By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
NEWTON — Less than three months before high school youths and adults from Sacred Heart Parish planned to set off for a week-long mission trip in Nebraska, the hosting nonprofit pulled out. “The organization let me know that due to staffing changes and different goals they were wanting to lean into they would no longer be hosting mission trips,” recalled Luke Gregory, the parish’s director of faith formation and senior high youth ministry.
Summer “Faith Journey” mission trips are a 38-year tradition for the parish and participants didn’t want to miss an opportunity to serve. “We decided we would take this opportunity to stay local and give back to our parishioners, who have been so good to us in their support throughout the years,” Gregory said. The group identified local need through bulletin announcements and by making personal connections with parishioners. Gregory also reached out to the city manager.
On the first day, Aug. 1, participants painted walls and installed a white board at SHARE preschool. They also pulled weeds along the McCann Center building. Youths and adults spent the second day at an older parishioner’s house performing yardwork, painting, cleaning and completing other household tasks. On the final work day, the group made casseroles and sorted clothes at Connections Peer Support before heading back to the church to pull weeds outside the rectory and organize the youth group room. Participants concluded the mission with a fun day.
Each morning, they prayed at the church before heading off to the job sites. The group returned to the church at 5 p.m. to attend Mass and have dinner, followed by reflections and small group discussions. One evening, Father Marty Goetz, the parish’s pastor, led the group in eucharistic adoration and heard confessions.
While the students were initially disappointed that they couldn’t go to Nebraska, staying close to home was a blessing, Gregory said. “We were able to see needs right here in Newton that we may not have noticed prior to the week and, thanks be to God, we were able to be used by him to fulfill those needs.”
The close proximity of the mission gave participants the opportunity to attend the visitation and funeral for the parish’s stewardship coordinator, Kathy Hammerly, who passed away from cancer shortly before the mission began. “Kathy was a staple in our parish youth group,” Gregory said. “If we were out of state during that week, we would have had to make a very difficult decision about what to do. … In hindsight, God put us exactly where we needed to be.”
Gregory hoped the local mission would help the youths see first-hand that God is faithful. “We were able to meet some of the needs here in Newton, which gave us just a small glimpse of what people might be going through in our area.” He said one participant was encouraged to realize that people don’t need to travel many hours or spend a lot of money to make a difference in someone’s life.
Senior Thomas Stadelmann regularly participates in Sacred Heart’s summer missions. Being close to home made this year’s mission special. “My favorite part was seeing the shock and awe of our community when we were finished,” he said. “Something that is so simple to do (can make) a world of difference to the person you’re helping.”
Junior Ella Machin also had positive experiences with past missions and appreciated the opportunity to make more memories this year. “My favorite moment was when a woman we helped gave me a long hug and said, ‘Thank you for listening to me.’”