You’re retired now, but your teaching career took you to some interesting places.
I started teaching in 1972 at a small district in Mercer that had never had a female physical education teacher or a female coach. It was a great place to start off. I taught there for five years, and then I went to Germany and taught for seven years with the Department of Defense school system. That was just an incredible experience for me.
Was faith a big part of your life growing up?
I was raised Methodist in a very, very religious family. We read a chapter of the Bible before a meal every day. We prayed together, we went to church and Sunday school. I just think that’s so important for families, if they can, to have their kids involved in the church early and grow up with those wonderful stories, building that faith. That background is an important piece of who I am.
What was it that drew you to Catholicism?
When I was in college in the late 1960s, at that time there was this concept called guitar Masses. I played guitar and sang at the Newman Center on campus even though I wasn’t Catholic, and I got to know some really wonderful priests. It’s a journey. It wasn’t until 1990 that I actually went through RCIA.
When did you first go to Africa?
I went for the first time in 2011 for what’s called an “encounter” during my formation as a Lay Salvatorian. I was visiting Tanzania to get to know all the Salvatorian ministries that are there; the American Salvatorians first went to Tanzania in the 1950s, and since that time they’ve built schools, churches, dispensaries and orphanages. They have many Africans who are sisters, priests and brothers. The Catholic Church is alive and strong over there, and I’ve been extremely inspired by it.
Was that when you first became aware of the crisis surrounding access to water for so many of these villages?
I watched people taking water out of a mud puddle, because that was their best water source. There was no water source close to their village, so they’re walking maybe three hours to get to this puddle, and it may be drained by other people by the time they get there, and they have to wait for water to seep back in. And it’s not good water — it can spread dysentery and cholera and other diseases like that.
In 2012, you started the Living Waters Project at your parish, which raises money to build wells in Tanzania through the Safe Water for Life and Dignity organization. You’ve raised more than $227,000 in 10 years. Did you ever think the initiative would take off like this?
No, I really didn’t, and I’m still shocked, but it just speaks to the generosity of our parishioners when they see a very valid charity where they know their money is going to be used appropriately. Every penny we give goes toward building a well. As a Salvatorian parish, we’re really known for justice and peace issues. So, to mention to people this issue, it really caught fire.
How does the process with SWLD work?
They have a long waiting list for villages that need water. A representative from the village sends a letter to SWLD, and then SWLD has a hydrologist come and find a viable water source and figure out how deep they have to dig. The wells are mostly hand-dug unless it’s rocky soil, and then they have to get a digger, which is more expensive. This year, it was our Lenten project at St. Pius, and we made more than $50,000, which will pay for 10 wells to be dug.
What is something you have learned throughout the years supporting these well projects?
One thing that’s really important is that it’s not about me. It’s about the generosity of the people at the parish and everyone who wants to help out, (and) the hard work of the people over there digging wells and making this work. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.