Helping Sisters a family tradition for gala planners

Mary Sullivan, left, organizer of the Sisters, Servants of Mary fundraising gala, jokes with Sister Leticia Rodriguez, center, and Sister Sylvena Tetuh at a past event at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.
Mary Sullivan, left, organizer of the Sisters, Servants of Mary fundraising gala, jokes with Sister Leticia Rodriguez, center, and Sister Sylvena Tetuh at a past event at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

by Jessica Langdon

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Paul Barrett doesn’t recall a time when the Sisters, Servants of Mary didn’t hold a part of his heart.
Barrett, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, spent countless hours growing up helping alongside the rest of his family at fundraising festivals to support the Sisters.
He was struck by their personalities and love.
As an adult, he witnessed the special peace the Sisters brought to his family when they sat with his parents and other relatives as they were dying, carrying out their order’s charism of caring for the sick and dying in their homes.
“There’s a sense of calm and peace when the Sisters are there,” said Barrett. “The way they help you through that process — the grieving process — made a difference for us.”
He and a group of others have worked tirelessly to make a difference in the Sisters’ lives and work by planning the Serving from the Heart Gala for them.
This year’s gala will be held Oct. 4 at its traditional site: Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

‘Be inspired’

The invitation to the biennial event encourages attendees to “prepare to be inspired,” and that inspiration starts with the committee members themselves, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Some, like Barrett, have known the Sisters their whole lives or have experienced the Sisters’ ministry within their own families.
Others came to know and love the Sisters mainly by working with the committee over the past seven years.
All of its members pour countless hours into their efforts — and many help plan other events, as well, such as the annual spaghetti dinner that coincides with Super Bowl Sunday and a golf tournament in June.
“It’s almost like they each bring their light — and you’re not going to snuff it out,” said co-chairwoman Mary Sullivan, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Leawood. “They’re going to continue to help the Sisters.”
Sullivan and John Bartolac, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, landed on the idea of the gala during a conversation about a different way to help the Sisters.
The gala promotes vocations to this order, shares the Sisters’ story, and helps to support their mission in the Greater Kansas City area.
The Sisters can use the proceeds for whatever they need — whether it’s a repair on their 100-year-old motherhouse or a reliable vehicle to get the Sisters to their patients’ homes.

‘The work of God’

Just as the Sisters’ work inspires the efforts of the committee, the Sisters note with deep appreciation every bit of work this group does for them.

“It’s very humbling to see them working so hard and giving all their time and dedication,” said Mother Superior Sister Alicia Hermosillo.

She has been particularly touched by video testimonies from some of the volunteers whose own families have experienced the Sisters’ presence as a loved one was dying.

Through the Sisters, the testimonies explain, they experience God’s presence.

“It’s all the work of God. God is the one who does all the beautiful work,” said Mother Alicia.

She sees the moment of death as the moment of “presenting that soul to God”  — a beautiful time of religious mystery.

Sullivan witnessed exactly that a few years ago when a young nun held the hand of her mother-in-law as the family prayed the rosary around her.

“I felt that she literally took her hand and turned her over to God,” said Sullivan.

When her neighbor Nancy Chop’s husband Tony became ill, she asked the Sisters to pray for him.

Tony underwent surgery and had a good year afterward, and the couple even attended the first Serving from the Heart Gala.

They thought he would be OK. But Tony’s health later took a turn for the worse, and the Sisters stayed with him and Nancy at night near the end.

Tony, a graduate of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, was Catholic. Although Nancy isn’t, she is devoted to the Sisters, Servants of Mary and their mission.

So devoted, in fact, that she has been happy to work with the committee on the gala and help with other needs.

“You might be tired when you come to the meeting, but you get fired up. You know you’re going to be helping these wonderful angels — servants is what they are,” she said. “You just get a feeling when you’re with these people that they want to help so much. That’s just so contagious to me.”

The Sisters’ work also inspires Kim White, a parishioner of Church of the Nativity.

When her mother, Marcella Dean, was dying 18 years ago, the Sisters, Servants of Mary cared for her.

White still remembers the message one shared about entering the pain from the perspective of the passion of the cross — offering up the pain for the people her mother could help.

“They are the face of Christ,” said White of the Sisters. “The holiest moments of our life are when we come into the world and when we leave the world.”

‘The star is Jesus’

White is always touched by the Sisters’ desire to lend a hand at the events that benefit them.

But at this one, organizers want them to allow people to serve them and to visit with them.

People literally cheer when they walk in — which both tickles and embarrasses the Sisters.

“It is very humbling when we come in — because we are not the star,” said Mother Alicia. “The star is Jesus.”

In recent weeks, volunteers have been speaking at Masses at area parishes in order to share the Sisters’ story, promote the gala, and sell raffle tickets.

When Barrett’s 11-year-old daughter Abby asked to take her turn speaking on behalf of the Sisters, Barrett was not surprised.

“She knows how important the Sisters are,” said Barrett. “She’s been exposed to them.

“And how do you not love the Sisters?”

Help the Sisters

Learn more about the Serving from the Heart Gala dinner and auction — which will be held on Oct. 4 at Church of the

Ascension in Overland Park — and how you can help with this and other events by visiting the website at: www.serving

The RSVP deadline is Sept. 24.

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