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Building a House, More Out of Home Than Stone

Jay Verzosa - February 14, 2017


What's your favorite childhood memory? Is it piling into the family van for a trip to the Jersey shore? The chaos of Thanksgiving dinner at your grandmother's house? Maybe it's something as ordinary as the gentle way your mom would wake you up for school or how your dad would toss you onto his shoulders when you were little. I'd bet that a felt sense of "home" anchors a lot of our childhood memories, and in reflection, many of us might find it difficult to choose just one favorite memory from childhood. Some of us, however, might struggle to come up with a single memory at all.
Each of the last three years, the Cornelian Service Corps in Campus Ministry has traveled to northeastern Pennsylvania for its Alternative Winter Break service immersion trip. Our first service site is always the Catherine McAuley Center in Scranton. Since its founding in 1984, the McAuley Center has ministered to homeless women and children by providing temporary shelter, helping families find permanent, safe, affordable housing, and supporting these women and families so that they can achieve self-reliance. "What's your favorite childhood memory?" is one of the first questions McAuley Center staff ask the women they serve. It might also be one of the most important.
Sometimes, we can take things for granted, and we take them for granted because they seem ordinary, they seem like they're a given. How many of us had our moms make cupcakes for us to bring to school on our birthday? How many times did we rely on our dads helping us with a project for the science fair, counting on the fact that they would take us to the library and to Staples to get what we needed? Sometimes we need to consider not only what makes a happy memory, but also what obstacles make it a challenge to form happy memories. The McAuley Center recognizes these obstacles and addresses them in direct and concrete ways, and so they do more than help families find housing. They help families create a home.
There's more at play here than food and furniture, baby clothes and linens. In helping families create a home, the McAuley Center fulfills an unspoken part of its mission. They give the gift of childhood. How many of us feel excitement when we're able to go home, to see our parents' or grandparents' house? The children at the McAuley Center learn that excitement. On the first day of school in the fall, how many of us were asked about what we did over the summer? The McAuley Center organizes a trip to an amusement park for all the families. There are presents and cake on birthdays, toys at Christmas, party hats and noisemakers for New Year's, a luncheon on Mother's Day. It's the gift of childhood and it's a sense of home.
For three years, every winter, Rosemont College students have shared in the ministry of the Catherine McAuley Center, and in doing so they, too, have found a home. Whether it's assisting the staff with taking down Christmas decorations or spending time with the children who come to the Center, for a short time every January, we're a part of it all. The generous, kind, and friendly staff remember us, recognize us when we return, tell us they look forward to seeing us again. When I reflect on Cornelia Connelly's life, I always think that she was always searching for a home, because she created a home wherever her life took her. Sometimes I wonder about her children, separated from their mother. Then I think about the Catherine McAuley Center, and how they include us in their ministry for a few days every year, and I understand what Cornelia meant when she prayed for God to give us a love full of action.