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My wakeup call

| Tuesday, February 13, 2018

“Hi, my name is Ciara Hopkinson, and I lived in a convent for eight weeks.”

I don’t know what I expected when I signed a contract to live in a convent this past summer. My friends thought I was crazy, my parents were skeptical and my brothers had a field day with nun jokes. Somehow, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m pretty sure I didn’t think at all; I was participating in a Summer Service Learning Project, or SSLP, and it’s recommended students live on site, so the decision seemed like a no-brainer. The one thing I definitely didn’t expect was that those eight weeks would completely change the way I think.

To be fair, I didn’t live in an actual convent, but in a house next to one. The Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, or OLA, is home to a young, co-ed Franciscan order dedicated to voluntary poverty and serving the poor in whatever capacity it can. When I lived at the volunteer house, the order consisted of Fr. Bob Lombardo, the founder of the order, and seven sisters. For eight weeks, I worked alongside the sisters in their daily duties, ranging from weeding their vegetable garden to running a food pantry out of the YMCA down the block.

The sisters’ way of life was something I had never experienced before; their principal endeavor, beyond serving the vulnerable, is to live deliberately. Everything they do is a form of prayer. Rather than becoming routine and tiresome, all of the small duties of living in community were performed with love and focus, each moment dedicated to God and to one another. Those weeks of chopping potatoes and scrubbing floors were my wakeup call. Living among others who live deliberately made me examine my own actions and acknowledge that I did not always think before I acted or focus on the moment at hand. As a member of their community for the summer, I decided to do my best to adopt the sisters’ selflessness and their focus on living in the moment. To this day, I try to act with the same depth of thought the sisters do. I often fail, but I take comfort in the fact that I am aware of those failures.

This barely captures half of what I learned this summer. OLA is located in West Humboldt Park, an impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. I live only four miles away, in one of the first suburbs outside of the city, but it may as well be 100. For five of the eight weeks, I worked as a day-camp counselor at the nearby YMCA, and it was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I can talk for hours about the experience of waking up twice to the sound of domestic violence two houses down or having an 8-year-old camper tell me all the food in her house was rotten. But what truly transformed me was the sisters’ conviction in their faith, their belief in every person’s value, the journeys that led them to leaving everything behind and the profound love that fueled their every action. For that, I’m forever grateful.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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