What brought you to the community of Riverwest in the first place?
The food pantry and the neighborhood were a big draw. I had been out of college for a few years, and I was discerning what to do. I did a missionary year in the Bronx, living in prayer and service to the poor, and it was a really transformative, compelling season for me. I came back to Wisconsin and had this itch of, “Why even go to another state to serve? Why not just dig in at home?” I just felt really drawn to this city. I was living on Brady Street and was attending St. Hedwig and met with the social justice minister and heard about the food pantry.
So the food pantry was really what brought you here to begin with.
Really, I moved into the neighborhood because I had met (Executive Director) Vincent Noth, and had volunteered at the food pantry and thought it was a beautiful opportunity to serve. Also, I had been reading way too much Dorothy Day. She really inspired me and challenged me a lot.
You helped to start the Mission House program at the pantry — what is that all about?
The Mission House is a year-long missionary service opportunity for young adults ages 21 to 26 years old. They come and live in community here in Riverwest, and they run aspects of our non-profit. Some of them are working at our farm growing and harvesting our food; some are working in operations at our food pantry; some are working in donor relations or our mentoring program. They have community living in a men’s and women’s house throughout the week, common prayer at Our Lady of Divine Providence, Eucharistic adoration and morning prayer, and they participate in weekly formation around social justice, prayer, community-building and spirituality. It’s a year of deep formation, but it’s also a year of learning a lot of non-profit skills and really coming to understand the needs of our inner city here in Milwaukee.
In 2019, you made what is known as “a perpetual vow of chastity for the sake of the kingdom.” Can you tell us a little more about what that vocation looks like in daily life?
It means that I’m married to the Lord, but I live that vocation in the lay state. I’m not attached to a particular religious community. It’s a private vow, but it’s made with the discernment of my spiritual director and the approval of my pastor. I just live a single life, for the Lord, in the world. I wear a ring, I have my personal prayer life that I follow — it’s just really so simple. It’s about just being faithful to Jesus and keeping my eyes on him.
Who is someone you admire?
My grandparents, Jack and Ruth Ann Smith. They just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary and they’re really incredible people who live a life of fidelity to their faith and their family, and to the poor and their communities.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Art is a real passion of mine; I love to see art, to go to the art museum. I have a small group of friends that I get together with monthly and we do art together. I love to hike, I love nature. Even just a run down by the river is great. I also really love to read; I’m in the Well-Read Mom Book Club, and I read a book a month at least. Then I have my nieces and nephews, my family, my godchildren — they’re big highlights in my life.
What do you want people to know about the community of the Riverwest Food Pantry?
There is so much to learn from them — there is a wealth of knowledge in the inner city. We have this phrase we repeat every single week: “No one is so well-off that they don’t have real needs, and no one is so poor that they don’t have a real gift to share.” When we remember that, solidarity is built, and that’s really what we’re striving for.
What advice do you have for people who want to live a life of service?
Find the poor in your life and build deeper relationships, especially in different parts of the city that maybe you’re not used to. It’s easy in today’s age to focus on the differences that divide us. We need to find that common humanity and common human dignity.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2022-23 Mission House Program. For more information, visit riverwestfoodpantry.org/mission-house.