Our New Members
Jennie Lynn had her career path all figured out – or so she thought.
Raised in an upper middle-class central New Jersey home, she attended a small Catholic school from kindergarten through the eighth grade, but
after a year of Catholic high school, she broke from tradition and transferred to a local public high school for “a competitive girls’ soccer team.”
“I fell in love with the game at age 5” and played all through high school.
She attended St. John’s University in New York, a Catholic school founded by the Vincentian fathers. That Vincentian influence would eventually play an important role in her life plan.
Jennie Lynn studied for a career in the insurance industry, and thrived in the culturally diverse university and the city that surrounds it. “St. John’s exposed me to more nationalities and cultures that I even knew existed previously,” she observes, “and gave me such an appreciation for people who are different from me.”
She joined Gamma Iota Sigma, the “fraternity” for her major, and was named its president for her senior year. “The experiences I gained and friendships I made there were unbelievably important for my development as a young professional and as a leader,” Jennie Lynn says. “I learned about teamwork and management and was able to become that caring upperclassman for the underclassmen who followed me, and helped shape their pathways in actuarial science.”
She also participated in the Campus Ministry as a Student Assistant, organizing volunteers, setting up pre-service activities, and leading weekly service, followed by reflection with the volunteers in accordance with the school’s Vincentian tradition.
Her most meaningful task was a weekly trip to Manhattan to distribute food and supplies to the homeless, accompanied by a Graduate Assistant and student volunteers. The so-called “Midnight Run program” became a turning point in her life.
“I cannot even begin to describe the impact this had on me week after week,” she notes. “I never felt more at peace than after service on a Midnight Run. Some nights were better than others, of course, but even on the ‘bad’ nights the sense of fulfillment was unparalleled. I was filled with a sense of joy and contentment which nothing else in my life had ever brought me.
“I enjoyed the nights when reflection was of a higher quality, and I could hear in the students’ voices and see in their eyes that they had begun to care about the people we served. I didn’t know it, but that should have been my first indication that this is the kind of work I am called to do.”
Her service included trips to Denver, Los Angeles and Ukraine, where she witnessed poverty to rival that which she found on the streets of Manhattan. The trip to Ukraine was especially impactful.
“It is that trip that convinced me to turn down my full-time offer with a reinsurance company,” she says. “Visiting Ukraine on my final service trip with St. John’s solidified that I am meant to work in Vincentian service.
“I have studied actuarial science, risk management and insurance and have sincerely enjoyed all the
opportunities,” she continues. “I also led student volunteers in serving the homeless of New York City once a week. But there is no comparison as to which brought more joy and meaning into my life.
“Treating someone with dignity, and helping them to remember that they are deserving of love and care, is extremely important. All people, regardless of their economic or societal status, need to be treated like human beings.”
Jennie Lynn is serving as a Case Aide at The Epiphany Center, which offers family treatment, residential recovery, in-home services, a Pre-K program, and a pediatric clinic. These programs enhance the physical, socio-emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth of each person in their care.
Jennie Lynn works with the Program Director to provide case aide support to the Case Managers in doing outreach to potential clients and in making referrals to other agencies for services outlined in client treatment plans. She provides 1:1 contact with clients, supporting them with Medicare appointments, life skill appointments, as well as contacting medical professionals.
Blaire’s life as a Catholic got off to an unusual start.
The first of three children, Blaire, was scheduled to be baptized when a phone call from the church’s finance office came. It apparently involved the family’s scant resources, which triggered a volatile response from her father.
Her parents then looked for another church, and were fortunate to find a substitute in the same town, made up primarily of an impoverished and diverse congregation. And that’s how Blair entered the church.
“I bring up this story – which I only know from other people’s telling -- because mom always likes to point to it when her eldest daughter does things like choose to attend magnet schools in rough neighborhoods, declare herself a socialist as a teenager, display a general preference for the company of the poor, and a suspicion of money, request to go off on a service year post-grad, and show more interest in a religious life than a career,” Blair notes.
“Apparently it was all predestined from the start of my Christian life.”
Blaire was born and spent her early years in the South before the family moved to Pennsylvania to be close to her mother’s family. Her sister Julia was born there.
The family headed south again, to Winston-Salem, N.C., where Emily, her youngest sister, was welcomed into the world.
Blaire’s life began to unravel soon after when her parents announced that they were separating. There were other issues, including a challenging year in the seventh grade. Her few school friends with her were not in any of her classes, and she felt isolated. Though she didn’t know it at the time, relief was on the way.
“My mom noticed that I seemed unhappy much of the time and wanted me to have somewhere positive to go,” Blaire recalls. “One January evening she told me I was going to a Wednesday night meeting of our church’s middle school youth group.
“It was game night, and I was terrified to play with a group of strangers. But they were so kind and welcoming that I wanted to cry.”
Their actions probably meant that they were devout Catholics, she reasoned, “so I decided to be one as well. It was all very superficial at first, but something happened to me during that year of loneliness and sadness and playacting at piety – Jesus became my friend.
“It sounds terribly corny, but there is no other way to put it. I was learning so much about him and spending time in church with him, and by my reckoning he was the one person I could safely tell everything that was happening to me without fear of judgment.”
Her family situation got better, too, as
her parents were able to end their separation with the help of a Christian marriage counselor.
“I was thrilled to be one family again,” Blaire says.
After she graduated from middle school, Blaire entered an alternative high school which provided students with a chance to earn an Associates Degree in addition to a high school diploma. She continued with her youth group and took great pleasure in helping to teach Sunday school.
Then she turned her focus to world news.
“Originally I was turning it on to have background noise while writing papers,” she notes, “but soon my eyes were opened to the world. Suddenly I knew all about the wars in Syria and Yemen, the plight of refugees, environmental degradation, childhood hunger rates, and a thousand other things to keep me up at night.
“I probably worried too much about things I could not change, but from that worry came a desire to change what I could.”
Added to that was an intense interest in Catholic social justice.
She was persuaded by all of these concerns to make social work her college major.
She also found that the saint whose name she had taken at Confirmation – Louise de Marillac – was the patroness of her intended profession. A coincidence, perhaps. Or maybe not.
Her future was beginning to crystalize as she gained momentum. She got involved in the campus ministry, “and made the first truly close friends I had had since before everything that happened to me in seventh grade.”
Gathered with her friends at a weekly program, she heard for the first time someone talk about vocational discernment “as a thing normal people from less than staunchly Catholic families could do.
“I was intrigued, took home a magazine they offered on the topic and filled out a vocations match survey. Louise showed her face again when one of the communities I was matched with was the Daughters of Charity. I began discerning with them, met with a vocations director, and attended retreats with them.
“Somewhere in the midst of discerning consecrated life, being trained as a social worker, and coming to trust my new campus ministry friends, I developed some amount of balance in my life, and by the time I graduated I was excited to be able to start serving full time.
“I want to serve the poor,” Blaire affirms. “I think most of all what the poor need is the same as what everyone needs, to be treated with love and dignity as human beings. I want to be able to devote my life to serving them in a Christian context. I am interested specifically in a Vincentian service year because I am currently discerning with the Daughters of Charity and would find it to be a valuable experience to work in ministries where there are Daughters working, as well as to be able to grow deeper in my understanding of the Vincentian charism. I became a VSC West member so that I can combine serving the poor, living in a community, and learning more about Vincentian service into one experience.”
Blaire is serving as a Case Aide at The Epiphany Center, which offers family treatment, residential recovery, in-home services, a Pre-K program, and a pediatric clinic. These programs enhance the physical, socio-emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth of each person in their care. As a Case Aide, Blaire works with the Program Director to provide support to the Case Managers.
Sometimes it just pays to be lucky.
When Rocio was ready to begin elementary school in what was then known as South Central Los Angeles, the pastor of the church her family attended encouraged her parents to enroll her in the Catholic school next door.
“If you bring her here she will be able to find her rightful path,” the pastor said.
Rocio’s parents were apprehensive at first, but due to the pastor’s insistence, they finally agreed to enroll Rocio in the Catholic school.
Rocio remained at that school through the eighth grade, when she won a high school scholarship to finish her pre-college education.
“I loved being in Catholic school,” Rocio says. “I loved the education I was receiving. I really enjoyed religion classes, being part of the choir, and being in competitions.”
Rocio has always had a heart for Catholicism and churches, noting that she had been photographed in several churches when she was just four years old.
“So many churches. I would run to all of them. I wanted to get my picture taken with the tabernacles.”
When Rocio was 6, her father had “his personal encounter with the living God at an initiation retreat. I remember wiping my dad’s tears.”
After Rocio completed high school, she reluctantly prepared to attend college. She was torn between being the supportive daughter by helping her parents open a new business and attending a university.
“I didn’t know what I wanted for my future,” she says, “and I didn’t know where I wanted to go.”
While the graduating seniors at her high school were preparing for a Kairos retreat, Rocio spent much of her time speaking with a postulant with the Daughters of Charity, who introduced her to the Assistant for Vocations Directress. Rocio began deliberating about the possibility of becoming a pre-postulant, but the directress suggested that it would be better for Rocio to first complete her schooling. “We want you to have more life experience and that will give you more confidence,” she said.
For the next few years, Rocio experienced doubts with her faith and whether God wanted her at all. “And then I wandered away from the Lord,” she said. “The Lord let me live my free will life. Deep inside I wanted to be with the Lord, but I questioned whether he wanted me.”
That is until 2015, when Rocio was to experience a powerful four-day Kairos retreat where “I found the loving merciful God that did want me after all!
“He gave me a new heart full of love to start a new life with him. I was invited to serve a community that I was so happy to be a part of. This is where God wants me to serve him.”
“This is where God wants me,” she concluded. “Nowhere else. He wants me with the people.”
If she needed confirmation, it came at a healing mass in October of 2018, as she prayed for direction. While still in prayer she heard a voice say: “You know where you need to be. You know exactly where I need you to be.”
“Now I know God is calling me to more than a contemplative life,” she says. “He is calling me to a life of service, just like when he called me when I was to experience the Kairos retreat. He wants me to be his hands. He wants me to be his mirror of love. He wants me to give my heart to service.”
As a Teacher’s Aide, Rocio assists teachers with classroom duties including working with math groups, and with students and small groups, or individually.
Our Lady of the Visitacion School’s mission is to provide its diverse students with a comprehensive academic curriculum fostered within a faith community modeled on Jesus Christ. The school is inspired by the spirituality and teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. They have a special commitment to using the power of education to assist struggling families so they may achieve a better quality of life.
“I thought growing up in Adelanto, California, would be it for me,” says Mario of the high desert community he called home for 10 ½ years.
Boy, was he wrong!
After living a rather settled existence – church Monday through Thursday, Friday trips to a Chinese fast food restaurant and Walmart, and weekends vising aunts in Los Angeles -- he was blind-sided by the news that his family would be moving to Mexico.
“At first it was heart-breaking,” he recalls. “I had no understanding of the language. Also, I would have to make new friends and leave the ones I knew behind.”
Putting all those concerns aside, he now sees that the drastic relocation helped him develop a new perspective. “Overall, this experience helped me understand the importance of what is meant to be an American,” he explains. “Not only that, it made me value the basic things we take for granted.” One of those was a good education.
The move to Mexico was relatively brief – about 18 months. The family then returned to the U.S. and settled in Tucson, Arizona, where Mario established a new group of friends, and after completing high school, enrolled in Pima Community College. After that it was off to the University of Arizona, also located in Tucson. The family now boasts three U of A graduates. His younger sister may soon make it four.
He thanks his parents for their love and support while he completed his formal education. But he now realizes that there is a learning process that takes place outside of the classroom.
Having learned of the Vincentian Service Corps West at a University of Arizona job fair, he decided to investigate. He views a year of volunteer service as a way “to expand my knowledge of the community” and a chance “to work with people who share the goal of helping others.”
It also represents an opportunity to leave self-interest behind and reach out to a marginalized population that is often overlooked. “Many people see the poor as a disease that can’t be cured,” he observes. He hopes to better understand the poor and the circumstances that create poverty. To do that, “you need to “put yourself in their shoes.
“When you do that, you can offer understanding rather than neglect, and compassion instead of judgment.”
That’s a valuable lesson to learn.
Mario is serving as a Hospitality Aide for The Gubbio Project and works directly with those in the greatest
need, the unhoused people of San Francisco. Mario starts work each day at 6 a.m. to fulfill the mission of The Gubbio Project, which is to be in community with and to provide a sacred space and sanctuary for unhoused people in need of safe, compassionate respite during the day.
Every day The Gubbio Project provides the City’s houseless guests with daily provisions, supplies, and chaplaincy necessary for those living on the streets.