High school students spend start of summer helping Oblate Sisters at Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, Md.
CHILDS, Md. — Eleven girls from St. Elizabeth High School spent the better part of a week recently disconnecting, for the most part, from their everyday lives and connecting with each other and the community at Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, Md.
The annual service project and retreat marked its third year in Childs after having been held in Ridgely, Md. Sister John Elizabeth Callaghan, an Oblate Sister of St. Francis de Sales and principal of Mount Aviat, said St. Elizabeth reached out to the Oblates offering their service, which the congregation was happy to accept. The girls and two teachers who accompanied them stayed at the sisters’ retreat facility in Galena, Md., about 40 minutes away.
“They’re willing to help with anything we need,” Sister John Elizabeth said. “We try to do some things locally for the Oblate Sisters, some things are an outreach to our community, and they’ll be supporting Elkton’s Immaculate Conception School’s outreach.”
The girls reorganized storage areas at the school, hosted a picnic for approximately 115 special-needs members of the community, and collected food for the outreach at nearby Immaculate Conception. The picnic included games with the guests, crafts, face-painting and a musical skit, which was new this year.
The students receive credit for service hours, but two rising seniors, Alexis Lee and Erin Sammler, said that was just a small factor in their decision to attend.
“It was a great way to help out and serve the sisters. They always need help, and we were glad to help,” Lee said.
“It’s also good for our Benedictine charism and hospitality,” Sammler added.
Robin Hayden, one of the teachers who attended, has been doing these service trips for as long as she’s been on the faculty, which stretches back more than 20 years. She never has any trouble finding girls who want to attend.
“It’s work, and it’s hard, but somehow doing it together and with the sisters, it’s not the same as working at home somehow. And as hokey as it sounds, we’re helping someone else,” she said.
“The sisters are very organized. They have the agenda set, and we just do whatever they tell us.”
Service was just one aspect of the four days. Each day began with morning prayers and included time for prayer and reflection throughout. The retreat house in Galena has no television and no Internet service, and the girls’ cell phones were off limits until late at night.
“Once the day gets going, the cell phones go away, and they don’t come out until late at night, so they’re going all day just kind of interacting with each other,” said Sister John Elizabeth, a St. Elizabeth High School graduate.
“Hopefully, each girl has some time for reflection, some time for prayer, and some time to interact and share with each other. So they’re growing in their faith and also in their commitment to others.”
Grace Rizzo, a rising senior, made her first summer service trip. She liked the morning and evening reflections.
“It’s good to have a routine. I don’t usually do that. A change of pace,” she said while cutting pineapples for the barbecue.
Her classmate, Abbey Thompson, concurred. “At the retreat house there’s a dock, and it was really nice to just sit out there and unwind from the busy everyday life.”
Lee added that she appreciated the opportunity the girls had to talk with each other. “Some of the girls I didn’t really talk to in school, I’ve learned a lot more about.”
A few of the sisters joined the girls for dinner the night of June 20, Hayden said. The students, who rarely encounter religious sisters, were a bit tentative at first, but by the end of the evening they were like old friends.
“This place is magical. We love the sisters here,” Hayden said.