Loquitur

The hearts behind the mission: Cabrini Mission Corps ends 24 years of worldwide service


24 years ago the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred of Jesus founded Cabrini Mission Corps, a program used to touch the lives and hearts of people all over the world. Missioners involved in CMC were stationed all over the globe using their gifts and talents to serve others through faith, charity and dedication to the common good.

Missioners would typically serve 10 months to two years in six US cities (Seattle, Denver, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans) and nine countries overseas (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Ethiopia, Swaziland, the Philippines and Australia).

Every missioner made it their purpose to serve and love the world’s most vulnerable, including refugees, the elderly, children, immigrants, marginalized women and the poor. But as of June 2016, Cabrini Mission Corps announced that it will be closing after 24 years of service to the College and Cabrini ministries worldwide.

As some of you may know who have been following my stories throughout the year, I’ve been blessed to grow up in the Cabrini family. I have very fond memories of playing with the missioners stationed at Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colo., while I was growing up. I was also lucky enough to befriend several missioners at Cabrini College that made my transition to college and being so far away from home comforting and less scary.

When I heard the news of CMC closing its doors, I was saddened like many. I myself even thought of joining the program possibly after I graduated. However, I have come to realize that the legacy and charism of the program is far from ending.

The spirit of Mother Cabrini and dedication to the common good will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those that the program has touched. I would personally like to thank the missioners I had the opportunity to interview below for being willing to share their stories with me and for their bravery and dedication to loving others so profoundly.

“Today love must not be hidden, it must be living, active and true.” -St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Ashley Block- Missioner

Ashley has been with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus since October of 2014, where she served as communication officer in Swaziland for 3 months. Following her time in Swaziland, she served as a CMC missioner in New York City working as the marketing, outreach, and social media coordinator for the MSCs and Cabrini Mission Corps. For the 2015-2016 service  year, she has continued her work in Radnor, Pa.

During her time with CMC, she has had the opportunity to travel to different colleges to connect with and recruit students discerning a year of service, work with the vocation promotion team and communication office for the MSCs, photograph events, Sisters, and lay people around the Stella Maris Province, create promotional materials, advise the CRS Ambassadors club at Cabrini, and manage the social media accounts for CMC and the MSCs.

Why did you decide to join Cabrini Mission Corps?

I have always had a heart for service and people, but truthfully, doing a year of service was never something that I ever considered doing. This program was something that just sort of fell into my lap…a beautiful accident. I joined CMC because I truly believe in its mission and the mission of the MSCs. I joined CMC because I wanted to use my gifts and talents for something more.

What does the life of a missioner look like?

This question always makes me laugh because our lives look different almost every day. Mother Cabrini had an Italian word – ”disponibilita” – which means “openness and flexibility to go where there is a need.” We eat, sleep, and breathe disponibilita. Our lives may change from day to day (sometimes even hour to hour), but every single day of our lives, we are living out the charism and spirit of the MSCs and Mother Cabrini. We live together, we learn together, we love together, we grow together, we pray together…and we do it because that’s what we were made for.

How has the program changed your life for the better?

When I came back from Swaziland, Cabrini Mission Corps carried me through the difficulty of international transition. They loved me through some really hard days and they set me back on my feet again. They provided opportunities for me to discover who I really am and showed me that every unique talent you have in you can be used for good. I am who I am today because of CMC. They welcomed me home and became my family…and family is forever.

Why will the program be missed?

The Cabrini Mission Corps has transformed hearts, changed lives, and forever redirected paths of countless missioners and people with whom missioners have interacted through their various ministries. The effect that it has had on people professionally, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually has no limits. The program itself will be missed, but the spirit of the program will live on forever, just like the spirit of Mother Cabrini.

 

Monie Tillmann- Missioner

Monie served for 18 months (1995) in Argentina. She lived, worked and breathed at Casa del Nino where she cared for 600 orphans. It was definitely not a 9-5 job. While in Argentina Monie started a study hall program, taught catechism as well as English classes.

Why did you decide to join Cabrini Mission Corps?

I went to a really great Catholic girls high school in Minneapolis. The school was very intentional about bringing in amazing women that were doing amazing things in the world. They brought in a woman from the Covenant House to speak, which is a house for runaways.

After I heard this woman’s speech I knew I wanted to work at Covenant House. So near the end of high school I wrote to Covenant House applying for a job but they told me I was too young. My mother and I around that time had seen a documentary on Mother Theresa and found out that she had a mother house in New York so when I was 18 I went to work in the South Bronx at the camp for inner city kids.

I worked there for two summers and then when I graduated with my social work degree I went to Covenant House in New York where I worked for 13 months. While I was at Covenant House I met a lot of missionary priests and I was very inspired by their mission stories. After looking for programs to join I came into contact with Sister Lucille (founder of CMC) and after spending a weekend with her I was sold.

We talked about my skills, my social work background and what program might be a good fit for me and they said that they had an orphanage with over 600 kids in Argentina. I said that’s perfect! I felt like I really connected with Sr. Lucille, I really loved CMC’s mission and their charism and by the end of the weekend it was set that I would be going to Argentina.

What is your favorite memory of being a missioner?

There isn’t one favorite memory. I really think one thing that impacted me over everything, however, is the sacredness of relationships. It really is just about relationships. In today’s day and age we’re always focused on living in the future. However Argentina really gave me the gift of living in the moment. When you live in a third world country nobody’s planning for tomorrow. All you have is the moment. Because there was such intense poverty there was no titles or degrees, houses or cars to hide behind. Poverty is very raw and real.

Why will the program be missed?

It is so amazing to me how my time in Argentina has really changed how I see and relate to the world. I feel like being a member of Cabrini Mission Corps was a way for me to live out my baptismal call in a very real way and it was wonderful to know that experience was being kept alive through laity. The program was so impactful in my life. Gabriella was one the names of the little girls I took care of in the orphanage and I remember saying “God if I ever have a daughter, I want to name her after her.” My husband and I ended up adopting our daughter who is 5 years old and we actually ended up naming her Gabriella Maria.

 

Sarah Francis- Missioner

 

Sarah lived with the sisters at Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colo., for 9 months (2005-2006). What drew Sarah to this location was the opportunity to work with children at Annunciation, an inner city Catholic school in Denver.  She volunteered four days a week working as a teacher assistant for the second grade class. In addition, she also helped out with an after-school program until 5:30 each day.  Sarah also volunteered one day a week at the Shrine where she worked in the grotto and as an assistant for special events.

Why did you decide to join Cabrini Mission Corps?

My best friend’s sister was a missioner with CMC. She had been telling me about her experience with CMC and how it had changed the course of her life. I had just gotten a divorce and naively was looking for a change of scenery, not realizing that God was specifically calling me on this mission. His calling became more evident, when I trusted in Him to help sell our house and withstand the criticism from my family regarding uprooting myself and moving to Colorado. My current job at the time was working with children doing speech therapy, which I enjoyed very much. But a part of me was intrigued with the idea of helping children who were impoverished and who may need me in a different way.

What is your favorite memory of being a missioner?

I l have learned many lessons about love, gratitude and community from the students. One example of that was on St. Valentine’s Day. I assumed that this day would be about puppy love, candy and be a crazy sort of day. To my surprise, it was a day in which students showed their love for each other and gratitude for their teachers. One particular student, Stephanie came to school that morning smiling from ear to ear. She came from a single-parent household and had two siblings. She and her family had once lived in a homeless shelter. She told the teacher and me that St. Valentine’s Day was her favorite day of the year. She had two big baskets, one for the teacher and one for me, filled with an assortment of candy, a box of chocolates and a hand-written message on a paper heart. That day Stephanie also suggested that the students form two lines and personally thank each other face to face for the Valentine. I learned from Stephanie that day the importance of taking the time to show gratitude and appreciation for the people we care about.

Why will the program be missed?

This program was a wonderful opportunity to be able to serve others and also being able to focus on my own spiritual growth. In Philadelphia, I was provided training prior to my mission to help me navigate my spiritual journey and facilitate a more intimate relationship with God. Finally, it led me to my new home here in Colorado and enabled me to form a friendship and later a relationship with my current husband.

Michelle Sherman- Missioner

 

Michelle served for two years (2008-2010) at Mother Cabrini High School in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. She had the privilege and gift of being a campus minister and teacher of Health, Church History and Liturgy. She was also an adviser to the yearbook, morning prayer leaders, mission leaders, and First Friday/pro-life club.

Why did you decide to join Cabrini Mission Corps?

Mother Cabrini and Gina Scarpello! I knew of Mother Cabrini, but didn’t really KNOW her until my years as a missioner. My familiarity with her story led me to talk with Gina at a volunteer fair in my senior year of college, when I saw her at the Saint Mary’s/Notre Dame volunteer fair. I saw “Cabrini Mission Corps” and remember walking up to Gina’s table and saying, “Cabrini? Like Mother Cabrini!?”

The more I learned about the program, the more Gina spoke of the MSCs, and the more Cabrini Sisters I met while visiting Philadelphia (at that time, the senior Sisters’ community was in Philadelphia), the more I wanted to be part of this faith-filled and welcoming community.

The mission to be “bearers of the love of Christ to the world” resonated with me. And the more I learned about this tenacious and faithful Mother Cabrini, the more I knew that God was making this way known to me.  Gina’s warmth, thoughtfulness, and great care of the missioners was a hallmark of the program.

What is your favorite memory of being a missioner?

My first year, campus minister (and former CMC missioner!) Jayne Pickett and I brought students from Mother Cabrini High School to Cabrini College. We wanted to provide a glimpse into college life at another Cabrinian institution. Many students at Mother Cabrini High School were the first in their families to attend college, and the experience of going to a college campus outside of New York was a wonderful opportunity. This is a very special memory for me because I found such joy in the excitement of the students to travel “all the way to Philadelphia,” to hear the conversation of the high school and college students, and to introduce the students to the senior Sisters (many of whom had gone to Mother Cabrini High School.)

My second favorite memory is not “best,” but memorable, nonetheless. Sr. Esperanza passed away during my second year with CMC. She was part of the community that lived next to the high school and Shrine in NYC, so I saw her very often.  During the end of her life, she was moved to Sacred Heart community on Jackson Street on the Lower East Side of NYC and I would visit her. You can tell a lot about a community from how they respond in times of grief. We missioners sat with the Cabrini Sisters during the funeral Mass and afterward, all of the Sisters gathered around the coffin to sing Ave, Maris Stella. With tears flowing freely, arms around one another – supporting, praying, trusting. Witnessing this response of profound sisterhood and community at my first MSC funeral, it was like something “clicked.” This is what it meant to be “bearers of the love of Christ.” To be with and to hold each other gently in joyful times as well as times of great loss.

Why will the program be missed?

The Cabrini Mission Corps will be missed because it offered young people a space within the Cabrini family to explore faith and service while sharing life with the MSCs, CLMs and other CMC missioners.  It was a great opportunity to live with the Missionary sisters. Sharing meals, praying together, being present with one another. Ministering alongside and within the footsteps of the Sisters was a great honor and I will forever be grateful for their profound witness and generosity in welcoming young adults into their missions for full-time, year-long commitments.

Ann Plyler- Missioner 

Ann served for three years (2000-2003) in Chicago and in the Philippines. While in Chicago she had the opportunity to work in the inner city at a hospital known as Programa Cielo. Otherwise known as the Center for Information and Education for Latino Optimum. The hospital worked with Mexican immigrants to take care of pregnant women, provide health education, counseling services, immunizations, STD screenings as well as other services such as a food pantry and clothing. While in the Philippines Ann worked with underprivileged families struggling to keep their children in school. Her program sponsored one child per family to continue their education. The program had a total of 135 children as well as provided school supplies, classes for parents and nutritious meals for families.

Why did you decide to join Cabrini Mission Corps?

I joined when I was almost 30 and all my life I’ve always had a very close relationship with God and also really had a heart for caring for and serving other people. I had been working as a nurse for eight years at that point and I loved what I was doing but I just felt like I really wanted to reach out beyond my normal life and routine to try to help people that were not as fortunate as myself. At the time I applied for the Peace Corp and was looking for different organizations to join. However, while I was going through the interview process I just felt like something was missing and I just felt like I wanted to do something that had more of a faith basis to it. That’s what drew me to Cabrini Mission Corp. It was a wonderful experience and I think it had more of an impact on me than I had on anyone I worked with. That’s how it happens a lot of times I think.

What is your favorite memory of being a missioner?

I’d have to say playing with the children and letting them know that they were really special. I think Cabrini Mission Corps provided me with the opportunity to really go beyond the borders in my life. It put me in contact with people that in my usual life I would not have been in relationships with. I feel very blessed to have known the people that I did. While I was in the Philippines we used to go to the market one day a week. While we were there we would find children working in the market that didn’t even know how to hold a pencil or how to write. It was important to give them an opportunity to learn at least little bit even though they couldn’t go to school and they had to keep working. At least they got to do something educational for one hour a week. They wanted to come and learn. I think that’s something that’s so innate. As human beings we want to learn. That was one of my favorite memories.


Why will the program be missed?

I think that the program will be missed for a lot of reasons but I think for me Cabrini Mission Corps gave me an opportunity that I would not have otherwise had. I come from a background that is very privileged. I’ve always had everything that I needed and wanted in my life. I’ve been very blessed in so many ways and being able to connect with an organization like Cabrini Missions Corps was the means for which I could reach out beyond my normal life. It opened my eyes to what other people’s life experiences are. It has changed the way I look at the whole world. I think that we were really able to serve people that were forgotten in our society. When I tell people that I went to the Philippines and to Chicago they always ooo and ahh about the Philippines but I will tell you that believe it or not I felt much more like a missionary in Chicago than I did in the Philippines. I was the only white person in our community besides the sisters. This is my own country and there were so many people that I couldn’t communicate with. It was mind boggling to see the social and economic situations that some of these people were living in. Without Cabrini Mission Corp I would never have had the guts to work in a community like that. It provided me the opportunity to grow.