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!
At first glance, an outsider could say that Sister Barbara and I have nothing in common. We differ in aesthetics, demographics, interests, and preferences. So one might inquire, how can we learn from each other? I met up with Sister Barbara at a diner on the outskirts of Daly City for an informational conversation as hearty as the meal. In retrospect, it is our differences that brought us together and allowed us to share our religious journeys with each other.
Sister Barbara was born into a religious home with Catholic parents and was born and raised into the faith. She knew from the early age of 7 or 8 that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. She worked alongside Mexican Americans in poverty in San Antonio. She spent 42 years in Taiwan serving refugee families who fled communist China. This experience allowed her to immerse herself into the culture and learn the different Mandarin dialects.
I was not born into a religious home. My parents were not Catholic and going to church was always seen as a secondary task. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life at 7 or 8 years old, never even considering dedicating it to the church and to God. I’ve been to San Antonio once in my life- not to serve those in poverty, but to eat Mexican food and Texan barbecue. I spent 42 days in Taiwan in an attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese, only to be thwarted by distractions of friends, social events, and tourism.
It appears that we have nothing in common. Yet, we are alike. We are similar in that we are both on a never-ending journey of seeing God in every person and in every life moment. Our faith journeys have followed different paths of living simply with humility, intentional community living, and serving the poor of our society. But they both have the same destination: growing closer in our relationship with God.
Simplicity and Humility
When Sister Barbara was seven years old, a priest told her that she would “look nice in a habit.” This inspired her to think about pursuing the religious life. She didn’t fully do so until after she finished nursing school and she was able to discern with the help and encouragement of the Sisters and priests. She says, “I felt that God was speaking to me through other people who could see I had a vocation.”
I never thought I looked nice in a habit. At seven years old, I would never have thought I’d be dedicating my life to service. However, through my experience this year, I could feel God speaking to me through the people I am serving. He is saying that my passion is helping others be the best they can be- and I’m inspired now to live that goal to the fullest, no matter where life takes me upon completion of this service year.
Sister Barbara and I are living with humility and simplicity to God. We are actively choosing not to focus on the extraneous things of life, rather to dedicate our extra time to serving others, our community and to Him. We are choosing not to let money get in the way of forming compassionate relationships with others. Most importantly, we are choosing to “Let go, let God.” We both never thought we would be where we are now, but life has humbled us enough to let God guide our way and to listen to wherever He wants us to be. Living a humble life- for myself and for others- has simplified my relationship to Him. I feel closer to God now more than ever before.
Sister Barbara has lived in community longer than I have been alive. She has truly seen it all- the qualms, highs, and lows of her community members. She regards her community as “one with its own characters and personalities.” Likewise, I also live in a community filled with different interests and passions. I’m more willing to go out and explore on weeknights, while my community members are more likely to stay in. The differences we have in what we do with our time does not make one better or worse than the other. Rather, it meshes together as one large, dysfunctional functioning family.
I, as Sister Barbara would say, “would not want to live alone….for I would not be able to accomplish, for Christ, what I want to accomplish.” Though our communities are filled with different people of various generations and backgrounds, we all have the same formation- learning to imitate Christ by serving Him as St. Vincent and St. Louise envisioned the service of the poor. Sister Barbara says that “no matter where we go in the world, we find that Sisters will support each other in their life of serving the poor and in praying together.” I have learned that my community has made me stronger- in my faith, in my emotions, in the belief of myself and my abilities. We have had our ups and downs, but we are bonded by the respect we have for each other and the people we serve, as well as for our love of Christ. This bond keeps us together and holds us up. Sister Barbara and I and our communities are united by our common vision.
Left: My community attended the Religious Education Conference in Anaheim. It is the largest congregation of Catholics in America! It was a fantastic weekend of speakers, lectures, and prayers. Here we are outside the Anaheim Convention Center. Right: Of course, when you’re in Anaheim, you got to go to Disney! Here we are posing with Queen Elsa.
Serving the Poor
Sister Barbara served the poor in Taiwan for 42 years. She served refugee families fleeing communist China, people who lived in conditions of imprisonment, mistreatment and filth. She claims it as “the most powerful impact” on her life as a Daughter of Charity. “I would return home at night with the thought of those poor people living in such conditions where they were so helpless. I was so comfortable in my own room and among companions who were so accepting and solicitous of my needs. The helplessness of removing them from such a situation when compared to the life I lived, made me ask God how I was granted the life of such comfort and freedom from fear and abuse.”
This year, I am serving women and children afflicted by drug and alcohol abuse. These women have had traumatic backgrounds and have either been formerly incarcerated and/ or homeless. For them, returning home to a residence that is comfortable, accepting, and solicitous of their needs gives them hope. They no longer want to go back to the streets or the situation their lives were in before. It prompts me to ask God how I can help them build a life free from fear and abuse.
Both Sister Barbara and I are serving the poor. This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in monetary standards, but poor in spirit and faith. As Mother Teresa once said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being naked, hungry, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” The Daughters of Charity look forward to serving the very poor since their vocation and community is essentially for that purpose. As a Vincentian volunteer, I call on that same purpose as well. St. Vincent taught us that if we go to serve the poor ten times a day, we have served Jesus ten times a day because we should see Him in the poor.
I concluded my time with Sister Barbara by asking her what advice she would like to give me before we parted ways. She said:
As a young volunteer, you already have a sense of responsibility of helping less fortunate persons. I would advise you to continue that spirit and deepen this practice no matter where God leads you. See God in your spouse, your children, your co-workers, those who serve you at McDonalds or Walmart or carry your garbage away. Every one of those persons is Christ and how you treat them, you treat Christ. If you act in this way, you have begun to bring peace to yourself and to others and to the world…..I see God in you as a young person because you’re working to make this world a better place.
I see God in Sister Barbara as well because she has taught me how to live, laugh, love like a true Vincentian. We part ways for now, but we remain connected by the same heart.