BY JACKIE SCHMITZ
As the end of my year with Loretto approaches, I, like many of my fellow volunteers, am figuring out where to go next and making a leap into a new chapter of my life. While the inevitable feelings of nostalgia and sadness linger as the clock ticks down, I also find myself steeped in excitement for the future Loretto Volunteers. Future Lorettos, here’s some advice on the adventure you’re about to begin.
Sometimes Squirrels Will Enter Your Toilet, Sometimes Your Heat Will Break, Sometimes Your AC Will Break, Sometimes You’ll Have Mice
These things happen. Yes, the squirrel in the toilet story is true and hopefully one that will be passed down in Loretto Volunteer Program lore for ages to come. At the time, many of these inconveniences will seem annoying, but handling issues with a good sense of humor is key. Laugh and know that the Loretto community will move mountains for you if you should ever need help. Adventures like these truly make community stronger so lean into your support system and don’t let hiccups along the way consume your headspace.
Soak in the Wise Madness
My community member, Susan Nichols, wrote a reflection about the wise madness of Loretto You will find yourself amongst a wealth of wise madness, a phrase coined by Thomas Merton, every time you visit the Motherhouse or spend time with the Loretto sisters and Co-members. Even if your social energy is spent, put in the effort to get to know the legacy of Loretto members. Don’t let them fool you, Lorettos are far too humble when speaking about their experiences. Ask questions. You may stumble upon Sister Maria’s stories of living in Chile during a military coup, Maureen’s witness of racism while marching at Selma during the Civil Rights Movement, or Lupe’s work with Cesar Chavez. Every Loretto member has a story that I guarantee you won’t regret listening to.
Allow Your Community to Change You
Intentional community requires sacrifice, but it also opens you up to learning about a wide variety of random things. This year I’ve learned more than I would have ever expected about traditional Irish music, drag culture, swing dancing, Dawson’s Creek, and Disney World thanks to my community members! Most likely, you’ll be in a community with strangers who know so much about so many random things that you don’t. Be open to creating new interests and bringing others into yours.
Make Your Placement City a Home
While your Loretto year has an expiration date, don’t allow that to keep you from making your placement city a home. Meet your neighbors and sign up for the neighborhood association or city council emails (Yup, I did this and found out about so many neighborhood gems). If your placement city is one that you’ve lived in before, trust me there’s still plenty to explore. I lived in St. Louis for 4 years, but have fallen in love with my new neighborhood in Maplewood and experienced so many new parts of the city during my Loretto year.
Find Your Outlet
Having an outlet away from work and community is important to finding balance during a year of service. Be as intentional with developing a healthy relationship with yourself as you are with your community members. Find a centering practice or space that allows you to check in with yourself when things at work or in community get stressful.
You Are A Beautiful Work in Progress
My other community member, Melanie Farrell, wrote a reflection on self-compassion that I can’t stress the importance of enough. Transitions are stressful and require patience with oneself and one’s community members. Your placement site might not be everything you want it to be. Your idea of intentional community will most likely be nothing like the reality. Be gentle with yourself when you or your surroundings aren’t living up to your expectations. One practice that I’ve picked up this year is repeating acceptance mantras. It helps ground me and refocus my energy towards acceptance of how things are instead of frustration over how things could or should be.
I am truly grateful for the group of Lorettos back in 1989 who decided to create the volunteer program and share their spunky spirit with young people. My year with Loretto has brought adventures both big and small that I’ll cherish forever. Future volunteers, I hope your year with Loretto is your best adventure yet!
Jackie Schmitz is from Des Moines, IA and graduated from Saint Louis University in 2017 with a degree in Neuroscience and Public Health. She loves camping, hiking, and traveling. You can most likely find Jackie wearing thrift shop clothes and spending time in coffee shops. Jackie is volunteering with Missouri Health Care For All in St. Louis as a community organizer and advocate for healthcare accessibility.
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.