When Ursuline Sister Martha Keller walks into an American grocery after returning from a mission trip to Mandeville, Jamaica, the abundance and selection she sees is a bit overwhelming.
“The people of Mandeville have so little and are so grateful,” Sister Martha said. “It makes me realize how blessed we are.”
Mandeville is the sister diocese for the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., in the second poorest country in the world, behind only Haiti. On Sept. 20, 2016, Sister Martha will lead seven parishioners from St. Jerome Church in Fancy Farm, Ky., on their second weeklong mission trip to Mandeville. She is the pastoral associate at St. Jerome and led a team in 2015 as well, and also twice led mission trips while serving at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Paducah, Ky., from 2008-11.
“There’s something life-giving about being with the people,” she said. “We take school supplies, coats, money. We’re building a home for a single woman and child. We know we are making a difference.”
Last year the group partnered with Water With Blessings, a ministry founded by Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter, that provides filters so people in impoverished nations can have clean drinking water. The St. Jerome group took 60 filters last year and is taking 30 more this year.
“We went in September last year, and St. Stephen Cathedral (in Owensboro) came in October and followed up with the families who received the filters,” Sister Martha said. “The children were already showing improvement, the babies no longer had diarrhea.”
Sister Martha said she finds many rewards by continuing to return to Mandeville.
“The reward is that you’ve experienced the suffering Christ with the people,” she said. “They are in poor health, they have bad nutrition, but they are so in tune with God. They are not dwelling on their suffering, but appreciative of what they have. If you give them a shirt or some medicine, it’s like you gave them a million dollars. You can make a difference there.”
Sister Martha continues a legacy of Ursuline service on the Diocese of Owensboro-Mandeville Committee. It was Bishop Emeritus John McRaith’s vision of partnering with Mandeville to serve the people in need. The diocese first began discussing a sister diocese relationship with Mandeville in 2001, with the first diocesan collection taken up on Ash Wednesday 2003.
The Mandeville committee works with the diocese’s Social Concerns committee, which sends a container of supplies every other year to Mandeville. A container will be departing in late October 2016, filled with educational supplies, medical supplies and outreach items (desks, clothing, diapers, etc.), said Dick Murphy, director of Social Concerns for the Diocese of Owensboro.
Sister Martha is also taking laptops and iPods from nearby St. Francis DeSales because parishioners there knew the group was going. “I’m taking crayons from Grayson County because they would melt in the container,” Sister Martha said.
There are six women and two men making the trip. They have raised $3,000 to build a single family home, which is what Food for the Poor requests for supplies. They will do the water filter training in Maggoty, where Associate Mary Danhauer served for three years as a nurse.
“We will see some of the same people we saw last year,” Sister Martha said. One of the men who works with the volunteers always takes her back to the first house she helped build. Sister Martha has stayed in touch with the woman who lives in that house, Marian Ferguson, who has three children.
At Mass on Sept. 18, Father Darrell Venters, pastor of St. Jerome, blessed the members of the mission team as the congregation prayed along. “May the support of our parish be felt as we entrust them to your care and protection as they go forth to live out the message, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid … for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:9)”
Sister Martha will post photos from the mission trip periodically on her Facebook page, and those will be shared on the Ursuline Sisters Facebook page as well.
If anyone has items to donate to the diocesan container for Mandeville, the last day to donate is Oct. 7, 2016. Contact Dick Murphy at his diocese office, 270-852-8343.