Teenagers recently took over the property of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver in Chesterfield — by sprucing it up for the five women religious who live there.
On April 9, Bishop DuBourg sophomores did yard work, prepared flower beds, organized a storage area and cleaned the inside of the Sacred Heart guest house. The students have forged a relationship with the missionary sisters thanks to DuBourg’s principal, Monica Freese, who is the cousin of Sister Monica Daly, the sister-in-charge of the local convent.
Besides the joy of serving others, the students benefited by getting to know the sisters and their mission. “It’s a nice relationship both ways,” said Jennifer Duncan, campus minister at the archdiocesan high school in St. Louis that’s supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
The students enjoyed the work and were impressed with the sisters. Greg Reynolds, who spent part of the time guiding a wheelbarrow, said, “you feel good at the end of the day. Being Catholic is about giving and helping others. That’s what we’re out here doing.”
Taniyah Morrow liked learning about the Missionary Sisters. “Sister Mary (Dang) told us about the back story of how she came here, how she became a nun, what they do and how it contributes to their relationships with God,” Taniyah said.
Service work means “helping others without expecting anything in return,” she said.
Another classmate, Jenna Kennison, was with a group of students who used shovels to dig up and remove large rocks. She appreciates the opportunities her school provides to connect with the community and work together.
One set of students worked in the morning and another group came in the afternoon of the prayer and service day. Students spent the other half of the day taking part in a program on service and living DuBourg’s motto, “Faith in Christ, service to others.”
Freese, the DuBourg principal who was on-site lending a hand, said the effort is an example of the school community putting the motto into action. “It means a lot for us to make further connections with the Catholic community,” Freese said.
DuBourg students also have a service-oriented relationship with DuBourg House, a Cardinal Ritter Senior Services assisted living center in the former convent attached to the high school. Students did yard work in the fall and decorated the grounds for Christmas. Earlier this school year, groups of seniors from the school built a raised garden bed for the school’s family and consumer science department, tiled an outdoor space with the DuBourg logo and remodeled an area of the school’s theater. That’s on top of the usual collections of items for food pantries and required service hours.
Duncan tells students that service is related to their faith: “If you can do something nice for someone, do it because God might be answering their prayers through you.”
Cathleen Lewis, a parishioner at St. Joseph in Manchester who volunteers at the convent regularly with her husband, Pat, called the DuBourg students “very respectful and hard workers.”
The aim of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, a worldwide congregation, is to build the Kingdom of God in the world, especially among the poorest and marginalized, through continuous prayer, the gift of self and mission activity. The sisters have had a presence in the archdiocese since 1928 and at the Chesterfield convent since 1963. They are at the service of the missionary Church and they bring missionary awareness to others. One way they do this is through their annual dinner auction.
Sister Monica, the sister-in-charge and a native of Ireland who came to Chesterfield in 2017, said “we’re delighted to have their help. There’s plenty of work with the large grounds, which include grottos to Our Lady and to St. Joseph.”
She appreciates any help that allows the community to focus on their work of supporting missionaries in very poor countries. The convent includes sisters from Vietnam, Poland, India and Ireland. Sister Monica is impressed with the hospitality St. Louisans have offered them. “They’re very friendly people and incredibly generous to the missions,” she said.
Sister Mary Dang noticed that while the students share and care for one another, they also learned about religious life. At the same time, they were helping to protect the environment and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. The work to support the missions is important, she explained, because “we are all children of God.”
Billiken Teacher Corps partnership
Thomas Neiers, a campus minister and religion teacher at Bishop DuBourg High School, had as much fun as the students as they helped tidy up the grounds of the Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver.
“It’s been great, getting up early, getting the kids together and explaining the point of this prayer and service day,” Neiers said.
Also, he added, by interacting with the sisters, the students learn “how through different walks of life they’re each called to serve God and the community.”
Neiers and Ellie Hoerner, who teaches English at DuBourg, are members of the Billiken Teacher Corps, a partnership between Saint Louis University and the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Formation. The two-year program gives graduate students the chance to earn a master’s degree from SLU while gaining practical experience teaching in Catholic schools. Hoerner, a Rosati-Kain graduate, helped with the prayer and service day by leading a program at the school on faith and service.
Neiers said the teacher corps program helps participants focus on their faith and learn from each other since they live in community. He enjoys the campus ministry work because it helps students grow in their faith and to know themselves. “DuBourg does a good job in fostering that in students,” he said.