Certainly not as well-known as the one “by the Sea” as the movie title goes, this Manchester is a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Just a bit from the city center sits St. Ann Mission, the only Catholic presence in Clay County. To this place three cars of volunteers travelled from Northern Kentucky. There to greet us was Sr. Alice Marie Schmersal, a Sister of Divine Providence who is the pastoral administrator of the mission. The volunteers were two CDP sisters, Sr. Theresa Falkenstein and Sr. Lynn Stenken, two NKU students, Malia and Rachel, and Rachel’s family – her parents, sisters, brothers and her brother’s fiancée! All of us came with sleeves rolled up and ready to work.
Work wasn’t the first item on Sr. Alice’s agenda when we arrived that Friday. She introduced us to the area and pointed out various agencies that help those in need. We saw Dismas House, founded to help those leaving the correctional institutions – 3 in Clay County – and we visited Heart and Soul Pregnancy Center to learn about its important work. Then it was business!
Tools were unpacked; suggested parish projects were examined and a plan of action for the next day was proposed…and adopted. Friday evening was a mixture of fixing dinner together, praying for God’s blessings on our work and playing Ping-Pong, Pit, Life and other board games the family had thought to bring.
No sleepy heads on Saturday! The day began with prayer and was then filled with repairs to tackle, jobs to be done, cleaning to be accomplished in this small mission parish. Amazingly, the 11 of us along with Sr. Alice crossed off everything on the list by 4 PM. Then we climbed the mountain behind the house. That was no easy feat but great fun! After dinner Sr. Alice led us in a guided imagery experience, the first for most of us. Although the day had been full, there was still energy for game-playing again! The laughter and screeching of winners and losers was heard around the mountain!
Sunday morning began with Mass in the newly cleaned church and a wonderful breakfast followed, organized by the small parish. We visited with parishioners until it was time to pack up and head for Northern Kentucky. Unlike Manchester-by-the Sea, a depressing story of hopelessness, Manchester-in-the-Mountains was a service experience filled with love and joy!
It was a great way to partner in the wonderful ministry of a committed Sister of Divine Providence, to learn a bit more about the CDPs, and to receive the hospitality and friendliness of the mountain people.