One of the early mission teams from Marshfield Columbus Catholic High School on their trip to Peru.
Reaching out to our Casa Hogar family
As both a high school and intermediate school Spanish teacher, I try very hard to inspire all of my students to use their Spanish and to open their hearts and eyes to the beauty of God’s world. I have speakers come to our classes and we take “DVD field trips,” but my favorite part of teaching is when I take my older students traveling in the “real world.” I used to travel with them to Mexico, Spain and Guatemala, but in 2014, God changed the path of my teaching career in a very special way by introducing me to Father Joseph Walijewski. I learned about Father Joe and the history of Casa Hogar. The more I learned about this very special priest and all the loving work that he put into ministering to the poorest of the poor in Peru, the more I felt God leading me and my students to Peru.
Inspired by Father Joe and encouraged by Monsignor Hirsch, I led a group of 20 Columbus Catholic High School students and adults to Casa Hogar in 2014. Before the first morning was over, I was asking to sign up for a second trip in 2016. This August, we will make our third mission trip there, and plans for 2020 are already in the works. But why? What is it that happens inside of those loving walls that is so beneficial for the children of Peru, my students and the Marshfield community?
Father Joe wanted to be a priest from an early age, a priest who would provide families for children who did not have families. Through Casa Hogar, he has done that. The children learn to live in a family environment, they have plenty of food and education and they are nurtured in their faith. Faith and family go hand-in-hand. Father Joe told the children they are “pencils in the hand of God.” My students would like to follow in his footsteps and help to provide for the children at Casa Hogar through our faith, friendship, good works and donations.
Our goal originally was to go to Casa Hogar to do whatever work they wanted us to do, as well as to bring donations that were needed. We also wanted to play with the children and practice our Spanish. We thought that we were going to “give” to the children. We did not fully realize that in “giving,” we were also going to be “receiving.” We played with the children, talked with them and became friends with them. In our evening group meetings, we wondered, “How can they be so happy when they have so little … when their lives are so hard?” But, as the days passed, we started to understand; it’s not what you own that brings you true happiness, but what you have in your heart. Each year, I hear one of my students say, “I wish I was that happy.” As we learn to be “the pencil” in God’s hand and to let Him lead us, everyone benefits.
With each mission team, we work hard for two years to earn the money for our trip. We host Spanish camps, language camps, bake sales and brat sales, plus make and sell piñatas. We also earn money to buy things from Casa’s wish list. Each year, it seems to be easier to earn the money we need, because we share our experiences with all who will listen. God is at work in the hearts of many, encouraging them to help us to be able to go to Casa Hogar and help the children. This year, every bake sale was a “sellout.” Recently, one person bought a $25 piñata, but wrote us a check for $150. One church group made 500 rosaries for us to take to Casa Hogar, and also gave us a $100 check to help pay for the extra baggage full of donations. As we share our experiences, we are weaving a bond between the children, ourselves and our community. We are becoming a family.
We did not fully realize that in ‘giving,’ we were also going to be ‘receiving.’
My older students are able to travel and to do all the work projects, but my younger students are a part of the mission experience, too. My older students shoveled dirt off a steep mountain road for 14 hours, have painted playground equipment and did lots of yard work. They put on plays and hosted field and craft days. They also carried heavy suitcases full of donations all the way to Peru. But my younger students are the ones who build the Mountain of Shoes of Friendship in the middle of my classroom each year. This year, they collected 407 pairs of new and gently used shoes. They also helped to donate many “birthday gifts” for the “Birthday Closet” at Casa Hogar. They are doing their part to help the children that they hope to meet some day. Seventeen of our suitcases were filled with the help of my younger students.
So to go back to the original question, “What is it that happens within those loving walls that is so beneficial for the children of Peru, my students and Marshfield?”: On both sides of the loving, giving relationship, there is a growth of faith and a realization that no matter how few or how many “things” we have, if we have faith, family and fellowship with good friends, we can and will be happy. When I watch my students interacting with the children from Casa Hogar, I see the love of God alive and well in their smiling faces, as well as in their tears and in their prayers as they separate and go forward in life. Truly, God has blessed the loving hearts that founded Casa Hogar, as well as those that continue the faith journey there. We are blessed to be a part of it.
By Deb Kennedy, Marshfield Columbus Catholic Schools