Patricia Fraser, Implementation Manager in Parish Financial Services at the Archdiocese, assists pastors, staffs, and parish finance councils with matters impacting the financial health of the parish. Most recently, she has been working with parishes in collaboratives, including St. Isidore Parish, Stow, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Acton. Tricia had been contemplating joining a mission trip for some time. A "personal invitation" from Barbara Dane (Director of Faith Formation) provided the impetus to sign up this year. Says Tricia, "Barbara just draws people in."
The St. Elizabeth website describes their Mission Trips: "Every summer many of our adults and teens leave the comforts of home to serve others in the name of Jesus. In a variety of national and international settings, our youth respond to the Gospel by caring for the poor, the sick, and the needy. Service may include construction, painting and cleaning, building restoration, serving at community kitchens, working with children, caring for the disabled, among other things."
Jim Flanagan, long-time Youth Ministry Coordinator at St. Elizabeth Parish is now high school faith formation and confirmation coordinator for the collaborative. He has arranged and facilitated mission trips for many years, and encouraged youth and adults from both parishes to participate in one of the five trips offered this summer. Tricia and her daughter Kaitlyn, a 2015 graduate of Providence College, decided to head west. On June 27, they were part of a group of 97 teens, 3 young adults, and 23 adults who left Boston for Browning, Montana to work on the Blackfeet Reservation. The trip was organized by the De la Salle Blackfeet School and the diocese of Helena, Montana.
Pre-trip meetings covered practical, nuts and bolts details and helped participants prepare spiritually for what was ahead. At one session, the teens and adults were asked to think about the unique gifts that God has given to each of them, and then share how they expected to use this gift during the trip. Discussion started slowly, but soon participants were fully engaged in listening and sharing. Tricia identified herself as someone who likes to build people up and she committed to "being encouraging throughout the trip." Their final preparation gathering included Mass and a special mission trip blessing.
A mission trip can be difficult on many levels. Browning is located in one of the poorest counties in the US, with per capita income on the reservation less than $12,000. The "missionaries" do not come as rescuers, swooping in from the east with easy answers and quick fixes. They were reminded often that they could not solve the problems and issues confronting the residents. Addiction, poverty, and hopelessness were beyond them. Like the woman in the Gospel, they could only do what they could do. They painted, mowed, repaired, and, perhaps as important as these physical tasks, they were open to the willingness of the Blackfeet people to embrace them and bless their work. Each work day began with morning Mass celebrated by Father Walter Woods, Pastor of the Acton-Stow collaborative and an energetic member of the group. An evening prayer service was prepared by the teens who selected the music and a Gospel passage that related to their work. This provided an opportunity to reflect, "How did God move me today?" Some of the Blackfeet people participated at Mass and prayer, sharing their Native American prayers and practices.
What is the connection between collaborating on a service trip and being a collaborative in "Disciples in Mission"? Although it might seem like a stretch, Tricia definitely saw parallels between the two. What she experienced that week in Montana was two parishes, St. Isidore of Stow and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Acton, "working seamlessly in this environment for a common mission. I saw the best of 'Disciples in Mission' in this mission trip." They not only worked well on their assigned tasks and projects, she says, "they were forming disciples of EACH OTHER!" Because of her position at the Archdiocese, the subject of the collaborative process and model came up in conversations with the adults leaders. She says that they welcomed opportunities to engage in conversation in a very positive way.
Reflecting on her experience, Tricia says, "I am so grateful that I was led to do this." The mission trip gave her an awareness "of what is outside of ourselves, the good that comes from doing service, and the benefits we get in return." Photos from the trip can be seen at www.seoh.org.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.