Living among the comforts that most Americans take for granted — running water, heat, electricity, automobiles, clean clothing and fresh food, it’s difficult toimagine that in living without these things, one might sense a deeper presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, and feel more at home than anyplace else.
For Racine resident, LeAnn Rogan, member of St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie, the warm feeling of home within the La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic enveloped her so deeply that she returned three years later, and she has plans to continue.
“On our first trip in July, 2008, my daughter McKenna and I shared a room in (a woman named) Olivia’s home in the poor village of Ganadero,” she said. “Olivia (Beltre) became our mother for the week, mi madre por la semana y en Cristo por siempre (…and in Christ, forever). She made her income by butchering animals in her yard and selling the meat to her neighbors.”
In spring 2011, wishing to reunite with her La Sagrada friends, Rogan joined the Archdiocesan Lenten Pilgrimage, sponsored by World Mission Ministries, for her second immersion experience. On the return trip, she stayed with a family in Sebana Yegua, near the parish rectory and home of Fr. Marti Colom.
“Morena was my host,” explained Rogan. “Her husband, their two children and one niece gave up a bedroom for me. Their modest home was quite comfortable and had running water. This was a great privilege we did not have in Ganadero three years earlier.”
The idea to travel to the Dominican Republic came from McKenna, then 14, who, after learning of previous trips by several St. Anne parishioners, wanted to go. Although Rogan wanted her daughter to experience the mission trip, she was uncomfortable allowing her to travel without her. The mother
and daughter decided to experience the Dominican Republic during the summer.
St. Anne Parish has a twinning relationship with its sister parish, La Sagrada Familia. The eight-member St. Anne team travels at least once per year to visit La Sagrada Familia, and works to educate parishioners and involve them in prayer and support. Before the eight-day trip, Rogan and McKenna learned about the relationship which is in its 32nd year.
“Living with the poor is not easy. I was especially mindful that my 14-year-old daughter might find it especially challenging to live without a working shower. I found it useful to think of the immersion experience as a little like camping and figured I could do without a real bathroom for a few days. One really appreciates warm, running water after a mission trip,” she explained. “Almost immediately though, I fell in love with the people. I felt such a deep, warm and overwhelming love for the Dominicans that I found myself ‘verklempt’ (a Yiddish term for choked up, or close to tears) much of the time.”
Throughout each immersion experience, Rogan integrated her life with those of area residents, making friends, building relationships, and learning the culture. She visited a jail, schools, nutrition centers, a clinic, various villages and homes, farms and churches. As she lived, ate and prayed alongside the families, the conveniences of home faded.
“We read books to children, served them meals, sat under the shade of trees with the aged, listened at a town hall meeting, went to Mass many times, fed pigeons, sang songs, brought bleach to the prison during the Cholera outbreak after Haiti’s earthquake, played in the ocean and on the beach with the children,” she said. “We loved. We hugged. We kissed. We held one another. We loved.”
Because of her 16 days in the Dominican Republic, Rogan has life-long friends who live a half a world away. The most rewarding aspect of the experiences was the opportunity to see the face of Christ in the people who have become very dear to her, she said.
“When they hurt, I hurt; when they are full of joy, my heart overflows,” she said, adding, “If one fully enters into a mission experience, one cannot help but be transformed in some way. Though I value the abundance of fresh, clean water we have here, I cannot say that I now use it in a miserly way, or that I’ve sold all my belongings and can now do without. What I can say is that I have witnessed an example from my Dominican friends of how to be happy while living with less, and this is a valuable lesson I am grateful for.”
A former teacher, now a stay-at-home mom, Rogan has served as a catechist for the past 31 years. She began at 15 by serving St. Joseph Parish, Grafton, and for the past 10 years, teaching the 3- and 4-year-olds at St. Anne in a Montessori-based program called “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.”
She and her husband Mark have been married for 20 years and have two children — McKenna, now 18, and a student at Washington University in St. Louis, and Adam,17, a junior at St. Catherine High School, Racine.
Being part of the immersion experience is something Rogan hopes to continue.
“There is something extremely beautiful about the universal church, knowing that we are all part of that mystical Body of Christ,” she explained. “I have been his legs, and walked where he wanted me to go, and I will go again where he leads me, to be his hands and serve, to be his heart and love.”