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Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach: Spreading hope for 25 years

JOHNS ISLAND—When a group of Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy set up a small house on a rural island in September 1989 to provide community outreach services, Hurricane Hugo threw their efforts into high gear almost overnight. They haven’t slowed down in the 25 years since.

Sisters Mary Albert Greer, Marie Amelia Ferillo and Carol Wentworth were part of the small staff in those founding years, spreading hope to the people of the sea islands with food, clothing and emergency funds. They named their outreach the Christian Hope House, and it would grow and expand to become Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, as it is known today.

As the center’s original planner and director, the late Sister Mary Albert led the small staff of seven with her trademark calm demeanor and creative approach. Her easy, comfortable way with people helped set the tone of the organization from the beginning.

“We’re here to listen to the people and find out their needs; with God’s help and the diverse gifts of this staff, we will respond,” she would say in her slow, Texan accent, recalled Sister Mary Joseph Ritter.

As her successor, Sister Mary Joseph remembered the close-knit staff sharing both the good and bad during weekly meetings so they would know they weren’t “walking alone.”

When the sisters first started Christian Hope House, large containers were placed in the backyard for food and clothing rooms and storage space. Sisters de Neri Faase, Marcella Zwingmann and Eugenia DuFrehn, plus Jakki Jefferson, were also part of the first team, and they all took turns visiting the needy on James, Johns and Wadmalaw Islands.

“We each had a geographic area to visit and get to know people in their homes,” recalled Sister Carol. “We

homes,” recalled Sister Carol. “We were ready to meet the many needs we found.

“When Hurricane Hugo hit a few weeks later, our little house served as a relief center,” she continued. “No one was turned away because we received donations from all over the country. We started a program for home repairs. We offered education programs at the little table in the small kitchen, offering hope to several women. We served the migrant farm workers in those early days, too.”

The goal, said Sister Mary Joseph, was to help people help themselves. Supplies flowed into the Hope House to stock the food pantry. One day, Sister Mary Albert deftly handled a donation of a truck full of frozen yogurt.

“It was a real challenge finding space for it,” she said at the time, “but it quickly disappeared as the people were grateful to receive such a treat.”

Even in those early days, Sister Mary Joseph said, one of the goals was to involve young people so they could understand they had the power to change things for the better. For her, a particular young man in the after-school program stood out.

“He later became a volunteer tutor for other children in the program, graduated with honors from high school, completed college and got an excellent job,” she recalled. “He and his mother frequently visit to say hello and ‘thanks!’”

Another favorite memory is helping a family secure housing funds so they could move out of a substandard, rat-infested trailer and qualify for a Habitat for Humanity Home. The family members now volunteer with both Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach and Habitat for Humanity, working with other families to help them find decent housing.

What’s changed the most are the facilities, said Sister Carol. The small house and outdoor containers grew to become a new building on Brownswood Road. The mobile health center van evolved into an onsite trailer that served as a pre-natal and dental clinic — where many adult clients received dental care for the first time in their lives — which then grew to the current state-of-the-art Wellness Center. Classrooms replaced the kitchen table, eventually expanding to a separate education building made possible by a donation from a couple who volunteered in the afterschool program.

Sister Carol recalled how the outreach started the NunBetter Roofing Company, with Ms. Jefferson and a pizza deliveryman from Alabama as its first helpers. The company was part of the NAILS program that helped repair more than 300 island homes.

During those days, the organization served hundreds of islanders in need. One such family included Shantell, her mother and brother, who lived in horrible conditions, using a five-gallon bucket for a toilet. The outreach had a septic system installed and built a full bathroom for the family. Shantell enrolled in an education program and completed her GED.

“It’s been exciting and enriching to see the many changes over the years, to see the children in the afterschool program grow up to be fine young people and adults,” said Sister Carol. “I recently met someone at the DMV who told me that Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach saved her home by helping to pay the mortgage. I’ve been blessed in many ways by being a part of its history from the beginning.”

Through all of this growth and change, one thing remains the same, she noted: The staff and volunteers have for 25 years served those living on the margins with great respect and careful attention.

“Their respect for and care of others in need is genuine. It’s obvious that they’re there not just for a job, but because they care about their sisters and brothers,” Sister Mary Joseph said. “I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Jill Jackson Ledford, current director of the outreach, said the organization will not drift from the mission that the original team put in place a quarter of a century ago. “We will continue to improve, to enhance what we’re doing to serve more people more effectively. One of the ways we’re doing this is to look at the best practices of organizations that have successfully moved people out of poverty. And we will continue taking care of what’s been passed down to us so we can ... share the legacy,” she said.

“The mission of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach will continue to grow because it was established with God’s blessings,” Sister Carol said.

Submitted by Our Lady of Mercy Outreach.

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The challenge of charitable giving

Ice bucket craze raises questions about ethical donations

No matter what people think of the ice bucket challenge, one thing is for certain: social media has launched it into the stratosphere of wildly successful fundraising efforts.

Donations to ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — have exceeded $100 million so far.

Not bad for a challenge that started quietly in early June. But it didn’t start off as ALS. People originally posted on Facebook and encouraged friends and family to donate to the charity of their choice.

The Catholic Miscellany: The Challenge of Charitable Giving - What to know about Stem CellsIt didn’t turn into an ALS movement until July. Peter Frates, 29, an ALS patient and former captain of the Boston College baseball team, is credited with the explosion.

But this is where things get tricky. Everybody is eager to join the craze and pour ice-filled water on their heads for ALS — even former presidents have done it — but donating to the ALS Association is unacceptable for Catholics because the group supports embryonic stem cell research, which is opposed by the Catholic Church and other pro-life groups.

Kathy Schmugge, director of the Family Life Office, said donors must be vigilant. Many national organizations that support laudable causes such as awareness and research for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more have ties that Catholics can’t accept. They may be linked to groups that support birth control, sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, or other hot-button issues.

“I’m particularly sensitive to where the money goes and accountability," Schmugge said. "If administrative costs are high, it's no good for me. I'm not giving to a charity that's paying a CEO and staff outrageous amounts of money when people don’t have enough money to pay for food.”

For example, breast cancer awareness month is coming up in October. Before making a donation to any organization, go to the individual site and look at the statistics, Schmugge said.
• Where does the money go?
• How much goes to administration?
• Where do the grants go?
• What is the salary of the CEO?

While at the site, type hot-button issues into the search bar, such as Planned Parenthood or embryonic stem cells, she said.

If a group has morally ambiguous connections, don’t despair. There are alternatives for ethically-minded folks.

• The John Paul II Medical Research Institute conducts ALS research without using cells from embryos. The institute develops technologies that target all diseases — ALS, cancer and other illnesses — all all within a prolife value system.

• The Cell Therapy Foundation specifically promotes adult stem cell research. Donors can choose which area of research they want to fund, with choices including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s disease and others.

• The National Catholic Bioethics

• Compassionate Care ALS, which offers much-needed care and treatment for people living with ALS.

People can also get involved on a local level to help those in their community. Caroline Weisberg, director of Catholic Charities, said they are almost totally supported by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, but their services far exceed just Catholics.

“We help everyone,” she said. There are also hundreds of walks, runs, parades and more that support Church-approved groups.

“There is just so much need out there,” Schmugge said. “We have places we can give that we know the money will be ethically used.”


The Catholic Miscellany: The Challenge of Charitable Giving - Ethical giving: Questions to ask before you donate



Being a monk is a happy vocation for Father Christian

MONCKS CORNER—Any image one might have of a withdrawn monk is shattered within seconds of meeting Father Christian Carr.

Sitting in his office at Mepkin Abbey, he greets his two visitors with enthusiasm, offering a gnarled hand in welcome and launching immediately into an entertaining and intelligent discussion on all manner of topics.

The one thing he doesn’t want to talk about is himself.

Father Christian touches briefly on his accomplishments, but does not dwell on them or go into detail, saying it sounds like bragging. Most people would find his resume more than impressive, but the monk notes: “I don’t impress myself.”

“I’ve had a lot of schooling,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes, “enough to know I don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

His fellow Trappists and friends would disagree with that statement.

Father Kevin Walsh, the prior at Mepkin, calls Father Christian a wise and holy man, and an all around delightful human being.

He served as the monastery’s second abbott from 1974 to 1989, a time of great transition for the monks, when they were feeling their way from a life of seclusion and silence to the world they’re in now, with open gates, tours and retreats.

The Catholic Miscellany: Offering hospitality is the right thing to do because it allows God's grace and love to flow outward and inward.These were men known for hard manual labor, silence and exclusiveness. They lived behind closed gates and slept on straw mats; but all that changed with a mandate from Vatican II for religious to return to their original charism. For the Trappists, this meant following the rule of Benedict to welcome every guest as the presence of Christ.

Brother John Corrigan remembers that time, and said the very sociable Father Christian was perfectly suited to the job of helping the community see their new role and implement it.

“He did an awful lot of good in a difficult time in Church history,” Brother John said.

Father Christian will celebrate his 100th birthday on Sept. 14, with a private ceremony to honor a lifetime packed with accomplishments, love and laughter.

Born in Galveston, Texas, he talks warmly about his family and his upbringing. He began his religious life as a Franciscan, dedicating 24 years to the order. During that time he earned two doctorates, taught dogma and canon law at the Franciscan seminary near Albany, N.Y., and served as associate editor and then editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review during the years of the Second Vatican Council.

His life has followed many paths, including stints teaching medical ethics, philosophy and theology. He also spent time in the field of aeronautical engineering, and has a deep love of etymology. He joined the Trappist order in 1969.

Wherever his life took him, it invariably led to some sort of leadership role, Brother John said, adding that he still fills that role today, serving as a wisdom figure for the younger brothers.

When Pope John Paul II visited Columbia in 1987, Father Christian was one of those tapped to mee thim at the airport. He said the pope was the real thing, a true leader and man of greatness because the pontiff was not looking for awe, but for real interaction and moments of friendship.

People have always been important to Father Christian, who said humans are fascinating because they were created by God.

People remember the former abbott joyfully greeting visitors, giving tours of the abbey two times a day, and always being available for spiritual direction.

“He has remained deeply engaged in life and is deeply concerned with the lives of the monks,” said Father Kevin.

The prior often stops by to talk with Father Christian, adding that he never knows what the conversation will be, from quoting poetry to questions of theology and philosophy.

Looking back, Father Christian said offering hospitality is the right thing to do because it allows God’s grace and love to flow outward and inward. Changes occurred — the discipline of silence became less strict, and people wander the grounds — but the essence has not changed. Monks still spend their days learning to love more, and now share and teach it to the outside world that comes to visit.

“I’ve never been happier than being a monk,” Father Christian said.

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Bishop’s Annual Appeal meets target goal, but the work continues


Four days a week, homeless men and women come to the Clean of Heart building on Laurel Street in downtown Columbia. Volunteers wash and dry their clothes, while they receive a hot shower, toiletries, and a cup of coffee, plus warm greetings and words of encouragement.

The smiles on their faces show what the ministry, an outreach of Catholic Charities, means to them.

Clean of Heart and other programs like it could not happen without the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

The campaign reached its target goal of $3 million in late August, but with three months left before it comes to a close, diocesan officials urge people not to stop giving.

Funds are still needed from those who have not donated. The deadline is Dec. 31.

“We’re doing so many good things in terms of reaching out to Catholic Charities, to Catholic education, to other ministries,” said Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. “There are so many needs in the diocese. I’m delighted people are being so generous, but we also still need the generosity of those who haven’t given yet to continue to make these good things happen.”

So far, 68 percent of parishes have passed their target fundraising goal, said Matthew Dwyer, diocesan director of stewardship and development. Parishes that go above their target receive 50 percent of the overage back to use as they see fit.

Also, as of late August, the diocese had 24 percent of people participating, an improvement on the 21 percent who had responded by the same date in 2013. The goal is for 25 percent to respond.

“Our success is a direct result of God’s grace, the hard work and leadership of our pastors and local parishes, and the significant generosity of our people,” Dwyer said.

He said a multimedia approach to fundraising has helped the appeal, including everything from traditional mailings and bulletin inserts to a special video that was shown at Masses during February.

The BAA is an important source of funding for the 96 parishes and 22 missions around the state. It supports Catholic Charities, college campus ministry, youth ministry and other outreach programs.

Donations help to educate seminarians and promote vocations, support retired priests and the men studying for the permanent diaconate.

Dwyer said the appeal is also crucial for Catholic education in the state, providing an average of $500,000 a year in grants to Catholic schools, helping with financial aid for students and building funds for new and existing schools. Funds from the appeal helped establish the first new diocesan high school in the state in 50 years — John Paul II School in Bluffton — and will do the same for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Myrtle Beach.

Bishop Guglielmone said outreach to Catholic students at the state’s colleges and universities is also a high priority.

“I made a commitment to campus ministry when I came here, and we’ve seen tremendous results,” he said. “We still have campuses where we need to get the appropriate personnel and programs ... so expanding the campus ministry budget is one important thing I want to focus on.”

Catholic Charities offices around the state rely on funds from the BAA to serve a growing number of clients who need food and financial assistance. In recent years, the agency also has added immigration services in Greenville, Charleston and on Hilton Head Island.

“The appeal is our main source of funding, and without it we could not do what we do,” said Caroline Weisberg, director of Catholic Charities. “We’re serving Catholics and non-Catholics who are in need. This helps us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community. In everything we do, we’re trying to take a holistic approach, to look at the whole picture of what people need. We want to offer resources to help people not just with food, but with shelter, quality of living, and their health.”

You still have time to make your donation to the BAA. To learn more, visit

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