Home Is Where My Heart Is

by augustinian.volunteers / 27. January 2016 14:26

2,687.3 miles… That is how far I am from the place that I have called home for the past 25 years. Before last year I never thought about leaving Pennsylvania to live anywhere else and doubted that I would even leave the Philadelphia area after I graduated from college. That is, until I began to pray about it. No, I did not begin to ask God where I should be living, I thought I already knew the answer to that. Instead I began to ask God what I should be doing with my life because I had begun to doubt my path. Suddenly I started to notice different service organizations popping up around me and it clicked: maybe God wants me to give a year of my life to service for him. After being convinced by a friend I applied to the Augustinian Volunteers.

When I found out that I would be living in San Diego for my volunteer year I was super excited, mostly because I knew I would not have to deal with any cold weather and I would be living by the beach for the year (there is no better place to LIVE SIMPLY). As the summer went on and orientation was approaching, the nerves began to sink in: I was about to move all the way ACROSS THE COUNTRY with a bunch of people I had never even met. What was I thinking? I am going to be way too far away from my family and life as I know it is will be about to change. I was not sure how I would adjust but I knew in my heart that I needed to do a year of service so I had to suck it up and pray that everything would turn out ok. 

On August 24, just one week before boarding the plane to embark on our journey as Augustinian Volunteers, our community was finally able to meet for the first time. From the very beginning of orientation it was clear that I was surrounded by a group of loving and supportive people who would be serving all over the country and the nerves turned to excitement again and I was ready to take on San Diego with my community. Living in California in community has helped me grow in ways that I never expected. My roommates have taught me a tremendous amount about life, love, support and the importance of constantly growing in my relationship with God. All five of us have our own ups and downs with being away from our families, being stressed about our jobs or trying to figure out what to do after our year, but no matter what life throws at us we always come home to find comfort and happiness in our community. We have had prayer time together, community meetings, many birthday celebrations, and countless hours spent exploring San Diego and enjoying our time together as a community. 

Suddenly as I look back on my first 5 months in California, the strangers that I moved here with in August have become family to me, people that I know I can turn to during times of happiness, nervousness, sadness and excitement for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to growing my relationships with my family here in California and for all of the new adventures we will have. After all of the anticipation and nervousness leading up to moving across the country, I now realize that when I move back to Pennsylvania a piece of my heart will remain 2,687.3 miles away at my home in San Diego.

Patty Boland
San Diego, Ca 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

The Power of Flexibility

by augustinian.volunteers / 10. January 2016 15:27

“In kindergarten, we have to be flexible. Not every day can be the same and we have to be open to change.  So, what do we have to be, class?” asked the kindergarten teacher at St. Augustine School, in Andover, Massachusetts. “We have to be flexible!” twenty-seven kindergarteners responded with enthusiasm. 


I learned this kindergarten motto while helping in their class the first week of school and it has become my motto for the year. To really be flexible, like the kindergarten students were learning, I was determined to be open to all new circumstances, to try new things, and to adapt when situations change. In the past, I have not always been the most flexible person, preferring to know exactly what I am doing with a calendar planning out all my activities and events.  I knew that this year was my year to be different, to trust in God and to be open.  


As a full-time substitute at a 450-student nursery through 8th grade Catholic grade school, I have to constantly remind myself of my new motto. Having limited experience as a teacher (I was a communication major in college), I have to assume the role of a teacher and convince a classroom of kids I know what I am teaching 100% of the time, even when lesson plans do not cover the entire class period. Every day is different for me, which is my favorite part of my position. Often, I know weeks ahead of time which grade I will be subbing.  Then there are days when I receive an early morning phone call telling me which classroom I will be needed in for that day.  So far, I have taught every single grade in the school, including language classes in Latin, French, Chinese, and Spanish.  I have also had the position as the gym, music and art teacher for a day. I cannot have any expectations on how my day will go and just have to see where the day takes me. 


Through my service site, I have found that I am a flexible person and enjoy working with new students each day. I loved helping the kindergartners paint Advent wreaths and I also enjoyed teaching 8th grade students about the Industrial Revolution. I have no anxiety about trying new things because I feel I am where I am supposed to be and am lucky to have the support of my community and the school where I am working.


My new flexibility motto has impacted my life for the better. I have experienced things, which a year ago, I would never have guessed I would be doing. I participated in a student-teacher academic bowl, have chaperoned a 7th and 8th grade dance, dug a trench for Habitat for Humanity (despite being only 5’3), spent Thanksgiving dinner with Augustinian Priests, attended a mass in Spanish, threw an Augustinian priest a birthday party, led community prayers, spent a day of service packaging letters for prisoners, hiked in New Hampshire and am learning how to drive on the highway with the help of my community members.  


Being flexible and saying “yes” is a life-lesson I wish I had learned in kindergarten. However, it is never too late and I hope to carry out my new flexibility motto for the rest of this year and for life. 


Clare Spence

Lawrence, MA 2015-2016 



Domestics 2015-2016

God Has A Plan For You

by augustinian.volunteers / 21. December 2015 11:43

“God has a plan for you” is a phrase my mom has said to me multiple times over the course of my life. More often than not, I would shove these six little words off with an eye roll and a “uh huh, sure mom,” and go about my day. However, since moving to the southside of Chicago four months ago, I have finally learned that God does indeed have a plan for my life.

My journey to the AV’s was a bit more unique in that I had been teaching for the past two years. However, I always felt something was missing, I just didn’t know what it was. I stumbled upon the Augustinian Volunteers through a friend from high school, Danielle Callahan, who was an AV in San Diego last year. I applied in late March, not thinking much of it, and suddenly, less than two weeks later I was offered a position at St. Rita of Cascia High School. Hearing that I would be working at St. Rita was the first of a few instances in which I now truly believe that God was calling me to Chicago. You see, Rita is a very important saint in my family.

In November of 2014, my brother got married to my sister-in-law at the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia. The reason they chose this church to be married in, besides its obvious beauty, was because my sister-in-law’s late mother was named, you guessed it, Rita, and she wanted to honor her mom during the wedding ceremony.

At the time, I thought it was nothing more than a strange coincidence. However, in the first week of August, I finally began to see God’s plan unfolding in front of me. A few weeks before I was set to leave for Chicago, I was driving down the shore with a good friend of mine. As we were driving down, we were talking about my upcoming move and I was confiding in him how I was beginning to have second thoughts about the move. I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that this was the right move for me, but I was simply scared of what the unpredictable future held. As we were talking I glanced over at a car next to me and was blown away at what I saw. The license plate of the car next to me read: ST RITA. Those of you reading this right now might not believe that this actually happened, and in fact, part of me still finds it hard to believe (there is photographic evidence however).

From the moment I began my service at St. Rita I knew that I am where I am meant to be. Each day I am greeted with teachers and staff members who truly care about me and my experience in Chicago so far, offering me support, guidance, or just a smile and a “how are you?” One of my favorite things about St. Rita is the beautiful shrine chapel that is attached to the school (the word chapel is used loosely, as it is more like a cathedral), which I am lucky enough to be able to spend a few minutes in at least two or three times a week. However, my favorite thing about working at St. Rita is being able to interact with, teach, and mentor some of the most respectful and intelligent young men I have ever met. It is in my interactions with the students where I truly see God. In guiding them through their faith journey, they are, without realizing it, helping me in my own faith journey, and I find that incredibly beautiful.

My time in Chicago hasn't been perfect. For the greater part of the first two months I was very homesick and unsure of my place here. It was during this time, someone very close to me told me, “God doesn't promise us an easy life, but he does promise us a meaningful one.” So far, my time at St. Rita of Cascia has been very meaningful, and I look forward to what the second half of my experience in Chicago has in store for me.

Greg Tosto
Chicago, IL 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

Advent Week 4: Accepting Peace, Answering "Yes"

by Alumni / 17. December 2015 16:46

Christ’s birth changed the world, and 2000 years later, this event continues to transform our lives. As we celebrate this fourth week of Advent, there is still time to reflect and prepare for how we will be transformed by Christ’s birth this Christmas.

Our readings this week remind us of God’s promise to us in sending Christ; “for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” The worries and concerns we experience in today’s world are surely different than those present in the world before the birth of Christ; nonetheless, the first reading reminds us that there was a need for peace. God recognized this need, and sent his son to be that peace. So often, we are searching for peace, in our world, in our communities, in others, in ourselves, when in fact we are offered peace every moment of every day through our faith. We must actively choose to receive the peace Christ continually offers us by saying “yes” to God.

Mary stands as the perfect example of someone who said “yes” to God. In the Gospel, we hear of Mary early in her pregnancy visiting Elizabeth. When the infant in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leaps, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” God asks different things from each of us each day, in our service sites, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships. It is up to us to recognize these opportunities when God is calling us, and choose to respond to him. When we respond to God, we will feel his presence and experience Christ’s peace in unexpected ways, which may transform our lives, as Mary’s was transformed.  

In the days before Christmas, let us pray that we have open hearts to accept Christ, and that we may allow ourselves to be transformed by the miracle of his birth through the coming year.

Claire Mulhern
AV Alum, Chicago ’11-‘12

Questions for further reflection:
1.When do you feel most aware of God’s peace? How can you make that more pervasive in your life?
2. When have you felt yourself responding “yes” to God at your service site? In your community?



Advent Week 3: Trusting in the Lord

by Alumni / 10. December 2015 22:29

“Teacher, what should we do?” Luke’s gospel for this week tells us of the crowds visiting John the Baptist, looking to him for guidance. Like us, these people were expecting the coming of Christ and they were eager to be prepared for Him. I find their questions to John the Baptist interesting though. They were not asking what they should do but instead asked how should they live? As a volunteer, I found myself asking this question often. While at my service site, I saw young students in heartbreaking situations and I grappled with how I could be of any meaningful use in their lives. In community, I wondered how to make our short time together matter and in my spiritual life, I questioned how I could strengthen my relationship with God. As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, what should we do? 

John the Baptist told the crowds to be generous and honest people, concerned about those around them. But even more than his words in the Gospel, I find the first and second readings to be insightful preparation for the Christmas season. The first reading calls us to, “rejoice for the Lord is in your midst.” While the words seem obvious, it can be harder to trust that God is always with us. We can often let fear permeate our thoughts and dictate our actions. Having complete trust in God can be challenging for some. But as the second reading says, “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” God knows what is in our hearts and if we trust in him, he will not let us fall. 

So what should we do? In preparation we must heed the words of John the Baptist and focus on changing our outlook. Rejoice, be thankful, and be patient. Rejoice that Jesus is coming and God is always with you, never failing to love you. Be thankful for your relationships at work, within community, and with God, for each is a gift that will continue to grow throughout this year. Be patient with yourself and with God. Serving and living with others can be challenging, but remember that God’s plan is not always the same as yours. It takes patience and trust that He will fulfill your desires in a way you cannot imagine. 

Brittany Patten
AV Alum, Lawrence 2014

1. In what area of your life do you find it most difficult to trust in God?
2. In preparation for Jesus’ birth, how will you change your outlook to live more intentionally at your service site or within community?



Advent Week 2: Preparing Your Path

by Alumni / 4. December 2015 13:26

During a time in our lives where much seems uncertain — a time in which fear can hold strong in our minds, particularly with the recent tragedies of our world and threats of future violence — it can be difficult to center oneself and remember that we are held in the arms of our Lord. This week in Advent, we are called to know that we are remembered by God and, in turn, we must remember Him.

As we prepare for Jesus’ birth, Luke calls us to not only repent for our sins, but to lead our lives in a new direction through his quotation of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah, John the Baptist is calling people to prepare for the Lord’s coming. John the Baptist says that we must “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This is in reference to the customs that were adhered to when a king was planning to travel — work crews would be dispatched to clear the roads for the king to ensure a smooth and easy journey. In this same vein, we must clear obstacles out of our life that might hinder ourselves from focusing on God’s salvation. He is reminding us that Jesus is coming soon! We must make an effort to repent our sins for us to receive Him into our lives, as sin is the very obstacle that prevents us from seeing “the salvation of God”. While we are called to repent, we also need to remember that God cares more about our effort than a perfectly smooth road. The true goal is for us to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord.

In the beginning of the Gospel, Luke references many rulers and kings of the region. This list of rulers are examples of those who were unable to unite their people. The Gospel ends with the one ruler who is able to bring universal peace: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”. This is a strong reminder for us today: Jesus unites all of humanity, but He needs our assistance. We do not live in a perfect or peaceful world, but if we look to Jesus in the everyday — if we can see Jesus in ourselves and in one another, and if we can treat others in the way Jesus would — we will see God’s salvation, and God’s salvation will spread to all of humanity. This is our challenge in preparing for the Lord: we must ready ourselves through repentance and we must forgive and embrace others in order to truly prepare for Jesus’ birth.

Kat O’Neill
AV Alum, Chicago ’09-’10

Questions For Further Reflection:
1. How will you prepare your personal path for Jesus’ arrival?
2. How will you forgive?



Advent Week 1: Waiting... Waiting... Waiting...

by Alumni / 1. December 2015 22:35

We hear a lot about God in the readings for the first Sunday of Advent: in the first reading God is a dispenser of justice, in the second God catalyzes love of each other, and the Gospel admonishes the reader not to fear the apparent end of order but to embrace redemption. Trying to parse out a cohesive message challenged me at first, but then two lines from the Gospel jumped out: "The anxieties of daily life," and "Pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent." I feel that any reading of these texts that neglects these phrases misses the connection to Advent. 

We hear consistently how Advent is a time for waiting, anticipation, advent is from Latin, etc. etc. Waiting for Jesus to be a baby: check, no problem, got it, done. But what is waiting? Or, better yet, what is our condition while we wait? Are we continuously embracing God's love and turning that outwards like the second reading urges? Or are we letting the anxieties of daily life preoccupy our minds and our hearts. Anticipating the mood changes of a fickle boss or site supervisor, working hard without recognition of effort or passion, or trying to maintain friendships across different time zones or just different schedules… Perhaps these micro-anxieties don't relate to our larger plans and seldom do they seem relevant in hindsight. But that does not diminish our emotional investment in ourselves, nor should it. Life happens, and that can be distracting. But if we should not fear the apprent apocalypse - even if people are literally dying of fright - then why should we dread challenges that we can overcome? Or, if we can't overcome, we can at the very least endure.

"Pray that you have the strength to overcome the tribulations that are imminent." Doesn't necessarily invoke the same excitement over the familiar baby in a manger surrounded by sheep, does it? No, the picture of waiting that we receive from the readings is not a calm, passive waiting, but a frenzied, active waiting. Waiting by taking the love of God we have and turning it outwards. Waiting by growing stronger in character and substance, pruning excesses from our habits and attitudes that would block the door we should leave open for Christ. Waiting by challenging our notion of waiting itself, embracing the inevitability of adversity and the joy overcoming. 

Lent isn't the only arduous time for Christians, nor is it the only time for spiritually challenging ourselves. So I wish you a long and difficult Advent, full of… you guessed it: waiting. But what will your waiting look like?

Mike Bucaria
AV Alum, Ventura 2014-15

Questions for further reflection:

1. Choose a song, poem, quote, or visual that encapsulates what you feel the attitude of waiting should be this Advent. Share it.
2. Choose another word besides "waiting" that you feel is important to keep in mind for Advent. What nuance does this add to your concept of Advent?  



The Daily Workings of God

by augustinian.volunteers / 30. November 2015 00:57

God has been at work in my AV experience since the moment I first learned who the AVs were.  My friend sent me an email asking me if I had ever considered a year of service and suggested that I look into the Augustinian Volunteers.  When I explored the website, I discovered that two friends from college had done a year of service with the AVs.  I knew they both had done service work, but I didn't know what organization they had chosen.  I hadn't talked to either one of them in a while and I was able to reconnect with both of them to ask them about their experiences.  They both spoke very favorably about the AVs and highly recommended that I pursue this opportunity.  I am here in California because God worked through these three individuals to give me the encouragement and confidence I needed to apply to be an AV and I couldn't be happier!

I am working at Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai, CA and living in Ventura, CA.  I had heard about the beautiful scenery that I was going to experience living near the beach and working in the mountains, but nothing can compare to seeing it in person.  The first night my community members and I arrived, we drove to the beach to watch the sunset on the Pacific Ocean and it was absolutely beautiful!  I saw God's artistic hand in this gorgeous sunset.  That was the first of many picturesque sunsets I have had the pleasure of seeing since I've been out here.  As if being by the beach was not good enough, I've had the privilege to drive through breathtaking mountains on the way to work.  Every single day, they look different depending on how the sun is hitting them and the amount of clouds in the sky.  I am continually amazed at the beauty of God's creation every day.

I have seen God through the faces of my coworkers, students, and former AVs.  Everyone at Villanova has been incredibly welcoming, hospitable, and generous.  My boss gave me a few t-shirts that I could wear throughout the year on spirit days and a coworker bought me the homecoming t-shirt a few weeks later so I could wear it to the homecoming game that night!  The students are some of the most polite teenagers I have ever met!  They wasted no time introducing themselves to me and telling me where they were from.  There are students from all over the world at Villanova because there are boarding students along with day students.  My colleagues, and a couple former AVs who live close by, have invited my community members and I over to their house, out to dinner, and even out to watch the Philadelphia Eagles play since we don't usually get the game at our house!  Everyone's eagerness and willingness to make me feel at home here in California has definitely been a gift from God!  I look forward to seeing God's hand at work the rest of this school year!

Marie Graney
Ventura, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

A Face of Homelessness

by augustinian.volunteers / 11. November 2015 10:32

Father Joe’s Village helps over 1,000 people off the streets of San Diego everyday. Some of our homeless neighbors are Veterans, others have been trapped in the cycle of homelessness for most of their lives, and yet others lost their jobs and were unable to make their next month’s rent. There are many different faces of homelessness. These are the faces that I see every day in Father’s Joes Health Clinic.  

Vienna is one of the patients that comes into the clinic for regular follow up appointments throughout the week. She is a beautiful woman with a gentle grace that is unwavering. She has endured unimaginable pain and suffering throughout her life. She came to the United States after escaping the Rwandan Genocide only two years ago. She has recently moved into Father Joe’s Village to live. She said that this is the first time in her life that she is on her own and feels completely free. She often walks around the city just to experience the freedom that such a new place has to offer. Father Joe’s has given her that freedom. She has a home and a community that supports her at the Village. She has made a family for herself in the roommates that she lives with. Her healthcare needs are being met at the clinic.  She is learning coping skills through her therapy as she struggles with the agony of her past. Although Vienna still has many emotions about her suffering in the past, she told me that she tries to live her life like a baby – forgetting the past, with only hope for the future.

Vienna inspires me. I feel honored to be able to talk to her when she comes into the clinic. I also feel blessed to work in a place where lives are changed each and every day. The Village provides a home and community to those who would be living alone on the streets. My patients are the most joyful part of my day. I am inspired each day by their stories. Vienna’s face has influenced my perspective on homelessness.

Martha Pannepacker
San Diego, CA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

I Haven't Worked a Single Day This Year

by augustinian.volunteers / 18. October 2015 19:23

To say that my very first day at LCA was a whirlwind is perhaps the understatement of the year. I was under the impression that I would be working directly with kids, but I was told that there was a need for me to be in the front office answering parent phone calls for the first few weeks, and so that is where I would be doing most of my service unless they said otherwise. Two different teachers asked me what colleges I was considering going to next year as if I was a high school senior. The rest of the teachers seemingly did not understand my role at school until I said I was "the new Brittany", the AV at LCA last year. One boy in the after school program told me he did not have to listen to me because I was not a real teacher. I was as close to that "freshman who eats lunch in the bathroom stall" as you can get.

Something changed, though, and I couldn't tell you what it was. Maybe it was the honest and candid conversations that I've had with teachers on the way to field trips. Perhaps it was helping a student work through addition problems, and seeing the smile radiate from his face when he got the questions right. It could have been sitting at the dinner table with my community members, simply talking about how our day went and seeing that they too had similar struggles and successes that day. No matter what the reason for this change, I know now that this is exactly where I should be.

I know I am truly blessed for the simple fact that going into work everyday is my favorite part of the day. I have been working with the nursery students (age 3) a lot for the past three weeks, and that has been a blessing beyond anything else. Here I was, a stranger to them, but they were already attacking me with hugs on the playground and innocently walking up next to me as if they had a question, just to tap me on the leg and say, "Tag! You're it!". Working with the nursery kids has also given me some much needed street cred with the teachers. Whenever others see me working with them, they give me a sincere "Oh God bless you for it" and say they could never do that because they feel as they are not teaching but babysitting. I disagree, and say that they are the ones that are teaching me things on a daily basis. They teach me the importance of forgiveness. One girl came up to me, in tears, and said another girl took her toy and said they were no longer best friends. I told them both, honestly only half paying attention to them at the moment, that they should apologize to each other and keep playing. They did just that, and were holding hands in the playground not even ten minutes later. While this may be partly credited to the  average attention span of a three year old, there is still an awe-inspiring innocence in this. 

Recently, when people ask me what my favorite part of my job is, I try hard not to keep rambling for half an hour. I have felt so welcome both by those making a conscious effort to do so, be it the Augustinians or the greater community, as well as the kids at school who have no idea the impact their smiles and high fives make. Do I tell them about about the great staff, or perhaps the incredibly smart and funny students? Maybe the parents who are so invested in seeing their children receive a quality Catholic education?

To save people my long winded rambling, when someone asks me my favorite part about my job, I will simply say that the greatest joy lies in it not feeling like work at all.

Derik Velasco
Lawrence, MA 2015-2016


Domestics 2015-2016

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