Living, serving with SOLT community is eye-opening experience for young adults

Bernadette Re and Sr. MaryRose Feeley, SOLT, work together as campus ministers at Holy Redeemer School in southwest Detroit. Re is one of four volunteers who serve alongside the SOLT priests, brothers and sisters and Most Holy Redeemer Parish and School as part of the SOLT Missionary Volunteer Program, which invites young adults to give a year or more of their time, where they collaborate in work, prayer and fellowship. This is Re's second year as a missionary volunteer. (Photos by Karla Dorweiler | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Missionary volunteers devote a year of their lives or more to work alongside Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Detroit

Editor’s note: The Catholic Services Appeal is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Detroit. It funds and supports more than 100 ministries that serve the local Church in southeast Michigan, including Detroit Catholic. Visit www.givecsa.org to support the mission by making a gift today. We are grateful for your generous support and for your prayers.

DETROIT — It’s a warm May afternoon, and the halls of Holy Redeemer School in southwest Detroit are abuzz with end-of-the-school-year excitement. Third-graders crowd around teacher’s aide Sarah Niekamp to ask about her upcoming birthday.

In the moment, one might have a hard time deciding who was having more fun: Niekamp or the boys and girls around her.

A year and a half ago, Niekamp never imagined she’d be living in Detroit and working as a teacher’s aide. She attended a small college in Ohio and graduated in the spring of 2023 with a degree in graphic design. During her last semester, she had felt called to pursue something more meaningful for her life upon graduation than the design job she’d pictured before.

Niekamp entered three words into her search bar online: "Catholic volunteer programs." The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, or SOLT, caught her eye. The Texas-based religious community is comprised of "ecclesial family teams" of priests, consecrated brothers and sisters, and laity who serve the Church in a variety of ways. In Detroit, a team of about 20 serve at Most Holy Redeemer Parish and School.

Sarah Niekamp volunteers as a teacher’s aide for the third-grade class at Holy Redeemer School. She is one of four young women on the SOLT missionary volunteer team for Detroit.
Sarah Niekamp volunteers as a teacher’s aide for the third-grade class at Holy Redeemer School. She is one of four young women on the SOLT missionary volunteer team for Detroit.

The SOLT Missionary Volunteer Program invites young people to consider a year or more volunteering with the SOLT community at one of their missions in Mexico, Belize or the United States. Volunteers live together in community and join the SOLT sisters, priests and brothers for a daily holy hour and Liturgy of the Hours as well as weekly meals and activities.

The program is open to men and women ages 22 to 35.

Niekamp liked the idea of serving at a Catholic school in Detroit and living with other missionary volunteers. Her mother is a teacher, and she also liked the idea of structured prayer time, beginning with a 6 a.m. holy hour.

“While I had those opportunities at home, I was coming out of college and I wanted good life habits to form," Niekamp said. "I knew this would help me to do that and help me develop good friendships and connections in my faith.”

Bernadette Re, 24, was also drawn to the community aspect and prayer life that comes with being a SOLT missionary volunteer. In 2022, she was part of the first group of volunteers to serve in Detroit at Holy Redeemer School.

Re teaches middle school religion and serves in the school’s campus ministry with Sr. MaryRose Feeley, SOLT.

Left to right, Brianna Moreland, Sarah Niekamp, Claire McElroy and Bernadette Re serve as SOLT missionary volunteers at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Detroit.
Left to right, Brianna Moreland, Sarah Niekamp, Claire McElroy and Bernadette Re serve as SOLT missionary volunteers at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Detroit.

Helping to start a mission sounded exciting to Re; the uncertainty and need for flexibility that comes with starting something new would give her an opportunity to surrender her own expectations to God’s will, she said.

“I had my own ideas of what I wanted — to strengthen my prayer life, and to give God space to tell me what’s next — and He has done all of that, but so much more,” Re said. “I didn’t know how much I’d enjoy the community aspect or how much I’d learn about love.”

Sr. Feeley said having enthusiastic volunteers such as Re and Niekamp allows the SOLT community to do so much more for the students, families and individuals at Holy Redeemer.

“It’s a blessing for the students to see examples of young people who are excited about the faith," Sr. Feeley said. "For the teachers, the volunteers bless them (by) drawing out their own enthusiasm for God’s love. For those of us on the SOLT team, it’s encouraging to see other like-minded people in the school and to know we’re on the same team helping our students.”

Sr. Kateri Marie Burbee, SOLT, is the principal of Holy Redeemer's K-8 school and oversees the missionary volunteers. Sr. Burbee herself served as a volunteer in 2003 at SOLT’s North Dakota mission.

“These women are so amazing, and I am so proud of them,” Sr. Burbee said. “It’s a time when they’re establishing good habits of prayer as Catholic adults while also having a job — in this case, volunteering at school until 4 p.m. every day — and living in the real world.”

Brianna Moreland reads a book to preschoolers at Holy Redeemer School. Moreland is a preschool aide and assists with the school's Healthcare Career Club for middle schoolers.
Brianna Moreland reads a book to preschoolers at Holy Redeemer School. Moreland is a preschool aide and assists with the school's Healthcare Career Club for middle schoolers.

Brianna Moreland applied to the SOLT Missionary Volunteer Program to challenge herself in a way she wasn’t challenged in college. As she looked for a volunteer opportunity that would utilize her Spanish skills, she was drawn to the SOLT program for its emphasis on prayer and the Catholic life.

Moreland serves as a preschool aide and helps run the Healthcare Careers Club for Holy Redeemer’s middle school. As her missionary year draws to a close and she applies to continue her education by pursuing a master's degree in counseling, she feels a sense of peace.

“God worked in ways I wasn’t expecting. He’s shown me that in any situation that He invites us into, there will be challenges, but He is going to work through them with us,” Moreland said. “I have lots of peace there. The routine of prayer and going back to the basics has transformed the way I see in the world.”

Sr. Burbee says the SOLT volunteer program aims to be transformative for participants, and it almost never falls short. The information packet for new missionaries states three main goals: “Be flexible. Be joyful. Be prayerful.”

For Clarie McElroy, being a SOLT missionary volunteer helped her embrace all three objectives. She grew up in Alaska and hadn’t heard of the community until she attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in 2022 as a young adult chaperone. She learned about the Missionary Volunteer Program and signed up to be one of the first volunteers in Detroit.

Men and women in the SOLT Missionary Volunteer Program commit to a year of service, but many continue for a second year or longer. From there, some pursue additional education, while others are called to vocations of married or single life, and still others join religious communities. McElroy will enter the SOLT community as an aspirant this fall.

McElroy said it's been inspiring to see how the religious community's priests, brothers and sisters seamlessly integrate with lay volunteers to bring out the best in the community.

Claire McElroy works with a student in her sixth-grade class. McElroy obtained an education degree from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks before coming to Michigan and serving as one of the first SOLT missionaries to serve in Detroit. She plans to enter the SOLT aspirancy program.
Claire McElroy works with a student in her sixth-grade class. McElroy obtained an education degree from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks before coming to Michigan and serving as one of the first SOLT missionaries to serve in Detroit. She plans to enter the SOLT aspirancy program.

“I love SOLT and the ecclesial family teams. Seeing their joy and how well they work together shows how God created us to have different vocations and we’re all supposed to bring other people to heaven through that," McElroy said. "They can reach everyone with laity, sisters, brothers and priests.”

For the four volunteers interviewed by Detroit Catholic, the SOLT missionary life wasn't without its challenges. The 6 a.m. holy hours were difficult at first.

“The early morning routine wasn’t easy, but I’ve seen God turn all the challenges into joys. They were blessings in disguise, and they’ve changed my life in a great way,” McElroy said.

In a world in which young adults and recent college graduates are judged by the job they land or their starting salary, SOLT missionary volunteers use a different standard to measure a good life.

“In college, it’s easy to get caught up in achievements like GPA or an internship that defines you, and then you think that’s why you’re lovable — because of what you do," Re said. "That’s often true even if you know God is love and He loves you. But here on mission, the other women, the students, the religious have all loved me for who I am. Mission shows you how to love and be loved. And that’s now what I desire to do in my life — to pour out God’s love — rather than to do something that the world says I should do.”

Instead of worrying about what comes next, SOLT volunteers learn to be present where God has placed them and to trust He will lead them forward. Re will most likely stay in Detroit to assist Sr. Burbee with the Missionary Volunteer Program.

For others such as Niekamp, their time living and serving in the community has been transformational and they seek to build the next chapter of their lives.

“My relationship with God has grown so much while I’ve been a missionary," Niekamp said. "And now I know I want that for my whole life, not just while I’m here and not only by going to Mass on Sunday.”

SOLT Missionary Volunteer Program

To learn more and inquire, visit https://solt.net/volunteer.



Share:
Print


Vocations AOD-CSA: June Article Bottom
Menu
Home
Subscribe
Search