Catholic Mission Works To "Make Glad The Hearts Of Children" On Christmas Morning
As we pause to reflect on the upcoming holiday season amidst a world torn by war and economic strife, it is, perhaps, fitting to remember the words of the late missionary, Amy Carmichael. Carmichael, who was a famous Irish Christian missionary and founder of an orphanage and a mission in India, said, "You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving."
Never have the words from half a world away felt so close to home as they do at St. Stephen Catholic Mission and Salvation Army in McConnellsburg. At the local mission, sisters Margie Monahan and Martha Burbulla have undertaken a labor of love that is large enough to intimidate a team of workers let alone two women who are making it their mission to "make our children happy on Christmas morning and to show them love and care from their community."
In that spirit of Christmas, the two women will be distributing more than 1,800 gifts to more than 600 children before the holiday.
This year marks the 18th year of the mssion's gift-giving program, but it's a little different this year. What started out 18 years ago, as a program for about 50 children has, this year, grown to a project for more than 600 children.
Although in recent years, the mission has served about 300 children, this year Fulton County Services for Children, its advisory board and the local Xi Eta Lambda Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi sorority asked the mission to take over a Christmas for Kids program that had been run by the agency and its partners for more than 30 years.
According to Jean Snyder, Fulton County Services for Children director, "The Christmas project had just become too big for our agency to handle and still maintain effective day-to-day operations within the agency. We just didn't have enough staff to do it, so we asked Sister Margie if there was any way she could help. She said "yes" without hesitation and took on our nearly 300 children normally served and graciously added them to her 300. It has turned out to be a win-win situation for all involved, but especially for our county's children and families during these tough economic times."
In return for the favor, Snyder asked previous Services for Children donors to give to the mission, and board members, Girl Scouts and sorority members have also offered their assistance with gift-wrapping to the mission.
According to Sister Margie, the mission has an application process for the gifts that includes the children's wish lists and the rest of it she attributes to the generosity of our county's communities. She talks of the many churches and businesses that have taken names promising to fulfill the child's wish list - names going to JLG employees and names taken by or monetary donations given by the local Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran churches, Rock Hill Mennonite, St. Stephen parish, the Altoona Johnstown Diocese and other parishes within the Diocese, employees of the federal prison at Loretto, Pa., St. Joseph's College alumni in Connecticut and the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in State College, the county's schools, teachers and kids as well as businesses and individuals.
Rather than looking at the additional names as simply more work, Sister Margie said, "So many blessings have come to us from this - the outpouring of support has truly been edifying." She went on to say that "in these bad economic times when parents are unable to do all they would like to do for their children, we could not have done this without the help of so many. God is working through so many people here and we are so thankful."
The mission and Salvation Army's work has also been more difficult this year because, with the closing of Bi-Lo, there is nowhere for the Salvation Army's volunteers to ring the bell for the annual kettle drive. It is the annual kettle drive that funds the work done in the following year and although there is still a fundraising drive for the local chapter, without the volunteer bell-ringers, the funding has decreased significantly, which will likely impact next year's services.
For now, as one might expect, gift-wrapping continues at the Catholic Mission. According to Sister Margie and Sister Martha, the gifts will be distributed on December 22 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on December 23 from 9 a.m. to noon.
In the meantime, it is long days and nights for St. Stephen's sisters Martha and Margie, but when acknowledged for their hard work, Sister Margie says quietly, "This is not our work, it's God's work." But then, isn't that what Amy Carmichael meant in the words she spoke from her mission half a world away all those years ago?