Early in the morning of May 28, 2016, nine Marian University students and two faculty/staff advisors, laden with luggage and one guitar, met outside the check-in counter of American Airlines at the Indianapolis International Airport. They were destined for Finca El Pulte, Guatemala to serve at Valley of the Angels Orphanage. But the journey began a year prior when sophomores Clare Thompson and Thomas Sheridan applied to be leaders for this trip. Being selected meant a significant commitment involving a leaders’ formation retreat, interviewing candidates for their team, monthly board meetings with six other leaders, bi-monthly meetings with their campus ministry advisor, serving during Martin Luther King Jr. day of service, and five pre-trip gatherings with their team for prayer, reflection, cultural education, not to mention securing passports and immunizations for all!
“The Alternative Break formation process seeks to prepare the students to approach service as a starting point for transformation,” said Jeanne Hidalgo, campus minister and coordinator of service and social justice. “We intend to break open minds and hearts with grounding in the beautiful gospel of Jesus, Catholic social teaching, and our Franciscan sponsorship values. The face-to-face interaction with those who have less access to resources along with the staff, who serves them, provides transformational yeast.”
Students were welcomed warmly at Valley of the Angels Orphanage where they engaged in various work projects, tutored orphans, harvested in the abundant garden, cooked lunch for 300 orphans and the Valley staff, and made home visits to those living in the Red District surrounding the orphanage. Every evening ended with prayer, reflection, and often liturgy. “We learned a lot about poverty, lack of access to clean drinking water, societal discrimination against women, and lack of class fluidity,” said Thomas Sheridan ’18, student leader. “We were able to look at how solidarity and subsidiarity played a role in Guatemala, which is actually a lot bigger role than in other places. We also explored the dignity of the individual.” Margaret Verhiley ’19, student team member who will lead the trip back to Valley of the Angels Orphanage next May, articulates the beauty of the paradox of serving.
“I have become aware that as a Catholic, I am called to be that helping hand. Yes, I think I touched their lives, but they touched mine even more, making me aware of my vocation, and making me live out my call to love and to\ have joy,” said Verhiley.