By Fr. Tom O’Rourke, C.Ss.R.
Twenty-seven years have passed since the first S.E.R.V.E. (Summer Endeavour in a Redemptorist Volunteer Experience), which took place in 1988 at the former Gerard House in Toronto. The first “servites” (who ranged in ages from 18 to 30) are now between the ages of 45 and 57. Since it began, nearly 250 young adults have participated in the programme hosted by the Edmonton-Toronto Province (and the former Toronto and Edmonton Provinces), and many more who have participated in S.E.R.V.E.s through other Redemptorist Provinces, such as the Yorkton Province.
This year, five more names have been added to the list of participants chosen for this special opportunity to deepen their Christian faith through prayer, service and community in the tradition and charism of the Redemptorists. They are Nino Almonte (Toronto, ON), Kristian Ashali (Stoney Creek, ON), Shona MacIntyre (Sudbury, ON), Anishka Saldanha (Brampton, ON), and Natalie Steffl (Saskatoon, SK).
This group of five comprised two apostolate partnerships. Nino, Shona, and Natalie volunteered at the Good Shepherd Centre. Anishka and Kristian volunteered at the Lakeside Longterm Care Centre. The Good Shepherd Centre has been a S.E.R.V.E. apostolate through most, if not all, of the 18 times that S.E.R.V.E. has been held in Toronto. Good Shepherd Ministries serves people who struggle with homelessness and poverty, offering meals, clothing, medical care, counseling and housing to the needy. The Lakeside Longterm Care Centre has been a S.E.R.V.E. apostolate for the past four times that it has taken place in Toronto. This is a 128 bed, state-of-the-art facility, offering high quality care in a home-like environment for its residents, most of whom are seniors. Both centres warmly welcomed the S.E.R.V.E. participants, and were appreciative of our partnership with them.
This year’s S.E.R.V.E. ran from May 8th to June 7th. During that time, we welcomed Fr. Mark Miller who presided at the Commissioning Mass, and Fr. Tony Bidgood, who also presided at Mass and facilitated an evening on vocations. Sister Mary Rowell, CSJ, from Regis College, facilitated an evening session on Catholic Social Tradition. It was a pleasure to have the Novitiate Community join for an evening and share a meal. We were grateful to the St. Patrick’s Community who welcomed us warmly on a couple of occasions. Of course, no S.E.R.V.E. would be complete without community building. We offered three planned experiences: a double-decker bus tour of Toronto as part of the orientation days, a long-weekend at the Ennismore Cottage, and a Saturday afternoon excursion to the new Ripley’s Aquarium.
In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul writes, “anyone unwilling to work should not eat”. Whether they were chopping cases of vegetables at the Good Shepherd Centre, or helping seniors with their daily exercises at the Lakeside Longterm Care Centre, the servites worked hard and deserved a good meal at the end of the day. We were delighted that Leo Hogan, after nearly 40 years as cook at St. Patrick’s Monastery, came out of retirement for a few weeks in order to cook for us. Everyone enjoyed Leo’s delicious meals and appreciated his sense of humour and welcoming smile when returning home to Redeemer House each day.
Special thanks to Pat Csinos for co-ordinating this year’s S.E.R.V.E. Personally, I appreciated Pat’s friendly and fun-loving nature. Her creativity, smart planning and attention to detail helped make this year’s S.E.R.V.E. a success. Pat’s experiences with past S.E.R.V.E.s and as a Lay Missionary were strong assets to the programme. On a side note, the backyard at Redeemer House also benefitted from Pat’s green thumb and love of gardening.
Finally, thanks to all the Redemptorists who promoted S.E.R.V.E. and to those of you who prayed for us. The continued success of this ministry relies on all of us to encourage young people to apply.
“What stood out most for me is the people I’ve met, the smiles and laughs I’ve shared, and the vulnerability people have shown to me. It is a privilege to have seen into others’ lives – so I am thankful for all of these experiences and will cherish them forever. I have met some really awesome and beautiful people and forged some friendships that I hope will last a very long time.”
Natalie Steffl (Saskatoon)