BY SUSAN NICHOLS
I came into this volunteer year with a mix of excitement and timidness--in love with so many things, yet exceptionally afraid of who I might become. Who am I to believe I am important, I thought, or to believe I have something to say.
My time spent with Loretto has gently invited me to shift my perspective to see myself as worthy. I remember my first time on these grounds, meeting upstairs with the many other volunteers who I did not yet know. Mallory welcomed us by saying, “You can treat this as one of your homes. You can always return, even if you are away for a long time.” The ease of this statement-that the motherhouse as a physical place and Loretto as a spirit was big enough to hold all who needed or wanted to join, left an immediate impact on me. There was such trust that I had a place in this community, even if I myself did not yet trust that I was a part of it.
And then there were the people who occupied this space at the Motherhouse. Mary Swain’s body moving with such energy as she jumped to clean up a spill or move trees on the property, Hannah’s joyful singing, Susan’s easy familiarity with nature as we built a trail in the woods, Maureen Smith’s constant mix of humor and passion for justice. The experience of seeing so many women living fully into their being was intoxicating. They were constantly questioning themselves and how they could grow, well into their ‘90s. They seemed at ease with themselves, like they had explored and known themselves for a lifetime.
And then there was me-confused, too loud, sprouting unfinished sentences, losing…just about everything. More than that, I was uncomfortable with all of these characteristics of my being. As a new volunteer, I thought of all of the things that I wanted to do, but did not yet believe that I could. Living for a year among the Loretto community was an uncomfortable yet necessary process of turning a magnifying glass to my whole being. Through the grace of my Tobin house community and the larger Loretto spirit I have become familiar with both my positive qualities as well as the pieces of myself that make me weary and I wish I could change. My experience in Loretto has helped me embrace each of these pieces of myself, and to feel so much more at home in my own skin.
Sister Betty McWilliam said to me earlier today, “I learned through my work in hospice that if you get an opportunity you should take it because it might not come again.” Although she was the one to communicate these words to me, it is each members of this Loretto community that helps me to understand that they are true. Your words, but more importantly the way I see each of you in this community living out your fullest lives and moving to be better each day allows me to trust in my future even if I am uncertain about what it brings. It reminds me that I have a joyful duty to make use of the gifts and the body I am given to work for others.
My thoughts about Loretto are encapsulated in one of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott. She writes “Trappings and charm wear off…let people see you. They see your upper arms are beautiful, soft, clean and warm, and then they will see this about their own, some of the time. It’s called having friends, choosing each other, getting found, being fished out of the rubble. It blows you away, how this wonderful event ever happened – me in your life, you in mine.”
Susan Nichols is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but has spent 6 years cultivating a home in the humidity of St. Louis. In the process of her Loretto year, she has discovered a love of project management and a reckless belief in the power of collaboration to help understand and overcome potential problems, even if it can be occasionally frustrating. In her free time, she enjoys playing fiddle in her traditional Irish band and has also discovered a slight obsession with exploring the many styles of swing dancing.
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.