When Emily Dykman met with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of La Crosse, Wis., to ask how they’d like to celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week 2016, their answer was unequivocal: They wanted to do a service project to help locals in need.
It was quintessential Franciscan, Emily mused: why throw themselves a party when they could serve others?
The women set to planning a special service project under the leadership of Emily Dykman, who is an associate professor of religious studies at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., and coordinates Viterbo’s SisterStory oral-history project chronicling the life stories of the nearby Franciscan sisters.
Specifically, Emily and the Franciscans aimed to design an event that all the sisters, including the older ones who are not mobile, could attend. They decided to involve three groups: the Franciscan sisters, Viterbo students and local grade-school kids. The idea was the sisters and students will invite the neighborhood kids to participate in some kind of art project, like handcrafted cards, which will be given to La Crosse’s homeless and homebound.
“The kids in this community are highly served,” Emily explained. “There are a lot of people coming to their school to help them, which is great. But the sisters felt it was important for these kids to be empowered to serve others and to discover the joy in that.”
A National Catholic Sisters Week mini-grant would make it all possible, funding their art supplies and feeding the participants. Emily was grateful to hear from NCSW Co-Executive Director Molly Hazelton that they’d been awarded a grant.
“It was really exciting!” Emily said. Now she’s busy planning the event, which is slated for March 16, right after Viterbo’s spring break. She’s tapping into long-standing relationships with the neighborhood elementary schools and the Boys & Girls Club of La Crosse in order to cast a wide net. She’s also collaborating with Catholic Charities of La Crosse, who will help distribute the kids’ projects.
“This project was organized in order to not only celebrate the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, whose presence has been a constant in this neighborhood since 1871,” Emily wrote in her grant application, “but to offer an opportunity to do what the sisters do best: build relationships.”