My Year as a St. Joseph Worker
The St. Joseph Worker Program is a year-long year of service program focusing on the tenants of Spirituality, Community, Justice and Leadership. Women ages 21-30 are invited to live a year in intentional community serving as ‘volunteer interns’ at local nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. The program was started by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, and has three additional satellite programs in Los Angeles, New York and Orange, CA; it receives funding and grants from the Ministries Foundation.
Ceara Curry completed her undergraduate degree at Nazareth College, in Rochester, New York and is about to graduate the St. Joseph Worker Program. She will be starting school at Boston College School of Theology/Ministry and getting her master’s in divinity in the Fall. She spent her year volunteering at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul doing campus ministry and choir work. She was also involved in starting a tutoring program called ‘Tutor Thy Neighbor’ in the Tasho Community, in South Minneapolis. We sat down at the Bad Waitress in South Minneapolis and reflected on her experiences, accomplishments and year.
Alyssa Howells: Tell me about your tutoring program. What’s it called? And how often do you do it?
Ceara Curry: Tutor Thy Neighbor is what it’s called, and it was started after an article in ‘Together’. Sister Agnes Foley and Fatima started the after-school tutoring program in Minneapolis for Somali kids living in the Tasho Community. Luanne Ty, who is my supervisor at Cretin-Derham Hall, showed me the article and knew I had an interest in inter-faith and intercultural dialogue and relations. I totally jumped on it and it was something I could start! Cretin-Derham Hall was looking for good after school programs and I thought to myself – what a perfect opportunity to start something up. I ended up bringing the students twice a month to do tutoring, mentoring, hanging out with the kids, they built relationships, got to know the Somali community and it was a really great experience. It’s so important for us to get to know our neighbors wherever they are – which was my goal and message to the students this year. Tutoring is so important but so are relationships and this was an opportunity to build relationships with the Somali community. I’m big on experiencing communities that we don’t get to regularly experience.
AH: When did you start the program?
CC: I started doing it in October and we ran all the way until May.
AH: How many kids were there per week or time?
CC: In order to keep a good ratio I tried to bring 6-9 Cretin-Derham Hall students per week and usually there were 10 total Tasho Community kids per week. It was a mix of kids from 5th to 11th grade.
AH: What was the hardest part?
CC: The hardest part was timing – getting to know what worked best. Getting used to what was best for each other timing wise and resources-wise and all of that. Otherwise running the program was so smooth – and great. It’s hard for me to say anything bad because it was just really, really good.
AH: What was your favorite part? Favorite memory or thing you did?
CC: In general, my favorite thing was seeing the awesome relationships the Cretin-Derham Hall students built there. They had their favorite kids to work with and knew each other well. Just hanging out and having fun, just seeing how much joy both parties got out of it.
“Seeing them grow, their commitment, involvement, seeing them being involved in other things at the school, seeing their gifts and talents used in other ways; it has been the biggest blessing to me to get to know these students and provide growing opportunities for them.”
AH: Did you always have the same Cretin-Derham Hall kids volunteering with you?
CC: I opened it up to the whole school – students and staff. It was a handful of 6-9 students that went many times during the year. I also had a core group of students that came almost every time.
AH: Do you think that might be something they continue to do next year?
CC: It’s something I’m hoping and was told they would continue; I did my best to make sure it does – making connections, putting together resources, I talked to other teachers at Cretin-Derham Hall and what that looks like without a St. Joseph Worker next year. They seem confident that it will keep going.
AH: What was your favorite part about working at Cretin-Derham Hall, other than the tutoring program?
CC: Other than ‘Tutor Thy Neighbor’, (my favorite parts were) related to the things I was involved with that allowed me to build relationships. The group of kids who tutored, we had a great relationship. Also, I led the Liturgical Choir, which was getting kids together to play music for mass. It was one of my biggest struggles at first – taking leadership with it and getting it going. But it was so rewarding at the end, there were so many talented students that were involved and another good group of students who stayed committed. The choir relationships I formed are great relationships that I really appreciate so much. Seeing them grow, their commitment, involvement, seeing them being involved in other things at the school, seeing their gifts and talents used in other ways; it has been the biggest blessing to me to get to know these students and provide growing opportunities for them.
AH: That’s so awesome you got to be involved with that. I don’t know much about the Cretin-Derham Hall placement site.
CC: Each year the St. Joseph Worker who works there gets to decide how they want to work there and it’s different every year, depending on what skills you bring. Me I feel like I was a different and unique case because I want to go into campus ministry and I had the music background, so I just went all in and did everything I could.
“Loving God and dear neighbor without distinction – I’m all about getting to love and know our neighbors without distinction, no matter who it is.”
AH: How did living in an intentional community go?
CC: (Living in community was) overall good, really good. There’s a uniqueness to our year because there were only 3 of us, so we did a lot of things together and got to know each other a lot. Overall, we got along well and got to do a lot of fun things together. Obviously living in community there are a lot of small challenges that come up through the year when it comes to cleaning, chores, what someone says, how it comes across; ultimately we get along really well. I’m so grateful to both of them and we love each other a lot. We’ve been able to support each other through a lot and been excited for each other about so many things. We were always laughing at something. The silliness is what brings us together the most. Just being able to have fun together and finding weird memes and videos, all the silliness and laughter were my favorite things about living in community.
AH: What was the most surprising thing you learned about living in community?
CC: I thought it’d be more challenging than it is. And maybe that’s not the right word? I had a picture of it in my head about what living in community would look like before this year, and it just isn’t like that at all. We lucked out that the three of us cliqued, with humor, etc…. The fact that we get along and are chill was really lucky. I had it in my mind that it’d be so much stricter, but it’s not – it’s so much more laid back and chill, we’re able to be ourselves and do fun things and do hard things together. It’s much more of a blessing than I thought it’d be.
AH: What do you think you’ll miss most about living in community?
CC: I think just missing them both (roommates and other two St. Joseph Workers). I love them – they’re both their unique selves and have quirks, joking and messing with each other – I love hanging out with small groups of people. I cherish relationships in all parts of my life and will miss them as people.
AH: How did you find the St. Joseph Worker Program?
CC: I have always said that I knew I wanted to do a year of service before I knew that doing a year of service was an option. I did a mission trip when I was sixteen and that’s where I fell in love with faith-based service. That’s where I became a “service trip junkie” – I tried to go on every opportunity to do service and learn more about people in marginalized communities. The St. Joseph Worker Program spoke to me for that reason – feeling connected to values I’ve been cultivating. Loving God and dear neighbor without distinction – I’m all about getting to love and know our neighbors without distinction, no matter who it is.
AH: Did you reach out directly to the program to apply?
CC: I made a spreadsheet (of all my options) and the St. Joseph Worker Program was at the top of a long list. I narrowed it down to the ones I applied to; the interview process and the St. Joseph Worker Program stood out the most because I had a strong connection to the Sisters’ charism and mission. The directors were very welcoming and hospitable and the fact that Cretin-Derham Hall was such an awesome placement site in the Twin Cities. Also the fact that you can take classes (at St. Catherine University)! It pulled me in. I knew I wanted to do graduate school and I thought what an awesome opportunity to take a class for free and really learn about what graduate school is like while I’m getting to do service. That’s another reason the St. Paul program versus California or New York stuck out to me. I wanted to go somewhere I didn’t know, and I don’t do well in heat! I’m a true-north kind of person. The Twin Cities I had heard nothing but good things about.
“There’s been many moments this year that I’ve been affirmed in ways I never have before and I feel so much more confident and a stronger woman going forward. I’m grateful for that.”
AH: What’s been your favorite part about living in Minnesota and the Twin Cities?
CC: I love how progressive it is, there are so many nonprofits and social justice minded people and there are so many opportunities to get involved. I was overwhelmed with the number of things I wanted to be involved with. The Native American community has been a passion of mine and I’ve always felt a connection there. Getting to know the community here and the fact that MN passed the ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force’ there are just so many people who are passionate about that and I love that. And that’s one of the many social justice areas that I’m passionate about. There is so much being done here to address and look at these issues and how we handle them/better them. I love how outdoorsy MN is and how environmentally conscious we are here. I love the bike paths, there’s a huge focus on environment more so than where I come from. The culture, the music scene – I’m really into music of all kinds – I went to a lot of concerts in the fall!
AH: What advice would you give to someone starting the St. Joseph Worker Program or living in community?
CC: I think just be open to the experience and all the opportunities. A year of service, the St. Joseph Worker Program especially, gives you so many opportunities to live and grow spiritually, professionally, personally and in the real world with the placement sites. Just go after as much as you can without getting too overwhelmed! There’s so much to offer and so much to gain. Be open to it all. There’s so much that lies before you. Growing in ways you never thought you would.
AH: Any other thoughts?
CC: I think one of the first, immense gratitude! What it’s done for me, the skills I’ve learned, the connections I’ve made the experiences I’ve had, the support I’ve gotten. Going through this it’s done so much for me. I just have a lot of immense gratitude. This program has allowed me to grow and be confident in who I am. There’s been many moments this year that I’ve been affirmed in ways I never have and I feel so much more confident and a stronger woman going forward. I’m grateful for that.
AH: It sounds like you had a great year! Thanks for sharing it with me.
CC: I did, no lie! It was a bomb year. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I want people to know these opportunities are out there.
[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity]