Companion Nancy Clisbee of St. Joseph, Mo., offered the following reflection at the joint assembly in Indianapolis. Nancy is a lifelong member of St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Joseph, which has been served by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood since its founding in 1890. She has been a Companion—a lay associate of the Missionaries–for 15 years.)
By Nancy Clisbee, Companion
As Companions, we share your excitement, your misgivings, your hesitation and your joy as you combine to make a unified, stronger, more resilient province, genuinely responding to the signs of the times today. We are honored to be an integral part of your Community.
Who are we? We are a cloud of co-workers and witnesses to your radical presence in our world. We share your mission to draw all nearer to Christ by his most Precious Blood. We pray, we reach out to, and care for our neighbors. We are food pantry volunteers, communion ministers, social service workers, medical workers, immigration workers, lectors, visitors to the homebound and more.
At our Companion gatherings, we affirm our solidarity with the mission and the people of the Precious Blood family; we share hospitality, friendship and a mindset that is open to learn. We look beyond our individual concerns to see and attempt to respond to the needs of those who remain on the margins of our personal circles and our communities. We draw on the inspiration, the help and the experience of our sponsors and all members of the wider community.
Every Companion’s journey is different. But this is my story.
I work with immigrants. After a well-loved career as an art teacher, I stumbled into a run-down building where GED, English as a second language, and citizenship were taught. I offered to volunteer. Two women turned their heads away from me. They returned to face me and asked me if I would take a job, which I have now had for 13 years. That random offer to volunteer has been transformative for me; it has allowed me to much more fully live the charism of the Precious Blood family.
Certainly, I teach. But beyond that, I befriend, I assist, I accompany, and sometimes do things I can’t believe I’m doing because I see the face of Christ in a wounded, helpless person.
Our students come from all over the world. Some come to us from the very margins of their original home countries, with no English at all, still in shock from their recent arrival in a completely perplexing world. Some share horrific stories of hardship, the killing of loved ones, years of waiting in the limbo of refugee camps. Their greatest need is simply to recover from their past lives.
Others are anxious to pursue the American dream, to fit in, to see their children well educated; and some will be disappointed with the current reality. Nearly all work backbreaking or menial jobs; for many, these jobs are far below their level of education in their original language. All need English, and to understand the culture of America. If and when they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, I accompany them in that process. Often there are tangled situations to be worked through. And sometimes years to wait, even after the application is submitted.
St. Francis Xavier Parish and our Precious Blood priests and Companions have been a constant source of support for me, and for these immigrants. A friend asked me once why I “mess with those people.” The Precious Blood Community hears their cry with me, and we answer in a chorus. Companions Mike Caruso, Jean and Bernard Verssue, and a number of St. Francis parishioners have volunteered in classes.
Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S., has been a champion for newcomers in our Interfaith Alliance for Immigrants. He also spearheaded a grant program that provided beautiful study books to our students.
Fr. Bill Walter, C.PP.S., and I collaborated to assist a Micronesian couple in straightening out a number of things so they could at long last be married in the Church.
Br. Daryl Charron, C.PP.S., sat in on my class prior to his time as an ESL teacher in Vietnam. He was an awesome participant in our vocabulary bingo games.
Fr. Al Ebach, C.PP.S., visited our program this year, along with Bill McMurray, St. Francis organist, also the mayor of St. Joseph at the time.
Fr. Lac Pham, C.PP.S., and I assisted a couple from Sudan in having their three young children baptized at St. Francis this past Christmas day.
If I can, I assist students who need minor legal help, have run afoul of the law, some who are desperately ill, and those who contact me years after I’ve had them in class with random needs. Each one has the face of Christ, and a place in my heart.
Companions: who are we? We are your brothers and sisters, your mothers and fathers. We are your fellow disciples and “the women on the way.” We are here for you, and we are part of you. We pray for you, and we will work for you. We extend your reach, and we complete your family.