Create Your Charism: Ada Lee – Vincentian Service Corps West – San Francisco, CA

Ada is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. Enjoy this post, and stay tuned to hear more from Ada and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

When I was young, I spent many weekends attending Sunday school. I learned the biblical stories of the Old Testament- Kind David, Solomon, Joseph. What I imagined as the ideal ‘perfect Christian’ emerged in my mind- someone of faith, good deeds, and someone who puts themselves at service to others. This thought stayed with me throughout my teenage years and I started to believe that only those of Catholic or Christian faith were able to carry out service to others.

But then, I went to college and those thoughts all changed. I attended St. John’s University in Queens, New York- a Catholic, Vincentian university. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who had the same values and love of service as I did. In turn, I became more empowered to live the values I sought. People from all different faiths and backgrounds were passionate about doing service and helping others, and I realized that service is not limited to one type of person- being a Vincentian simply means having a good heart to serve others before yourself.

I honestly never thought that I would be able to implement the Vincentian charism into my life. I used to think, ‘I grew up Christian…I could never understand a saint and his significance in my life….who is this St. Vincent DePaul anyways?’ St. Vincent DePaul, I soon learned, was a man who gave up fame and fortune to serve the poor with compassion and humility. He believed in the dignity of every human person. ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool. I guess this Saint Vincent guy is pretty awesome. I guess I wouldn’t mind learning more about him….’ I thought to myself one day during my sophomore year. And in the moment I accepted Him into my life, it was like a door was opened in my heart and suddenly knowledge and wisdom from St. Vincent began flooding into my mind. I learned more and more about who St. Vincent was and began to wonder how I could integrate his charism into my life.

I joined the Vincentian Service Corps this year because I thought it would be an opportunity to force the Vincentian charism onto every aspect of my life. But in fact, I have learned that it is all around me. I no longer have to seek, I can find it in every moment and every person of life.

As a volunteer, I am working at a residential rehabilitation center for women and children affected by drug and alcohol abuse. It is tough work, both in the tasks I need to do to support client’s recovery, but also in knowing the traumatic pasts of these women. One day, I was accompanying one of the clients to her appointment. She was quiet the whole time, despite my attempts to make conversation. But towards the end of our trip together, she started to feel more comfortable and open up. She told me, ‘You have a gift to the world with your smile. You’re so optimistic and polite, and that gives me great comfort.’ I saw the face of God in her. God was telling me that my service this year, despite its challenges and nuances, is making subtle differences in the lives of those I am serving. I did not seek this moment. I simply let myself be open to this moment. 

The Vincentian charism challenges me to ask the question, “Where do I see the face of God?” in every person and every moment. By doing so, I am prompted to treat every person with respect, as St. Vincent would. With this client, I could look beyond the exterior of her past and instead treat her with love and humility. It is almost comical to say that treating people in this way should only be limited to those of a certain faith background. Even without a belief in God, the Vincentian charism still calls us to care for those in our community- the community of humanity.   
So, what does the Vincentian charism mean to me? In my experience, the Vincentian charism means to strengthen my spirituality through service to others. We are called by God and we are called by grace to serve. The ability to serve others is all around us. But the Vincentian charism has shown us that it’s not just a single act of charity. It can be an act of love, bringing kindness and happiness to someone’s day, building a loving friendship with another…or even not judging someone for their past and seeing them for the person they are. The ability to be Vincentian lies in each one of us. You don’t have to Catholic or Christian or a believer. We all have the ability to treat each other with kindness, compassion, human dignity, and respect. That is being a Vincentian- being a person of character, good works, and acceptance. By serving others, we are serving God. 

This photo is of a place in San Francisco that I fell in love with: the Sutro Baths at Ocean Beach. I often find myself here reflecting on my year long experience and meditating. This picture is one I took last Tuesday at sunset to mark my 6 month anniversary of moving to California for this program. Often times, I get anxiety about what awaits me this year and what will happen after. But being at a place like this helps calm my mind and soothes me. A prayer that I often like to reflect on while I’m here is one by Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Ada, a current volunteer with Vincentian Service Corps West, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN’s From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
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