following year in outreach to the poor in Scott Louisiana with Sr. Diane. After college and before Graduate School, Sr.'s influence helped to nudge me to do a year of volunteer work as a layperson in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California before going into a career in social work.
So if you have the chance to volunteer this summer, take advantage of it. Thank you, Sr. Fara, for all that you have taught me in seeking to be Eucharistic.