By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
KINGSTREE — It’s been a rough summer at St. Ann’s Outreach Center.
Five juveniles on a vandalism spree broke into the center June 27 and caused an estimated $3,000 worth of damage, according to Felician Sister Johnna Ciezobka.
Both Felicians, Sister Johnna and Sister Susanne Dziedzic were out of town visiting their communities in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, respectively, when it happened. Two of the centers neighbors, Flora Burgess and Jeannette Burgess, called the police and two of the outreach’s volunteers.
The sisters left Kingstree for their vacations on June 22. Jeannette Burgess discovered the buildings had been vandalized when she went to feed Sister Johnna’s fish on Sunday, June 28.
The vandals, all juveniles between the ages of 11 to 13, broke windows, trashed the kitchen, ate candy, drank sodas and emptied the freezers, smeared peanut butter on the walls, set off fire extinguishers and plugged the sinks and left the water running.
“I was just sick when I found out,” Sister Johnna said. “We were so many miles away and we felt helpless. We didn’t know whether we should come back. It has been a real difficult time. We decided that, for some reason, God did not want us here for this.”
Sister Johnna returned July 21. She said it is disappointing that youths committed the crime but she saw blessings in the difficulties.
“We see the empowerment of the people who are involved in the center,” she said. “Flora and Jeannette cleaned the whole place up before we got back, God bless them. They even represented us on television. Frank Koran and Vinnie Aiello talked to the police and took care of calling the insurance agency and gathered up all the garbage. They all took over and dealt with it. Everybody I see asks about it. It is their center and they take ownership in it.”
Sister Susanne has remained in Buffalo due to a family emergency.
Sister Johnna estimated the loss at $3,000 and is unsure how much will be covered by insurance. The center also has a clothing closet and boxes of clothes had just been delivered and stored in the hall before they left. All the clothes had to be taken out.
Sister Johnna said that two of the boys have been sent to Columbia (juvenile detention) for past offenses and three others will be tried in family court. She hopes to be able to see the children.
“I want to face these kids, especially if they’re children I know,” she said. “If (they are) kids from center, I want to ask them why and see what their response is. I’d like to point out to them that they made a bad choice and have to pay the price. I feel bad about it. I can’t dwell on it though; I just have to pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire me to say the right thing.” Even though it is a heartbreaking experience for the sisters, they find blessings in the experience.
“We’re not exempt from evil; it happens to everybody,” Sister Johnna said. “We live in a neighborhood where things like this are going on and maybe it was just our turn. But the response of the community has been so wonderful, people from our church, the neighborhood. They all just took care of it.”
Another blessing, she said, is that groups of Felician sisters had already been scheduled to come to the outreach over the summer to do volunteer work.
“God has blessed this mission abundantly,” Sister Johnna said, “more than I could ever imagine, so I don’t assume He will abandon it. It has been a real tragedy but we will see another sunny day. The best in people comes out sometimes during tragedy. Maybe that’s just God’s way of reminding us of the good in people. It’s definitely been hard but I feel very loved here.”