In hot and sunny Douglas, Arizona, the Loretto Catholic School is the destination of the Franciscan University’s Arizona mission team. Just like the other mission teams, the group, headed by Julie McConnell and Scott Reaume, will head down south over spring break.
The team of 16 missionaries, including a chaplain and advisor, will spend their whole break at the school. McConnell talked about how unique that aspect of the mission is: “The special thing about this trip is that we stay in one place all week, unlike other missionaries who hop around from town to town. We just stay at the school.”
The missionaries spend time in the classrooms, giving catechetical lessons and retreats, as well as eating all their lunches with the children. They also play at recess with the students, helping to building relationships with the children. “It’s about being present and loving on the kids all week,” said McConnell.
Reaume said, “Helping the kids and being present to them was part of the attraction to the mission for me. … Being able to teach and show the truth to the younger kids is what really stood out to me about the Arizona mission.”
Despite some slight complications, the pair is excited to lead and share this wonderful time with the other missionaries at Loretto Catholic School.
The Loretto school is run by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles for grades Kindergarten through eighth. It is the only Catholic school in the area. The town of Douglas is a poorer area, and an important aspect of the town is that it is a mile from the United States and Mexican border.
Many of the children come from Mexico and cross the border everyday for school. It is a long commute of over an hour, yet the children are hungry for learning not only the academic subjects, but also learning about God and the truth. The missionaries help to feed this hunger while they are there by having relational ministry with the children and teaching them about God and the Catholic faith.
The students and the chaplain hold a Festival of Praise for the school every year, and the children in Douglas anticipate it, along with everything else the missionaries do.
The missionaries also realize that it is just important to be at the school as young people who love their faith. This was a point mentioned by McConnell and Reaume several times, as it really is at the heart of the Arizona mission. “We stay with the kids from the beginning to the end of the school day,” said McConnell.
The principle of Loretto Catholic School, Sr. Mary Aloysius, loves having the missionaries come from Franciscan. She loves it so much that at the end of the mission each year, she offers a job to education, theology or catechetics majors at the school after they graduate. Several students have accepted the offer, and McConnell confirmed that two of the current teachers in Douglas are Franciscan graduates.
In preparing for this mission, McConnell, a senior theology and catechetics major, has been attending meetings to learn how to lead a mission since April of 2017. Last year she went on the mission trip with the Arizona mission for the first time. She absolutely loved the experience and knew she wanted to do more.
“When on mission last year, the leads kind of hinted at me being a lead for next year, and I felt the Lord calling me to it,” she said.“When we got back, they asked if I would be interested in being a lead for the next year, and I started to prepare early.”
The story is a little different for Reaume, a senior anthropology major. This is his first time going on the Arizona mission. He has been on the North Dakota mission before but was asked to help lead Arizona after the former co-lead “had some personal things come up after he had made the commitment,” said Reaume. “So a few weeks after the interviews, I was asked if I was interested in helping temporarily. … The original plan was for me to step back down to a regular team member … but he decided it was best for him to not come on the mission at all. So I just continued with helping as lead.”
This mission really changes the lives of both the children and the missionaries. With the major focus of the week being on loving the children and witnessing to them, the Franciscan students grow in their own faith. Because of this, McConnell strongly encouraged that “everyone should go on mission! It really is just beautiful to experience it.”