By KATIE BORKOWSKI
Sioux City Bishop Heelan High School students traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip and came back changed.
The group of 14 students and four chaperones volunteered June 4-10 at the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) orphanage in a small village outside of San Pedro de Macrois. The chaperones were Benedictine Sister Madeleine Miller, Heelan theology teacher; Father Patrick Behm, former Heelan chaplain; Father Brian Dulli from the Diocese of Madison, Wis. and Anna Osten, a Spanish teacher from Wayne, Neb.
“Before I started working at Heelan, some of the seniors would go to Honduras every year,” said Sister Madeleine. “The safety situation degenerated, so Heelan stopped sending groups to Honduras.”
Some of the seniors she was teaching this past spring expressed an interest in going on a mission trip, so Sister Madeleine talked to Father Shane Deman, current Heelan chaplain.
“We went through Catholic Mission Trips, which organizes some of the programming on site,” she said. “They have college-aged missionaries on-site, who have raised money to do this all summer for different school and parish groups.”
Morgan Richardson, a 2017 Heelan graduate and Sioux City Immaculate Conception parishioner, wanted to not only “spread the word of my faith,” but also help the less fortunate in a third world country.
“Sister Madeline, my senior religion teacher, deeply inspired me, and she was a major motivating factor for me to go on the mission trip,” she said. “I truly saw God through her and in all of her actions. I wanted to spread God’s word as she does.”
Claire Brobst, a soon-to-be senior at Heelan and Blessed Sacrament parishioner, thought the mission trip would be a good opportunity for her to do service work. She said she hadn’t done anything like this in her life – “It was incredible.”
“These were kids who wouldn’t necessarily hang out together at Heelan,” said Sister Madeleine. “They were thrown into this experience in a foreign country. They had to rely on each other and see value in Mass, confession, Eucharist and service.”
While in the Dominican Republic, the group stayed at the NPH orphanage. Sister Madeleine explained there is a big wall around the compound with only one entrance.
“Our houses had no air conditioning, the running water was not safe to drink and our houses did not have screens over the windows,” said Richardson. “However, by the end of the trip, I realized these things were minuscule issues. The real issues in the world are much greater, and we need not to be focused on the trifles of life.”
While at the orphanage, the group had full days including Mass at 7 a.m., digging a trench around the boy’s side of the campus for a fence, digging a floor for an agricultural building and playing with the children.
“Our Heelan kids were surprised that many of the orphan children came to our Mass voluntarily,” said Sister Madeleine. “They would come and sit by us. Father Patrick plays the drums and they thought that was the coolest thing ever.”
She explained the orphanage is modeled like Boys Town. The children live in family groups with similarly aged, same gender children and all go to school there.
“There are a little over 120 kids on the site at this time,” said Sister Madeleine. “The orphanage will help them go to university as well. Once they graduate high school, they spend a year serving in the orphanage, go to college and then come back and spend another year serving in the orphanage. It’s like a big family.”
Richardson pointed out their group had help on the projects from local people.
“After work and lunch, most days we were free to play with the children staying at the orphanage,” she said. “This free time is where most of us made inseparable bonds with the children. One of my favorite activities was making bracelets with the boys and girls.”
In the evening, the group participated in adoration and confession. The volunteers from Catholic Mission Trips gave talks about living a life of holiness and being of service. They also had small group discussion and their leader would ask questions.
“They put on really good programming for us every night,” said Brobst. “They talked about the experiences we had throughout the days and how it can relate back to Christ.”
For Brobst, the most memorable part was spending time with the kids and “they have so much joy in their hearts and so much love in their hearts to give.”
“We didn’t speak the same language and it was tough to communicate without a translator,” she said. “All of the kids would be fine sitting in silence or we found ways to communicate.”
“They would yell ‘Morgan!’ and come up to hug me excitedly,” she said. “When walking to Mass, for example, a couple of girls in particular would come say hi and talk to us. This simple gesture is marked on my heart for how little a hug can mean back home, but how much it meant each time these girls gave me a hug.”
Richardson, who will attend Loyola University in Chicago this fall, acknowledged this trip definitely strengthened her faith and the way she sees Christ.
“In the Dominican Republic, the only thing many of the people have is faith,” she said. “They are such religious people, even though God hasn’t blessed them with material things.”