Serving with Sisters: Natalie Suzuki Pentkowski

Throughout National Catholic Sisters Week, Catholic Volunteer Network will share interviews with volunteers currently serving alongside sisters. In each post you will hear a little more about how the volunteers found their program and what they’ve learned from the sisters they work with. Today we feature Natalie Suzuki Pentkowski from Los Angeles, California, a graduate from California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo, volunteering with Vincentian Service Corps West.
Natalie and her volunteer community.
How did you find your volunteer program? What appealed to you about it?

During my last undergraduate year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I attended a Come & See Retreat with the Daughters of Charity at their provincial house in Los Altos Hills, California. I was discerning religious life at the time, and I felt a deep connection with the Daughters of Charity and their work, dedicating their lives to serve the poorest of the poor. On the second night of the retreat, I had a conversation with

Sister Marie Rachel, who asked me about my plans after graduation. I shared with her my desire to give back to the church through a year of service. She then informed me about the Vincentian Service Corps West (VSCW). It was an answered prayer, and I felt tremendous peace after that evening. Among the various service programs I researched, VSCW stood out to me because of its focus on the Vincentian charism (service to the poorest of the poor) as well as its emphasis on community living, service, spirituality, and a simple lifestyle.

Where did you serve?                 

I serve as an Infant and Toddler Teacher at the Epiphany Center in San Francisco. The Epiphany Center is a non-profit organization that serves women, children, and families. They provide residential recovery, childcare, pediatric care, family treatment, in-home services, and family enrichment. I specifically work in their Parent-Child Center, caring for at-risk toddlers ages 1-3. As an Infant and Toddler Teacher at the Epiphany Center, an Early Head Start Program, I implement a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate education program for children ages 1-3; participate in the growth and development of the young child; maintain client confidentiality in all circumstances as required by professional ethics and legal requirements; and participate in program meetings, training workshops, and conferences.  

As a VSCW Member, I have the privilege of living in community with three others who work at the Gubbio Project, the Riley Center, and DeMarillac Academy. Our service year is 11 months long (August – June), and we receive a monthly stipend that helps pay all of our necessary expenses.
How has service strengthened your faith and your understanding of vocation?

Consecrated Life Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the
Assumption, where Sister Estela Morales was honored for
fifty years of service. 
By giving a year of my life as a VSCW Member, I have been challenged physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. My faith has gone through ups and downs, and I have had to trust God more than I ever have. I have never been more honest with God than I have now, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I will forever cherish this year of service because of how it has shaped me as a person.

A year of service transforms you, whether you want to or not. It changes your perspective on life and the world around you. It challenges you to be selfless and to serve others: your brothers and sisters. It allows you the opportunity to learn more about yourself: challenges and strengths. And it also gives you an opportunity to discover your heart, soul, desires, and passions. Because of this service year, I have developed a better understanding of why we are all here on this earth: to love as Jesus loves.
What have you learned from living and working with the sisters?

Sister Estela Morales, MSW, is a Daughter of Charity and the Executive Director of the Epiphany Center. She has been working for Epiphany Center since 1989 and has been the Executive Director since 2008. In addition to her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University, she brings 30 years of supervisory experience in social service agencies to the program

I recently attended a Consecrated Life Mass that honored and recognized her for 50 years of service, and I was in awe. Here I am, a 23-year-old giving a year of her life to give back to the Church, and there’s Sister Estela celebrating her 50th year of service to the Church. It was inspiring to witness such a beautiful and significant celebration.

To say that Sister Estela is selfless, dedicated, and committed is an understatement. She has given her life to serve God and His Church, and I am so grateful to be able to work alongside her. Because of this year of service, I have developed a deeper sense of appreciation for sisters. They are incredible role models for young women, including myself, and I am very grateful to know and work with sisters such as Sister Estela Morales.
What advice would you give to someone interested in full-time volunteer service?

Be open to what God has in store for you, and trust in Him. While it may seem crazy to commit to something so counter-cultural, you will not regret it. Believe in yourself, and trust that He is always with you.

To learn more about CVN’s From Service to Sisterhood initiative and discernment resources for volunteers, please click here.

For more information about National Catholic Sisters Week, including details about events taking place all over the U.S. please click here
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