Ten people from Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn and its mission church, St. Ann in Owasco, spent a week in the Dominican Republic this summer. Their trip was more than just a summer vacation, however — it was a Mission From the Heart.
Through the churches’ Mission From the Heart program, the 10 pilgrims traveled to the Dominican community of Don Juan July 25. They brought backpacks, clothing and school supplies, and they spent the next week distributing the supplies, painting churches and classrooms, and getting to know the Dominicans. They returned to Auburn July 31.
Mission From the Heart began in 2005, when parishioner Ed Galka started recruiting parishioners to accompany him on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic the following summer. Galka’s job had required him to make frequent visits to the country, and he had been impressed by the Dominicans’ generous nature and faithful spirituality, even in the face of extreme poverty.
Galka decided to form a mutually beneficial relationship between the Auburn parishioners and the Dominicans. He formed a program through which parishioners not only travel to the Dominican Republic and help with physical labor and typical mission work, but also form relationships with the people they’re helping and recognize the Dominicans’ unique gifts and strengths.
Since 2005 parishioners have made several trips to the Dominican Republic to work with Father Ronald Gaesser, a retired diocesan priest who spends six months of each year ministering in the Dominican community of Monte Plata. Parishioners collect loose change and hold raffles to support the project and regularly send money to the country, said Sister Chris Treichel, OSF, pastoral administrator at Sacred Heart and St. Ann.
Parishioners also have created the Adopt-A-Student program, through which parishioners pay $10 a month to sponsor a child, Sister Treichel said. Each monthly donation pays for a particular student’s breakfast, lunch, uniform and supplies.
The school the students attend has only been in existence for three years, said Sister Treichel, who was one of the 10 pilgrims who traveled to the Dominican Republic in July. The school is gradually growing and adding one grade each year, added fellow pilgrim Anne Adessa, music minister at Sacred Heart.
The July trip was Adessa’s second visit to the Dominican Republic through Mission From the Heart, but she noted that it was just as exciting the first trip.
“This year we went back and actually saw them building the second story on the school. That was seeing the fruits of our labors, so that was really a thrill,” Adessa said.
The pilgrims painted a classroom at the school, painted both the inside and outside of a church building, and held a chicken barbecue for the people of the community, Sister Treichel said.
“They don’t have all the comforts of home that we’re used to, and they’re so very appreciative of all we do. Their lifestyle is so very simple,” she said.
Now that she’s been to the Dominican Republic, Sister Treichel said she has seen firsthand the benefits of such projects as Mission From the Heart.
“I went so I could have the experience to be able to help my parishioners invest in it,” she said. “I’m glad to have had that experience, and it helps me to be able to be the cheerleader behind this project.”
The July trip marked Marissa Rescott’s second mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The 15-year-old knew what to expect this year when she traveled there with her mother, Dale, and 13-year-old brother, David. The first year, however, she was amazed when she saw how the Dominicans lived.
“The first time I was astounded by the poverty, because it’s so different from what we have here. They have nothing, but you see the faith in their eyes. You could just see that they didn’t care that they had nothing,” Marissa said.
Marissa and the other pilgrims stayed with Dominican families during their trip, and Marissa’s family stayed with the same family that had hosted them during their previous trip.
“They were really nice to us, and they were generous. They told us mi casa es su casa, which means my home is your home. They treated us like family,” Marissa said.
Their host family’s house had a cement floor with no carpeting and a tin roof. Their house did have running water and flush toilets, but many of the other host families’ homes did not have these amenities, Marissa said. The weather was hot and humid, and the houses did not have air conditioning or even screens on the windows, she added.
It’s impossible to really understand what the pilgrims experienced, Adessa said, unless you’ve “been in the 100-degree heat, painting a stone church at the end of a hard road where the pigs are walking by, and then go back and take a shower with a bucket of cold water.”
Even so, Adessa feels she’s reaped more good from her two pilgrimages than she’s sown.
“The people are unbelievable. People who have nothing will put the food on the table and not even sit and eat with you,” Adessa said. “They are the happiest and most generous people, and they’ve got nothing. Their spirit is very strong.”
“The people are very generous and just beautiful, loving people,” Sister Treichel agreed.
After witnessing how little the Dominicans had, Marissa has come to appreciate all she has. The Dominicans also helped her understand the importance of faith, even in the face of adversity and poverty.
“Faith is just your faith. Whether you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter,” Marissa said.