April 20, 2022
The second cohort of the Ministry Leadership Program will meet for its final workshop in May. The program pairs Catholic sisters with lay nonprofit professionals in an effort to inspire emerging leaders to carry forward sisters’ unique approach to ministry and strengthen sisters’ capacity to serve as mentors and advisers.
The pursuit of spirituality, purpose and a commitment to mission-based work are common among today’s young adults. Catholic sisters, who have dedicated their lives to service and mission, have decades of experience and knowledge to share. Below, participant Susan Barnish offers her reflection on what the Ministry Leadership Program—and her pairing with sister companion Jane Blabolil, SSJ-TOSF—has meant to her.
As I was catching up with a college friend recently, he remarked with a smile, “You’re always chasing these jobs that pay big money.” That’s a joke, clearly.
I spent four years as a missioner in El Salvador and now I work for a very small non-profit that runs a school and foster-care home there. However, this is a comment I hear not infrequently from my peer group, one that gives some insight into what many look for in a career.
This is why the opportunity to participate in the Ministry Leadership Program was so appealing to me. It would be, I thought, a way to connect to other men and women in the community who believed in making a difference, in doing something that aligned with their faith, in being, maybe, just a little counter cultural.
And it has been that. We come from different walks of life, from different ministries, from east side and west side, and I’ve really enjoyed our time together. I’ve been inspired by my cohorts’ missions and projects. I’ve been touched by the stories they’ve shared. And I’ve been relieved to be with a group of people who understand why I’ve forsaken the “big money” job for something that I care about deeply. It has been refreshing to not have to defend my career choice, because we have all made that same choice.
But I have to say that the hidden gem of MLP has been the relationship I’ve formed with my “sister companion,” Jane Blabolil, SSJ-TOSF. Despite the more than 30 years that separate us in age, we share a set of unique life experiences from our time in mission that not everyone understands. I truly look forward to our time each month, to the easy way we can talk about those experiences, weave them in and out of our conversation, in English or in Spanish, without the fear that the other has no frame of reference.
It’s been life-giving to compare experiences and share the special aspects of how our Catholic faith was enriched by the practices specific to the countries where we served.
At our first meeting, Sr. Jane shared that very early on in her time in Peru, a member of the community told her “Te vamos a pulir, hermana.” (“We’ll smooth down your rough edges, sister.”) I think this one little phrase can sum up my MLP experience, not just smoothing out my rough edges, but polishing them, making them sparkle. The time spent in group sessions, learning new skills from some inspiring people, and in conversation with my sister companion, has helped me to approach my ministry with a new perspective and fresh enthusiasm to work toward a true gospel definition of the common good.
Susan Barnish is the Programs Director (Directora de Programas) at COAR Peace Mission. She loves words, salads, and dark chocolate and is a member of Holy Rosary parish in Little Italy, a neighborhood that reminds her a little of the village where she lived in El Salvador.