By Lisa Wieland, Mercy Associate, English Teacher and ARISE (Assumption Rocket Immersion Service Experience) program coordinator at Assumption High School in Louisville, Kentucky

The Belize team worked with Hand in Hand Ministries to write and film house-blessing prayer services for clients receiving a home they helped build with volunteers.

The Nicaragua team also worked with Hand in Hand ministries. Hand-in-Hand operates a school in Managua; like all schools, they had not been on campus since last March. Assumption students exchanged letters sharing their pandemic experiences with the students, giving both groups a richer experience of the other culture. Additionally, our students participated in a live zoom call with students in Nicaragua, during which they conducted a drumming circle using 5-gallon buckets and wooden spoons.

Our Cincinnati team worked with Franciscan Ministries to write an article for their newsletter.  They also filmed a series of activities (chair exercises, singing, etc.) for sisters in the retirement community who haven’t had outside visitors. Finally, they wrote and filmed morning shared prayer experiences for other groups of volunteers. 

Our Washington, D.C., group worked with Maggie Conley of the Institute Justice Team to engage in advocacy work around the issue of voter suppression and race. Maggie gave them background on the issue and upcoming legislation and taught them “lobbying 101.” They had a lobbying visit with Rep. John Yarmouth (D-KY) via Zoom and made phone calls to Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to urge passage of legislation. Additionally, they emailed state legislators to encourage their support of upcoming voting rights legislation. 

Finally, a group of students wrote letters to Sisters of Mercy in retirement communities in Cincinnati, Belmont, Baltimore and Nashville. Usually, our students visit sisters in person and play bingo or give them manicures. The best part of those visits, though, is the connections they make with the sisters and the sharing of stories, hopes and dreams.

With the help of Sister Paulanne Diebold, we encouraged students to share stories of their lives in letters. In exchange, the sisters agreed to pray for our young women. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was amazed and touched by how serious and heartfelt their words were, as these few excerpts show.

I’ve really missed seeing Assumption in person. I remember back when I first visited, I was just filled with this sudden feeling of: “You’re where you’re meant to be.” I know it sounds a little weird, but I think it was the work of my great aunt (my grandma’s sister), Sister Mary Amelia Murphy. I never met her, but maybe you did? She died back in 1992 and spent most of her life as a teacher and Sister of Mercy. She taught at Assumption for a while, and I think she knew I would like it. I’ve made so many amazing memories at Assumption, and now I’m honestly scared to leave.

As my time here at Assumption comes to an end, I have reflect[ed] on my many experiences here. Assumption has taught me more than I could have ever imagined and has become a place I can call home. This is where I belong and leaving it will be hard, but I know that it is time to move on, to start my life. I know that these times can be extremely difficult and make things seem like they will never get better. But by the grace of God, things will get better. Please take care of yourself and know that the Assumption community will forever and always be there for you. We love and appreciate you so much.

P.S. I included a picture of my favorite flower to show some support and give you hope. Sunflowers radiate positivity and happiness, and I thought that it would be useful to give you some of that good energy.

Hello! I am honored, blessed, and proud to be a senior at Assumption High School. Going to Assumption is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve made so many wonderful friends, have challenged myself academically, and have embraced my interests. Even though my overall experience at Assumption has been great, I’ve definitely had times where I struggled. Recently, I’ve been struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s hard to be a senior in high school when you don’t get to do any of the fun things that are supposed to come with it, but I’ve been trying my best. Situations like this have made me turn to God more often. I hate to admit it, but I don’t talk to God as much as I should, so I’ve been making an effort to do that. If you have any advice on how to better my relationship with Him, I would love to hear it. 

These excerpts provide a glimpse of how the pandemic has impacted our girls. It appears that students crave authentic connection; all invited the sisters who received their letters to write back to them. Most of the students have already gotten letters back, and some have found a true pen pal. These students have shared how much these letters mean to them and how comforting it is to know that someone is praying for them. Moreover, many have expressed that they have gained a greater understanding of and appreciation for the sisters—their legacy, their wisdom and their strength. 

ARISE, I tell students, is not about “saving” or “fixing” others; instead, it is learning more about what it means to be a woman of Mercy. We should be changed by the experience.