Monday, September 5, 2011


Joe Huddleston, [21], Kai Lawrence [17] and Liam Smith [17] were the three young men among a group of sixteen young  English men and women who spent two weeks in the Crescent City a part of the Ursuline Links 2011 program.  Young people connected to Ursuline Sisters ministries in England came to the United States to work in service programs on the West Coast, the Mid-West and in New Orleans. The Ursuline volunteers in NOLA worked with the St. Bernard Project, gutting and rebuilding houses for the poor.  That's Joe Huddleston in the background with the beard (which soon vanished in the 100+ degree heat, and Kai Lawrence in the front holding the trash bag.

The young men stayed with the Brothers' volunteer community, while the young women stayed with the Sisters at convents on Valence and Nashville  Streets.

Joe, Kai and Liam used the three volunteer rooms on the third floor and had breakfast and packed lunches during the weekdays with us before heading off to join the distaff members of the group.

Liam Smith, pictured at left, celebrated his 17th birthday while with the program.  That morning, we noted the occasion with due solemnity.  How often does a young Englishman turn 17 while living with Irish Christian Brothers in New Orleans, Louisiana, while working with Ursuline Sisters and other volunteers helping rebuild housing while enduring heat that never was experienced in the British Isles.

Liam is a rugby player; he reminded the Brothers that while not unlike football, it came first and rugby players are not as comfortably padded as American football players.Point taken--especially since you can see he had a height advantage.

The Ursuline Links program was developed by Sr. Kathleen Colmer, OSU who lives in London and is coordinated in New Orleans by Sr. Regina Marie Fronmuller, OSU an art teacher and vocation recruiter for the community.  The connection with the Christian Brothers came about when Sr. Kathleen was visiting New Orleans some time ago and met the late Br. Joe Fragala at Cafe Reconcile.  He arranged for the Volunteer Community to house the young men and so it happened the August after his death when we housed the first four young men: Michael Jakob. Daniel Anglin, Ryan Dench, and Scott Williams.
That is Sr. Kathleen Colmer, OSU on the left, and Sr. Regina Marie Fronmuller, OSU on the right, sitting on the roots of a great oak.

While here the students and the Sisters worked together on a two different projects.  As noted previously, they worked during an unusually hot spell, but still got to know the people of New Orleans and to let go of stereotypes and false images.

Sr. Kathleen Colmer, OSU and Liam Smith (shoveling).  Good exercise for a rugby player?

The majority of the workers were young women from Ursuline schools who came and participated in the rebuilding projects.

Can you pick out Sr. Kathleen Colmer, OSU, Liam Smith, Sr. Regina Marie, Kai Lawrence--and who is the man behind the sunglasses?  This photo  was the Ursuline Links group with a local man--wearing #9--who has a Katrina Museum.

Liam takes Sr. Regina Marie's  measure?
Kai "mudding"

Joe in a tight spot.      

The volunteers also spent an evening at the home of Moon and Verna Landrieu.  He was the Mayor who first accomplished integration at City Hall and served in the administration of President Carter.  His son is now the Mayor, his daughter a Senator in Washington, DC.  After high school, Verna Landrieu entered the Ursuline Sisters, but soon left to marry Moon; however she has remained close to the Sisters and invited the volunteers , and the Brothers community to dinner.  Picture follows!

Moon Landrieu is standing beside Br. Bob and Br. John, Verna is beside Br. Charles.

On the last Friday of the two week visit, Molly Sherry and Allison Maraldo returned so the Volunteer community could host the Ursuline group for dinner, reflection and dessert.

The reflection invited the group to pair up and listen to each other speak of their experience of service during the previous weeks.  The motto of all Ursuline schools is "SERVIAM", I will serve.  The reflections from all, the young and not so young were moving and beautifully expressed.  The two weeks moved the volunteers, their companions and those of us who witnessed the  power of the Spirit who transforms us in service.

The it was on to dessert--bread pudding and Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla flavored ice cream.  Even our most discriminating guests relished the ice cream.

A different experience of religious community life.  Note the ice cream at the ready.  Goes nice with the rug!
John and Charles survey the scene.  Hey, if nothing else, we could cater parties!
 During the evening we had the group portrait of the community and our three "younger brothers."

Joe Huddleston, Br. John, Liam Smith, Br. Charles, Br. Bob and Kai Lawrence     
On the Sunday before the men left we went to Mass together at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans East where the Gospel choir and warm reception were quite moving and that evening the young men cooked us all dinner:  "bangers and mash" using New Orleans Cajun sausage, sweet and Idaho potatoes for the mash and a gravy made with red wine.  Joe was the chef and the meal was outstanding.  We had a relaxed evening and felt like we had been a community for some time. It was certainly a highlight for the Brothers.

Over the two weeks, our guests shared many of their initial impressions with us; it is interesting to hear what they thought before they came and how their ideas changed!  They were surprised that we knew all about the Royal Wedding.  And then when they arrived there was no austere, cold stone monastery, no monks in sandals and grey hooded robes.  Their comments included: "Everything is so big; Americans have a sweet tooth; but Raisin Bran is great, Special K with Red Berries is good; and Oreos are not too sweet--they are just right."  (Pity the Brothers who usually had raisin bran or Special K for breakfast.  The fellas ate great quantities of food.  I mean great quantities--and left as skinny as they came.)  The young men liked jambalaya and po-boys , and discovered one can drink the water.  And they loved the swamp tour--especially the up close and personal view of an alligator.  The following was taken from their boat.

You look marvelous--lean over the side a bit more--I need a snack--love English food!
Ursulines, alligators and an English  invasion.  We look forward to next year and are hoping one of the men from each year comes to spend a year as a volunteer next year!   

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