By Maureen Smith
PHILADELPHIA — When members of the Catholic Student Association at the University of Southern Mississippi decided to spend spring break doing service in Philadelphia, Miss., they my have imagined delivering food, rebuilding houses or doing repairs. After all, last year, they repaired a house used by Holy Rosary Indian Mission for rummage sale items. But this year, their service was different. They learned about the ministries of presence and witness.
“We felt like we did good work, but we didn’t get to experience the community,” said Jamason Wallace, one of the student leaders. This year, instead of manual labor, the students got to work on projects that allowed them to meet the people in the community and learn about Choctaw culture. The group also doubled in size from this year to last. Eleven students made the trip this year. They stayed in the former convent on the grounds of Holy Rosary.
The college students spent two nights leading reflections for youth at two parishes, Holy Rosary and Kosciusko St. Therese. “We basically had a theme of ‘to know, to love and to serve,’ which is the first thing in the Catholic Catechism,” explained Jeremy Tripp, one of the student leaders. “Three people prepared talks on each of those themes.”
Jennifer Aronault said she did an equal amount of teaching and learning. “I talked about different ways we can love God, but I also got feedback from the kids,” she said. “We talked about some ways to love God that were not the usual answers,” she added.
The group also helped out at a local Boys and Girls Club where, again, they found themselves learning as they served. “The kids taught us about (Choctaw) dancing,” said Wallace.
The following day, Tuesday, March 14, they gathered at the Choctaw Elder Activities Center in Philadelphia to see Choctaw social dancing in action. A group of dancers from around the area presented several dances – pulling the students out of their seats to join in the fun. When the dancing ended, the dancers introduced themselves and talked about what they do. Some work with the tribe to teach the Choctaw language in local schools, keeping the culture alive for another generation. Others are retired so they dance at events across the region.
A local group of pow-wow drummers followed the dancers. Five men, from teenagers to retirees, share one large drum and sing songs together in deep, powerful voices. As one of them explained, God, whom they call the Creator, gave people joy in the form of song and dance so they feel called to share this tradition. This group also travels to perform for dances, weddings and other community events.
Father Bob Goodyear, ST, hosted the students last year and again this year. He was thrilled to share his love for Choctaw culture with them. “They are learning about the ministry of presence,” he said of this year’s activities. “When they talk to the kids, they are a powerful witness to faith,” he added. Father Goodyear has spent decades ministering to Mississippi’s Choctaw tribe, even writing a Mass in the Choctaw language and advocating to have Choctaw recognized by colleges and universities as a primary language for incoming students.
Kathryn Sckiets, senior and Jackson native, said she wanted to do something adventurous this spring break. “And I wanted to learn something about the cultures in my own back yard while growing in faith with some great people,” she added.