From Sydney to the Solomons

I was motivated to apply for the Fr. Smith Fellowship by desires to know Christ more deeply, to learn, and to experience love in a way I would not be able to otherwise. These desires stem directly from my Catholic faith. In between my junior and senior years of high school, I went on a Kairos retreat and, for a lack of better words, was changed. Over the course of four days, I grew closer to Christ and opened myself to His love. Jesus became more than someone I prayed to before I went to bed; he became my best friend, and I decided I want to dedicate my life to being more like Him. In the beginning of senior year, I was chosen to be a leader on the next Kairos. I was paired with my theology teacher Mr. Finocchio, who is now like an older brother to me. On the fourth day of the retreat, he gave me the book Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis and it spoke to me in ways I cannot quite describe. In short, Katie Davis volunteered at an orphanage in Uganda during winter break of her senior year of high school, and after graduation she moved back and went on to adopt thirteen daughters and founded Amazima Ministries which feeds, educates, and spreads the love of Christ to the people of Uganda. Her example of humility, sacrifice, and trust in our Father is something I strive to emulate every day, and continues to inspire me. Katie’s words distilled within me a desire to be challenged and uncomfortable. She says, “It may take place in a foreign land or it may take place in your backyard, but I believe we were each created to change the world for someone. To serve someone. To love someone the way Christ first loved us, to spread His light. This is the dream, and it is possible.” I longed to be humbled by God, and at the same time I longed to do something extraordinary. This sort of paradox challenged me to plunge forward into my faith, trusting in God as I desired to explore the unknown. As senior year went on, I was blessed to rector and then lead the last two Kairos retreats; amidst all the preparation and the intensive retreats themselves, I felt God calling me to missions. I was very close to becoming a full time missionary after high school, but after lots of discernment I could finally hear God’s voice saying, “Grace, not yet.” Accepting His will for me was difficult, but now I see how unprepared and immature I was, spiritually and emotionally. I was not being intentional at all; I wanted to be a missionary somewhere unfamiliar, but did not think about where God wanted me to go or what He wanted me to do.

After lots of research, blog reading, and prayer, I reached out to Sister Rose Mary Kinne, O.P., the primary contact for Sydney, Australia and Honiara, Solomon Islands, in October of 2017. When I first became familiar with the Father Smith Fellowship, I figured I would apply to either Peru or Argentina because of my love for those cultures and the Spanish language; however, I became more intentional in my discernment and fell in love with the Solomon Islands. I knew close to nothing about the Solomons, but now I feel like I have seen a glimpse into the beauty of the country. Lindsey spent her fellowship in the Solomon Islands in 2016 and described to me the place, the people, and what daily life is like. I was ready to begin my application process to the Solomons when once again, God said, “Wait.” My passion lies within the special needs community. People with special needs have such unique gifts and I cannot help but learn or feel something new in every interaction I have with them. St. Lucy’s School in Sydney, Australia is a primary school in the Dominican tradition for children with disabilities. I am so, so grateful for my 14+ years of Catholic education. In the US, I have not heard of Catholic schools for students with disabilities. The combination is what draws me to St. Lucy’s. I emailed Sister Rose Mary explaining my love for the Solomons and special needs community and inquired about splitting the fellowship between the two places.  She told me to research different organizations for people with disabilities in the Solomons so that I could make them part of my ministry there. After reading what Sister Rose Mary had to say about the opportunities in the Solomon Islands and the students at St. Lucy’s, I was confident that God was opening my eyes and my heart to something completely unfamiliar, unexpected and more than anything, beautiful.

St. Lucy’s has three school rules modeled by staff to be expressed by the students. Be safe. Be kind. Be your best. St. Lucy’s hopes for its students to learn safe behaviors, to actively care for oneself and others, and to shine as one is according to his or her ability and strengths. These rules are empowering for children, so that they can become increasingly independent members of society and know that they are loved at all times. St. Lucy’s guides its students towards the best versions of themselves. Sister Rose Mary said that necessary attributes for service in the Solomons include being flexible and prepared to change. She probably did not know it at the time, but she was speaking my language. I love my planner as much as the next person and enjoy being in routine for some time, but I embrace change. I absolutely love it. In fact, I crave it after long periods of routine. The unexpected excites me; when things are unknown or lack predictability, there are so many possibilities. I believe this highlights our freedom. I thrive without daily itineraries. I am naturally laid-back and am open to anything the sisters in Honiara need or want from me. I will be present and ready to be put to work. In the Solomons, I will be expected to immerse myself with the Dominican sisters, attend group prayers and Mass, and to complete any tasks they need me to. I look forward to the powerful sense of community in the Solomon Islands. I hope to immerse myself in the community as much as possible.

In environments where my sole purposes are to serve and to love, it is easy for me to be patient, to see Christ in every person and situation, to dedicate myself to living selflessly, and to be present; however, when I am home or at school it I find myself slipping into a trap of mundane practices, struggling to keep Christ at the forefront of everything I do. Allowing Him to truly enter into my weaknesses, I know that He can change me so that I can return to the states better than before I left. I hope that I can strengthen my priorities throughout my fellowship, and back home. It is so important to me that I keep God at the center of my life, and the people in the Solomons seem to do an exceptional job of that. With daily Mass and routine prayer with the Dominican sisters and the community, I hope that I grow in zeal for my faith. I truly believe that we are called to be changed so that we can transform society around us. Through these experiences, I will be shaped further into the person that I was created to be. Throughout my preparation and the actual fellowship, I hope to grow to know a more radical, more selfless, and more sacrificial love.

Here I am at PC, preparing for this incredible experience halfway across the world. Although the unknown can be scary sometimes, I find comfort in God’s voice saying, “I am here.

 

**most of this post is from my fellowship application

 

2 thoughts on “From Sydney to the Solomons

  1. Grace I am so proud of you. What a wonderful giving,loving,companionate young adult you are. I wish I had spoken with you at thanksgiving about your experiences. I hope you keep in touch with me and let me hear about all your life’s work. Love you and God Bless you

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