Sister Carol Ann Shines Her Light in a Troubled Neighborhood
September 21, 2017
By Karel Lucander
Sister Carol Ann Callahan ministers as a social worker at St. Augustine Wellston Center, just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where the tragic shooting of Michael Brown took place in 2014. Wellston, north of St. Louis, is an economically poor, crime-ridden and drug-riddled city. St. Augustine Wellston is an outreach center, serving members of five Catholic parishes that collapsed into one more than 25 years ago. Along with Sister Carol Ann, the staff includes two sisters from nearby Notre Dame Elementary School (now closed), two men who transport furniture and supplies and many volunteers. The volunteers help sort clothing and household items, fill grocery bags and do countless other jobs.
“We have the most dedicated volunteers, whom we could not do without,” Sister Carol Ann says.
Thrift Store and Food Pantry
The St. Augustine Wellston Center is subsidized through private donations, the South Central Community, grants, other area parishes and sales from its thrift store. The thrift store is open two days a week, selling furniture, household items, jewelry, books and toys. For the past four years, the store has received overstocked New Balance tennis shoes from a volunteer’s husband, proprietor of an online shoe business. These popular name-brand shoes, which the store sells for $20 a pair, have drawn more foot traffic and dramatically accelerated proceeds.
The St. Augustine Wellston food pantry, also open two days a week, serves 375 families a month. These families, who live within the five-parish boundary, can stock up on nutritious staples every four weeks. Clients are primarily single moms with children, senior citizens and individuals who receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income).
“They are trying to do the best they can. Some have jobs at White Castle or McDonald’s, but $7.70 an hour isn’t going to pay all their bills,” Sister Carol Ann says. “And in spite of their situations—lack of transportation or education, fear of the violence on the next street over—they always say, ‘I’m blessed.’”
Health Checks and Assistance with Bills
The center also assists community members who are struggling to pay their rent and utility bills or buy medicine. Volunteer nurses provide regular blood pressure checks and education about key health topics, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and stress. Resident doctors also have a monthly forum about these topics. Mercy Hospital parks the mammogram van beside the center annually, providing area residents with free breast exams.
“And twice a month I lead a support group for grandparents who talk about family issues, stress, grieving the loss of children from violent acts and community concerns. They really care about each other, and they also want to explore ways they can improve our neighborhood,” Sister Carol Ann says.
Receives More than She Gives
Sister Carol Ann relishes time with Mercy Associates in the area. As she says, “It is my privilege to work with them, sharing prayer, community building and reaching out to others in ministry.” She also enjoys getting together with her many nieces and nephews. She had six siblings growing up in St. Louis, and she enjoys watching their extended families grow. She considers those at the St. Augustine Wellston Center to be an extension of family, too.
“I feel truly blessed to have been called to Mercy and a vow of service 59 years ago,” she says. “And also serving in a ministry like Catherine [McAuley] began in 1827, making connections between those in need and those who have the resources to provide for so many. I am grateful to God and Catherine to live out my vow of service with such beautiful people. The real blessing is what they give me each day. I receive much more from them than I can give.”