As plans for SERVE 2011 begin to take shape, I am brought back 20 years, to May and June 1991 when I myself was a participant in SERVE 1991. 1991 was a groundbreaking year for the program which continues today to welcome young adults from all across the country to participate in several weeks of community, prayer, and service with the goal of personal and spiritual growth, leadership, and fostering a heart of compassion for our brothers and sisters that we meet each day.
SERVE (Summer Endeavour in a Redemptorist Volunteer Experience) began in 1988, welcoming 12 young men for a six week period at Gerard House on Howland Avenue. The program went co-ed in 1991, welcoming 6 young men and 6 young women from across the country. This was a new experience of living community for both the participants and the Redemptorists who facilitated the program in partnership with our Lay Collaborators on Team.
Each one of us came from a different part of eastern Canada: Sudbury, Chatham, Windsor, Toronto, Sydney, Dunnville, St. John’s, Clarenville, Hamilton and Coburg.
Many things marked that journey of six weeks for us in a way that has left lasting impressions on us, and has become the fruit of many memories shared through casual reunions between “SERVE-ites” from over the years:
- a sense of welcome
- creativity through song and prayer
- sharing the burden of loss of family members
- supporting each other through life-changing journeys and engagements
- hearing that the Redemptorists wanted to dialogue with us young people to listen to us, to our needs, our questions and find in them a hopeful, respectful ear
- understanding that I can make a difference in someone’s life and knowing that through our encounters, they make a difference and impact my life
These are the seeds of building the Kingdom of God. As I look back on that 20 years later, I see how important that time was for each one of us, for our sense of self and for our hope to transform the world through one relationship at a time; through each encounter calling us to see Christ in the other, and Christ in ourself. 20 years later, and our world and our young people still hunger for this sense of belonging within the community of faith, and yearn to understand how they can make a difference through service and through working for justice. They yearn to be Christ’s hands and feet here on earth, to this broken world.
SERVE 1991 was (as one SERVE-ite said quite often) “a journey like no other”…. For me, it was a short experience that called forth in me a desire to serve, to evangelize and to be evangelized, to respond to that God-given gift of love shown to me and experienced each day in the community and at Providence Centre (which was my 6 week apostolate), and know that God was calling me to more.
As a priest, I’m often asked, “How did you know you wanted to be priest?”, or “Tell us about your vocation story?”. Well, my journey with the Redemptorists, just like several of us young Redemptorists, began with walking into the door of Gerard House on Howland to be a participant on SERVE. It has been that opportunity to listen, to share, and to challenge that voice of God speaking to my heart, guiding me in the direction of responding with the gift of my life through love of my brothers and sisters, to be that image of Christ’s Hands and Feet in our day to day life, and in the future wherever God has called me be.
SERVE 1991 was marked by joy, fun, tears, laughter, prayer, respect, compassion and gentleness. For almost 500 young adults, Redemptorists and Lay Collaborators, SERVE, over its 23 year span has continued to be a beacon of light in the life of the Church, and has been an inspiration to the SERVEites, to the people we have encountered at soup kitchens, nursing homes, drop in centres, schools, children’s programs, hospitals, treatment centres, and to the Redemptorists who each year welcome the opportunity to open our doors to the young people with whom we journey.
I leave you with some inside jokes, comments and phrases that marked our 1991 experience. Perhaps they ring true to your experience and journey of faith. Perhaps they ring true from when you were on SERVE yourself. At the bottom of the page, we invite you to share your favourite memory of your SERVE experience (even if it was from 23 years ago). Christ’s journey in our lives is timeless and priceless, and can always speak to generations, even when the Gospel is proclaimed anew!
Remembering SERVE 1991
- “La Look”
- Celebrating Graduation from Universities 2000 miles away
- “A journey like no other”
- Diana Ross impersonations
- Hey Ducky!
- “Let me see you buggalo”
- Killer Ken, the Busdriver to St. Louis for Dialogue 1991
- 9 hour bus break down on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor – and crashing at Assumption!
- Fr. Laso, Superior General – an inspiration to all in his time
- St. Alphonsus, “The Rock” Church in St. Louis. This is too “rock’n” to be a Catholic Church?!?
- Scott Mission, Our Place, Providence Centre, Sick Kids Hospital, L’Arche Daybreak and St. Francis Table
- Ena, our house cook – Chocolate Chip Cookies!
- Nights at the Brunie!
- Weaving the Loom of our Life
- Spending the night at Holy Redeemer College, Windsor
- Late nights on the roof
- “Be my gift O Lord, be what I have to give”
- “Friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them”
- Mississippi River Boat Cruise during Dialogue 1991
- Kleenex stock went up as a result of Thursday Nights!
- “Can we ever get a good picture without someone making a face!?!!?”
- Thunder storms, lightning and flooding from horizontal rain – what a mess!
- Surviving the heat of summer
- “Ain’t no mountain high enough”
- Homemade Rosaries
- Cosmo and Damian – our plants in the front garden
If you participated in SERVE over the last 23 years in either Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon or Sudbury, and you would like to extend best wishes and greetings to this year’s participants, send your letter by email to: email@example.com , and we would be happy to send it along when SERVE takes place!
SERVE is taking place in Toronto: April 30 – June 4, 2011 for five weeks.
The Team consists of myself and Sr. Maureen Baldwin CND. We are welcoming 8 participants to Redeemer House this year, 4 men and 4 women! We look forward to five wonderful weeks.
In the Redeemer,
Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R.
SERVE 1991 participant and Coordinator of SERVE 2011
(Also SERVE Team 1997 and 2010)