In prayer and in action

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in July. The 8:30 a.m. Mass at Holy Name was just letting out and families were gathering in the back of the church, greeted by pastor Father Jay Maddock and happily making plans for how to spend the rest of this glorious day. 

I’m sure many were planning to spend the day at the beach or at a picnic. Some were no doubt headed for a hearty breakfast or to wrestle with the Sunday paper. But not 14-year-old Isabella Moniz. She was headed into the back of the gym at Holy Name School. Her Sunday was not dedicated to rest nor relaxation. She was preparing for the final day of organizing, sorting and coordinating the hundreds of backpacks that she and her collaborators had gathered on behalf of children living in the shelters of her hometown. 

Isabella is a force for good. She possesses the poise and confident can-do attitude of a much older person. When asked why this project became her personal mission, she reflectively mentioned the example of her parents and teachers. “I was always taught to help out. When you see a problem, find a solution,” she said. When the members of the Leaders in Training at Holy Name were given the opportunity to visit the homeless shelters nearby their school, Isabella seized upon a problem and worked tirelessly to bring about a solution. She realized that so many children would not have easy access to “back to school” supplies because of the circumstances of their lives. Chaos and poverty can be cruel to young minds. Isabella thought that one way to ease the burden for young people would be to provide a ready made backpack filled with all the essential supplies needed to start the school year off right.

She found a willing partner in an organization called School on Wheels which is located locally in East Bridgewater. The mission of School on Wheels of Massachusetts is to educate children impacted by homelessness by providing academic support and one-on-one mentoring so children can reach their full potential. When they learned about Isabella’s drive to address the homeless children in Fall River they quickly partnered with her. Her goal was to provide 250 fully-loaded backpacks for the children in shelters in Fall River. School on Wheels provided 147 and Isabella set out to secure the rest.

What prompts a young girl to care so much about other young people? According to her grandparents, Darlene and David Gagnon, Isabella has possessed this characteristic since she was a young child: “She was always the type that would literally give you the shirt off her back.” 

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Isabella’s parents echoed that sentiment: “ She is always a natural leader. When she was little she held court and was always comfortable around adults.” 

Given her parents’ example, (they pray the Rosary each evening and Mr. Moniz begins each day listening to the Rosary on the radio for a half-hour before beginning his day a plumber) it is obvious that much of Isabella’s motivation comes from her faith. She and her brother and sister, Ezra and Gretta, have attended Holy Name since kindergarten. Next year Isabella goes off to Bishop Connolly High School. Her plan is to continue her mission of service to homeless youth and extend her outreach to the Connolly community as well.

Isabella said she was inspired by the theme of this year’s Catholic Charities Appeal, “Whatsoever you do.” “I thought about it and decided my answer to that challenge would be this drive,” she said.

In this issue we announce the monetary results of the 2017 Catholic Charities Appeal. We have much to be grateful for as for the third year in a row we set a new record of generosity for the social ministries of the diocese. We are sincerely grateful for each and every gift. On that Sunday morning however, I was struck by the power of one young girl and her singular contribution and service.

As I looked around the gym that Sunday morning I was struck by her faith and her determination to do good. Everywhere I looked were stacks of notebooks, binders, pens, markers, erasers and glue sticks. Hundreds of backpacks some stuffed and some waiting to be stuffed, carefully organized by grade levels and attended to by family and friends, each hard at work, completing the tasks and ensuring the vision of one 14-year-old with an indomitable spirit, a will of steel and a generous, kind and loving heart. I thought of all the youngsters, strangers to her but cared for nonetheless, who would benefit from her selflessness. I thought of Jesus’ exhortation to act with love to neighbor and stranger alike. 

I thought of the remarkable alchemy of family, teachers and priests that instill the values of service and responsibility in our youth. Whatsoever you do, indeed.

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts