For many students, spring break is a vacation, a chance to step away from the stresses of daily life. But last year, Mary Carper and Kaylee Bluethmann (now sophomores) embarked on Marian University’s alternative spring break to Campton, Kentucky, and their experience wasn’t exactly a walk on the beach. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, the young women witnessed abject poverty - hungry people, living in a food desert, their lives oftentimes made even more complicated by a lack of education, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse.
Enter Sr. Susan Pleiss, OSF, pastoral associate at Good Shepherd Parish, the only Catholic Church in Campton, and all of Wolfe County. Both Mary and Kaylee were inspired by Sr. Susan’s outreach efforts.
“Good Shepherd is known for its outreach,” explains Carper. “When a member of a Baptist Church needs a loan to pay an electricity bill or does not have transportation to get food, the Baptist pastor will tell this person to ‘go to the Catholic church’… [Sr. Susan] provides services like visiting the sick, running the food pantry, putting on various dinners and community events, delivering groceries, providing loans, and much more. Part of her job is to shine a positive light on the Catholic Church by reaching out to those in need.”
Not surprisingly, Mary and Kaylee were moved by their experience. As a result, they chose to center their San Damiano sophomore service project around aiding Sr. Susan’s ministry. The project began before Thanksgiving break with a campus-wide clothing drive to benefit Campton residents. Pleased with their success, they worked to garner monetary support for Good Shepherd’s food pantry. Lastly, they recruited six students for a return trip to Kentucky to assist Sr. Susan in her outreach efforts in a tangible, hands-on way. The group prepared a massive spaghetti dinner for church volunteers who help Sr. Susan year-round, an event Sr. Susan reported she would not have taken on without the group’s help.
“This project in so many ways embodied the scripture passage, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18:20),” said Mark Erdosy, Executive Director of Church Relations and San Damiano Scholars Program.
Campus Minister Jeanne Hidalgo, and project advisor for the women, added: “Their project fulfills the mission of sophomore service by supporting the Campus Ministry ‘mission to walk with others as God walks with us.’ I believe their experience in Campton will inform their ongoing career discernment and has made an impact on their life choices and spirituality.”