Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Week Before

What has been going on here this past week as we have prepared for the beginning of Summer 2009?

Lisa came and painted Merry Christmas on our dining room windows. Debbie strung lights on the Snack Koop in the lodge. Michael had to do some service hours so he came and cleaned out our huge food service refrigerator. After weeding the flower bed and laying a coat of primer on a new door to the Menacle.

Speaking of the Menacle, Vinnie repaired the bathroom window. Then crawled under the lodge and fixed the floor boards at the front door. He also mowed. But he did not need to do any weed-whacking, because Lech stopped by on his way home from work this week and borrowed ours and took care of it for us.

Mary and Bernie came to punch holes in stacks of paper, then put together folders for all our volunteers. While they slogged through that tedious job, Annette came by with the New Year hats she made for us to wear when we greet the bus of families each Saturday. She threw in a bunch of funky sunglasses to complete the effect. When we weren't looking, Mary Kent dropped off a huge bag of toy cars for bingo prizes. Likewise, Beth left a stack of boxes of granola bars on the office desk. Robbin left some song sheets.

Speaking of music, our volunteer from Notre Dame has been here for this Week Before, and she's been learning how to play things like Clap De Hands and Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. She has rescued us from a guitar-less summer. She also made a bunch of song posters. And, proving she has truly captured the spirit of this place, she made me a Cornucopia hat, with bunches of grapes dangling over my ears like muffs.

You can't imagine what a day at Trinita looks like this time of year, unless you're here to see it. Folks just come from all directions, cleaning things and setting up things and decorating things and donating things.... Ellen and Pat have somehow orchestrated most of this-- they know who everyone is, and what they are going to do, and when they are going to do it. I spend long hours up here in my office planning prayers or family gatherings or whatever, and somehow, everything else... just gets done somehow.

I wish that the people who come here and admire the place and the program could really understand just how many hands have worked here, how many good souls have walked through our doors and done their own part to build what is here and now before us. There is no better time to experience that reality than The Week Before.

Monday, June 1, 2009


In 1984, after a four-day road trip from Baton Rouge, I pulled into the parking lot of Trinita and sat in the car mustering up the courage to get out and begin my adventure. I was just a reclusive lab tech at LSU back then. Finally, I did get out, and went up the sidewalk into the dining room, where I met Sr. Margaret Fay, MSBT. She immediately felt like family to me, like one of my aunts. Not demonstrative, kind of tough-talking but really very maternal. That was 25 years ago this month. That means, it was her jubilee year when I met her.

We all had great fun tormenting her with the usual camp pranks. Well, probably more creative than the usual ones. She obliged by pretending to be annoyed by us, but in fact was unruffled by anything. I was older than most of the volunteers that summer, so she tended to assign me more of the off-beat jobs, like one-on-one adult peer group with an Iranian mom who spoke almost no English.

She called me the following spring and asked me to be the volunteer coordinator that summer. I was nervous about it but understood they were in a bit of a fix, so I agreed. So for the next two summers, I was mentored by her into the ministry. She was always calm, no matter what was going on, and the phrase I heard the most often from her was, "Don't worry about it, it'll get done!" It was she who first suggested religious life. In fact, she said I would make a good MSBT. I was not interested at the time, but profoundly honored. I do not feel she could have paid me a higher compliment.

She visited me during my year of discernment in Pensacola and told me she had lived and worked in the very cenacle I was in. Once I made it to Formation at the Motherhouse, I participated in a raid with my friends and we decorated her office with spiders and cobwebs for Halloween. She was on the Council at the time, and now I marvel at how bold we were. After I went to the missions, she went to Mexico. My first mission was her former mission, Catholic Charities in Lower East Side Manhattan. Once I was on the Formation Team myself, I enjoyed her hospitality many times over the years. Whenever I was in Buenavista, she would give up her office whenever I needed to interview women who were in discernment with us. Her office was very Trinita-like. Very different from everyone else's. As it was from the day I met her, I always felt so at home with her.

This is her fiftieth jubilee year. I was at the Motherhouse yesterday following a trip to Baltimore to give a Family Overnight at Br. Joe's mission. I went to the infirmary after lunch and sat for a long time with her in the community room there. She did not recognize me, but engaged in a protracted and incomprehensible coversation with me. It felt good just to interact with her, even though her dementia makes true conversation impossible.

Then I went for a walk. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. It was the first day off I've had recently, so I had much on my mind. When I got back, just as I was limping past the Infirmary door, it opened and a nurse's aide was pushing Margaret out in her chair to get some fresh air. Margaret was very agitated and the aide was trying to soothe her to no avail. This is apparently a regular occurence, and they may have brought her out just to give others a break. She feels she is being prevented from doing her work--she remains concerned about ministry even now. She went off in Spanish at one point.

I walked with them. There was nothing to do but agree with her. We got back to the door. I knelt down by the chair and took her hands. I don't know what it is I thought I was going to do. But when I looked into her face, so angry and frustrated, but still Margaret's face, I burst into tears. There, kneeling on the concrete driveway, in the presence of two aides, I said, "Margaret, I love you" and I just sobbed. She said, "Come here," and she pulled me to her, and I wept like a baby on her shoulder. She held me for a minute. When I pulled away and looked at her, there were tears in her eyes. She was calm, not angry any more. I looked at the aides, and they took her back inside.

I went back to Formation. I joined my friends for grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in the breezeway. I did not have much to say. But more than anything in the world, I am glad to be a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity.