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

Each year, seniors at Assumption High School in Louisville may participate in the ARISE program (Assumption Rocket Immersion Service Experience). Typically, they travel to sites with a Mercy connection and spend a week exploring the mission of the Sisters of Mercy and of Assumption High school. Generally, about 70 students—or about one-third of the senior class— participate in ARISE, committing to a months-long discernment and formation process before the trip.

Regionally, students travel in groups with teacher-leaders to Cincinnati, to experience the needs of an urban population, or to Appalachia, to work with that rural population. Another group goes to Washington, D.C., to work with the Mercy Justice Team, doing advocacy work around one of the sisters’ Critical Concerns. We have, in the past, visited Belmont, North Carolina; the Pueblo Tribes in New Mexico; and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in southern Arizona.

We also offer at least one international trip. Previously, we’ve worked alongside students at Alpha Academy in Kingston, Jamaica, and met students at St. Catherine Academy in Belize City, Belize. We’ve also visited Nicaragua.

While much of our work is service, students also encounter other cultures, experience community, practice living simply and engage in prayer.

This last year, the pandemic made travel impossible. However, we wanted to provide students the opportunity to experience ARISE anyway. At its core, the program seeks to help students understand more deeply the “Circle of Mercy” and explore what it means to “live Mercy” after they graduate. I tell them, just as God has no hands on Earth but ours, Catherine McAuley has no hands on Earth but ours.

As ARISE program coordinator, I needed to find a way to get this message to these students and to maintain the relationships we have with our partner agencies. I’ve always told students “It doesn’t matter where you serve, but that you serve.” So, travel, while wonderfully eye-opening, isn’t the most important part of our program. The most critical components of the ARISE experience are our Four Cornerstones: prayer, community, service and simple living. I reached out to the directors at the sites we usually work with and asked if they had needs that we could meet virtually. All embraced this option. They hadn’t had volunteer groups since the pandemic began and were often operating with a skeleton staff, so they were excited to help us plan a meaningful ARISE experience.

Unlike in typical years, students did not engage in a discernment process, and most of the senior class participated. Instead of a weeklong program, we had two days during which to instill all of the valuable parts of ARISE in our students and to have them engage in real service. With a team of faculty and staff “site” leaders, we planned what we’ve come to call “ARISE REPRISE.” We began the first day with formation, which included sessions on each of the four cornerstones, current issues related to the Critical Concerns and discernment as a practice for making decisions throughout life. Students heard from speakers about how they have lived Mercy beyond high school, in their lives as busy college students, as women in the workforce and more. Our formation concluded with a prayer service during which students were called to a specific “site” for their work. 

In groups of about 14, and with two adult leaders, students “travelled” to their sites to begin the process of building community. They met virtually with representatives from the sites to learn more about their mission, the populations they serve and the needs met by volunteers. They heard details about their particular service project and made plans for completing those tasks.  They concluded this first day with shared prayer and reflection.

Each site group returned the following morning, participated in prayer and reflection, and began service. Their projects were varied, yet all were purposeful.