Fr. Allen: Reflections from the Crescent City
A number of alumni asked why I didn’t march with the Fairfield University Alumni contingent in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16.
Well, I do have a good excuse! That Saturday afternoon, I was flying back from New Orleans with one other Fairfield University employee and ten students. We had all spent our spring break working on various service projects in and around The Crescent City—so named for the curved shoreline of New Orleans along the Mississippi River.
This service trip was not my first Campus Ministry trip. I’ve built houses in Kentucky; worked with the people of Duran, Ecuador; and visited with the children of two orphanages not far from Managua, Nicaragua. Through each unique trip, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know wonderful students and, in Nicaragua this past fall, a most generous group of our Fairfield University alumni.
Each service trip has had its own special living situation. New Orleans was no different. After an easy flight and a half-hour drive (one of the reasons they bring me on these trips is that I am old enough to rent a car), the 12 of us arrived at Camp Restore. Very quickly, we found our bunkrooms and met some of the other 200 college students who had come from all parts of the U.S. to help the people of New Orleans continue the recovery work after Hurricane Katrina.
Camp Restore consists of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and its school complex located just north of the much-damaged Ninth Ward. I suspect that the Lutheran parish lost most of its parishioners to Hurricane Katrina, and since September 2006 has served as a staging area for high school and college students coming to assist the people of New Orleans.
The majority of the students were coming from Lutheran parishes and colleges in the mid-west, especially Missouri and Wisconsin. One evening we had a bratwurst and sauerkraut supper brought from Wisconsin. Other religious groups also participated, including a group of students from Iona College.
For each of the five work days we went to a different work location. One day was spent sorting Mardi Gras beads at a small warehouse in the city to sell and raise funds for developmentally disabled children. Working at Rescue Ranch, an organization established for horses abandoned after Katrina, was a lot more fun. The owner and founder, Lori Wilson, shared her passion for horses and for the message of the Gospel and left us all better for the experience.
Like every Campus Ministry service trip, we spent a good deal of time before the trip getting to know each other, and in New Orleans we took time at the end of each day to reflect on each day’s activities and its meaning in our lives. Just before a previous trip, one of the students said to me: “Father, you must be really excited about this trip.” My honest response was: “At my age, you don’t get excited about an awful lot. But what does excite me is watching you students get excited.” This trip was no different. To see the genuine enthusiasm, generosity, and optimism of our students truly does get me excited.
On our last two days, we worked at a nursery preparing trees for later planting in the bayou, and at the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society fair grounds, helping organizers to set up the annual Portuguese heritage celebration. Two Fairfield students from the cross country team challenged me to a foot race across the fair grounds. (Of course, I won—see the picture for proof.)
We had a few hours before our flight home on Saturday to spend in the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is always fascinating—and somewhat shocking—to our Christian sensibilities. Back in Fairfield the next day, I preached at St. Pius X Parish on the Gospel of the woman taken in adultery. I confessed to the parishioners that I had met her the day before in New Orleans.
I am so glad that spring has finally arrived on campus, and I am already thinking about where I would like to go during next year’s spring break. Hopefully it won’t keep me from being at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade!
Click here to read about all of this year’s spring break service trips.