BY SARAH CRITCHFIELD
There’s something so sweet about a fresh start.
The end of my college career came abruptly and unforgivingly. Quarantine was spent scrolling online for hours and weeping white woman tears at the hopelessness of public health that hinges on individual choice. Could being asked to care for a stranger by covering your cough with cloth really spark an ideological divide? I was ripped out of my childish naivete as the importance, immediacy, and presence of illness, racism, and capitalism bled into my privileged and protected worldview.
This upheaval of my immediate surroundings struck my heart with constant questions. Jeanette Winterson asks, “Why is the measure of love loss?” I felt so much loss and was trying to pull the love out of those nostalgic achings. Scrambling between Facetimes and phone calls, my friends and I daydreamed about human connection and change.
I did not realize this change would glow like an El Paso sunset or that I’d fall in love with the world all over again. Joy stretched the skin around my smile so much I couldn’t keep my secrets ensnared. In an embarrassing burst of overabundance, I blurted that the roommates I barely remembered the names of were my best friends. Even though we blushed past the polite quiet and flowed into the kind continuation of the next subject, I felt the fist my heart was holding unfurl.
Villa Maria is a wondrous unsettling of my insatiable search for perfection. Being a reader and researcher has value, but I am constantly reminded of how important it is to be a person first. Thinking I’m the protagonist and being fueled by image or others’ opinions of me is waaaay different from actual actions and efforts.
I can’t keep saying I’m a social justice advocate by slapping Redbubble stickers on Apple products. In the middle of this white guilt-filled revelation, I remember Brianna Chandler’s call to action, “I will love myself through the unlearning...We must be patient with ourselves, while also leaning into accountability and growth.”
My work demands acts of community care. Care is listening to residents unfold their hearts, reading their handwritten poems, or cherishing the laughs their TikToks pull out of you.
In the middle of journaling about jokes and the need for seriousness, I come across the meme account @possumkratom69’s post that reads, “Imagine a world where violence is rare, where people are free, where no one goes hungry, where we treat the environment right, where land is returned to Indigenous peoples and justice is served for the marginalized. Taste it. See it. Revel in the image. Let it sink into your bones. And help us make it real.”
I’m learning every day that a new world is possible and I hope to be walking alongside the people guiding us there. This world must be born of joy and liberation. It is creative and imaginative. It’s belly laughs and beauty and dreams of better.
Sarah Critchfield (she/her) was born in St. Louis and just finished studying English and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Dayton. When she isn’t sharing stories, she is skateboarding, ordering oat milk lattes, contemplating getting bangs, or crying to Lorde in the car. Sarah loves to read and write about gender, sexuality, prison abolition, communicating across difference, shame, and sisterhood. Sarah has plans to overshare on the internet, break into the feminist stand-up scene, and do her best to dismantle white-supremacy, patriarchy, and other systems of oppression. The five things that make her happy are hugs from friends, finding new vegetarian restaurants, scrolling through Twitter, doing people’s astrological birth charts, and meeting people’s families.
BY MADELINE BEAULIEU
Taking a step back to see what I know, why I know what I know, and how I know what I know is relatively new to me. I think this reflection is overlooked a lot in younger generations, including myself. Before I committed to my year of service within the Loretto community, I knew that I was a smart, driven individual, capable of critical thinking. That being said, within the last month of my service in Denver for the Loretto Volunteer Program, I have come to realize how all of those things can be elevated and enhanced when you are inwardly reflective of why and how you think the way you do.
A month is a long time and also a short time, depending on the perspective taken. Is a month long enough to change a mindset or re-train the thoughts that come to the surface of our consciousness? In my opinion, at least partially.
Throughout the past four weeks, two weeks of orientation and two weeks of non-profit, volunteer work, I have lived more intentionally, aware, and exposed than in any other month of my life. Before my participation within this program I had never lived as deliberately and consciously in a home. I had never conversed as deeply about the way my housemates and I wanted to live in a home. I had never been exposed to tangible realities surrounding social injustices, gender and sexuality conflicts, and sustainability practices. All of this is to say that a lot of what I thought and understood about life, was just what I understood about my own bubble of reality. Although I had heard about these things, I was never as profoundly exposed to them in my life; at least not with the perspective that I’ve experienced them with during the last month.
To say that I am more aware of new realities and how they are separate and different from my own previous reality, is true. To say that I was comfortable whilst diving into intentional living practices and learning about social injustices and conflict surrounding gender/sexuality, would be false. I was extremely uncomfortable for a large portion of the first month of my service with Loretto…and to be quite honest I still am. Although I am put in uncomfortable situations constantly, I know this space is one where conversation is encouraged, and questions are invited. I consider myself extremely lucky to have housemates who have taught me about gender identities and sexual orientations that I have never heard of. I have been lucky (yes, lucky) enough to witness the reality of the cycle of chronic unemployment and poverty in our society, through my daily work at Women’s Bean Project.
Through a month’s worth of deep conversation and new experiences, I have come to appreciate a few things. One, everyone grows up in a very individually unique environment, which provides the foundation for the way people think, behave, and react to things as young adults. Two, it becomes harder, as young adults, to change our fundamental thoughts, behaviors, and reactions because of a “lifetime” of singular realities and educations. And three, although young adults are seemingly stuck in our ways, we are still extremely malleable; ready and capable of being taught and exposed to new ways of life, new realities, and new ways of thinking…if we are equally as willing to transform.
When I committed to serving within Loretto, I knew that I would be putting myself in a new and potentially uncomfortable situation. The overall values expressed by Loretto aligned with those which are important to me, but Loretto is helping me to pursue an intentional immersion, through action, led by these values. Four weeks doesn’t seem like a long enough time to ultimately change the way an individual thinks, but I believe it has already happened for me. Even within this seemingly short amount of time, I have increased my awareness of myself and the way I think. I am more aware of what I know, why I know what I know, and how I know what I know. The first month of this year of service has proven to be the push I needed to gain a little more access into understanding my role in this world.
Madeline Beaulieu (she/her) grew up in Vestal, New York, a small town in upstate New York. She has a mother who is a veterinarian, a father who is a forester, and a younger brother who goes to Binghamton University. She has played soccer for most of her life and went to Canisius College to play at the collegiate level, while pursuing a degree in Biology and a minor in Spanish. While at school, she has lived the past four years in Buffalo, New York and is excited to move to a new part of the country for the first time. Specifically, she is very excited to move to Denver and be a part of a new community there. Currently she is taking a gap year, while applying to medical schools, with hopes of becoming a doctor one day. She really enjoys getting to know people, learning new things, and expanding her experiences. She is really passionate about social justice and helping people in general (hence the goal to go to medical school). She loves to spend her free time being outdoors, reading, hanging out with family and friends, and trying new foods! She is extremely thankful and excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the Loretto Volunteer Program family!!
Amber Summers was a Loretto Volunteer for six months in 2005. She served in the Community Service and Campus Ministry departments at St. Mary's Academy (SMA) in Denver, while living in community with another volunteer and three Sisters of Loretto: Cathy Mueller, Joan Sperro, and Mary Ellen McElroy. The room she stayed in belonged to Marie Ego, who was then working in Ghana. Amber has worked at SMA ever since, and every year she returns with a group of students to the Loretto Motherhouse in June. She's pictured with her daughter, Nora. Read on for our Q&A with Amber!
BY EMMY WATKINS
As I near the halfway mark of my service in Denver, above all, I am tired.
I get frustrated with myself for it. Why am I so tired? In college my days were longer, my commitments more taxing, and my schedule more hectic. Why is it that here it is so much harder to stay energized?
BY LAUREN HUNTER
Small talk is usually one of my favorite things. I truly enjoy having conversations that stem from the basic get-to-know-you questions (Where did you grow up? What do you do? Wait, you ALSO love Dolly Parton?!), because I usually have a ready answer. However, during the opening retreat at the Motherhouse, I found people asking me questions that I had no set answers to. Mainly, these questions were about my work placement.
I remember eating meals in the dining room at the Motherhouse, sitting with different Loretto Community members, as we chatted and tried to find what we had in common. One of the things that we could easily connect over was volunteer work, as they had dedicated their entire lives to service. The Sisters usually asked me about the work I would be doing at my placement, Briya Public Charter School. And despite all the research I did for my interviews with Loretto and Briya, and all the email communication I had with my supervisor over the summer, I found that I had a hard time answering their questions about what my placement would be like. Of course, I knew what my job description was. But I felt like I wouldn’t know what to expect from my placement until I started my job. In fact, I was nervous. What would my students be like? What about my coworkers? Were my teaching skills actually good enough for this job? I had no idea.
BY ANA AVENDANO
The mountains here were formed much in the same way everything is—from lava.
Scalding hot anger determined to run its course.
But the lava here they keep contained. Trapped between cinder block walls, in chains, unable to rage then cool on its intended path.
In here, they like to keep it cold. To kill germs, prevent disease, they say. But everything here is already sick.
BY ADELE MCKIERNAN
Last month, I decided it would be essential for me to wed myself. Not in theory, in practice. This wouldn’t be a thought experiment; it would be a marriage. And there would be a ring, flowers, an outfit, vows.
I’m acutely aware that I’ve been known to make grand declarations for best-laid plans every now and then. My mom likes to tell the story about how I declared resolutely that I was moving away to join the circus—the first she’d heard of this—to my pediatrician during a routine physical. My college friends (used to be able to) recount the number of times I’d vehemently sworn off dating to “prioritize personal growth”. Then there were the many times I was sure I’d be married by spring. I’d convert to Judaism. Move to Israel. Move to Ireland. Become a nun.
So, being adamant about my self-marriage scheme wasn’t off-brand— it was dramatic, and sensational, and romantic—it had all the markings of a classic decision inspired by familiar surges of equal parts fear and hope. Both absurd and logical and somehow a very good and not particularly great idea. But the whole thing was atypical in one critical way.
It’s good news when you reject things as they are
BY BECCA KRASKY
Our fall retreat day opened with listening to Good News by Sweet Honey in the Rock, and an invitation by our facilitator, Rev. Anne Dunlap (UCC) to embrace the good news: good news that we were about to spend the day, together with about forty volunteers and staff from several other Christian service-year programs, reflecting on how white supremacy and institutionalized racism surround us in Denver.
What are you up to these days?
"I’m currently the Pathology Clerk for a law firm in beautiful Athens, GA. I live with my partner, Dean, and our (fur) baby boy, Ringo. In my spare time I play Dungeons & Dragons, listen to podcasts, and dance Baile Folklorico."
How does your year as a Loretto Volunteer impact your life today?
"My year with Loretto has taught me that even when I feel insignificant when fighting for a greater cause, my presence and my energy still makes an impact. My attendance at a community vigil or volunteering for a few hours at a local nonprofit may seem unimportant in the moment, but I know that solidarity in any form has a strong ripple effect."
What is a favorite memory or highlight from your volunteer year?
"I think my favorite memory from my year was when a client farted in my face as she was getting up and reaching for her walker. It sounds completely absurd and it’s a bit of a long story, but in that moment I completely froze and thought to myself, “I have absolutely no training for this.” Haha! I realized that moment summed up a lot of my year, there were many difficult/strange/hilarious moments that no amount of training in the world could have prepared me for. In those times all you can do is be genuine and do your best. The client apologized, of course, but she said she wasn’t ashamed. '$&!@ happens!' she explained. All I could do was shrug and laugh because she was totally right, $&!@ DOES happen. 😅😅"
What's one resource or recipe you'd recommend to our current volunteers?
I recently found a recipe that shows you how to make box brownies taste homemade. I think this would be a godsend for current LoVos who are trying to treat themselves while still ballin’ on a budget!
BY REILLY REBHAHN
"Without community, there is no liberation."
Audre Lorde’s words stare at me from my felt-rainbow-letter-board hanging on the wall. It’s been almost three months since I chose that quote from a random post I’d seen online. “If I surround myself with positive messages in my office, everyone I meet with will feel better,” I thought back in August. My first few weeks at Empowerment, I decided to invest time and energy into creating that “good vibes” space. I started printing out any inspirational image I’d see online. “Oh,” I’d think with a tear in my eye, “a kitten on a branch and it says ‘Hang in there,’ this is perfect.” I felt myself forcing it. I wanted my office to be a lighthearted space-- and not to mention, my high-functioning anxieties over whether I was qualified enough to do my job were somewhat soothed with retail therapy. Volunteer life had been out to a rocky start, and I couldn’t remember why exactly I got this job.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.