Sister Jacinta Powers: Finding her joy in serving the poor

During the community’s meetings that summer, it was determined to attempt a ministry in Jamaica. In September 2008, Sister Jacinta and Sister Betsy Moyer left for Mandeville.

“I was so excited,” Sister Jacinta said. “I knew I wouldn’t see my familial friends, but having a cell phone and a computer made it easier to stay in contact than when I was in Nebraska,” she said.

The sisters ran into some obstacles in Jamaica that limited the chances for success, leading the two sisters to return to Maple Mount in April 2009. “If we did it again, we would know what job we would have before we went,” Sister Jacinta said. She taught a math class at the Catholic College of Mandeville and did some health care while there.

“It would take more people wanting it to happen, and more preparation next time,” she said.

After a couple of months of seeking her next ministry, she found the position with the Church Health Center. When she moved to Memphis, she attended several parishes before deciding on St. Patrick.

“I walked in, the music started, and I knew it was home. It was African-American music,” she said. When she found the parish prepared a meal for the homeless on Sundays, she quickly volunteered. “It’s a ministry that feeds my soul,” she said.

Susan McGhee works with the Patient Assistance Program at the Church Health Center, and also attends St. Patrick with Sister Jacinta. Her program solicits free prescription drugs from doctor’s offices to give to patients.

“I recruited her as a parishioner,” McGhee said. “She has a wonderful sense of humor. She’s always light and happy. We need that, because so many of our patients are not light and happy.”

McGhee admires Sister Jacinta’s commitment. “When sisters come to visit her, she brings them to help,” McGhee said. “We’re having a small group liturgy study, she’s a facilitator for one group. She is an excellent facilitator, and a good listener.”

Sister Jacinta checks a Haitian child’s height during a check-up when she volunteered following the Haiti earthquake in February 2010.

When an earthquake struck Haiti in February, Dr. Ellen Buchignani, the Sister of Mercy who spent 27 years ministering in Jamaica before coming to the Church Health Center, answered the call for doctors to minister to earthquake victims. When she told Sister Jacinta nurses were needed also, she received permission to go, and Martha House went with her.

“When the earthquake hit Haiti, I told her, ‘I know you’re thinking of going to Haiti. Let me know your plans and I’ll go with you,’” House said. “I know that’s the way she thinks.”

“We flew into the Dominican Republic, but we could tell when we crossed into Haiti,” Sister Jacinta said. “The land was much more deforested, it was hard to grow things. Haiti is much poorer than Jamaica.”

The children were the greatest difference from her trips to Jamaica, she said. “In Jamaica, the kids were always laughing. The kids in Haiti were not laughing,” she said. “That said more to me than anything.”

Sister Jacinta’s faithfulness was a help to House, she said.

“We had energy bars and peanut butter crackers in our suitcase, and we got one meal a day,” House said. “One night I said that food may not last the week and then we’re only going to have one meal a day. Jacinta said, ‘Martha, don’t worry about it, God will provide.’”

Reading and learning

Two of Sister Jacinta’s loves in her free time are being outside and reading. She reads novels, spiritual books, and biographies. “I have several books going at a time.”

Some of her favorite books include “Crazy Love,” by Francis Chan; “The Rhythm of Life” by Matthew Kelly; “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools” by Greg Mortenson; and “How Much is Enough?” by Arthur Simon.

“You can count on her having several books on a table ready to dive into upon completion of one,” said Sister Martha Keller. “Jacinta loves recommending good books and is usually on top of the latest bestsellers.”