Volunteering can be addictive – cleaning statues in Providence Park
The Week of Service started as collaboration between the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) as we jointly celebrated our 175th anniversary in 2015. The SMWC Alumni Board of Directors worked with the sisters on it that very first year. They loved it so much that it has now become a yearly tradition. In addition to local projects, alumni, family and friends are encouraged to participate in service in their communities across the globe, all to honor the legacy of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s life of service.
During my first Week of Service project, two years ago, a group of us cleaned the Fatima Shrine on The Avenue. We were so pleased with the transformation. After that I caught the “bug” and wanted to clean more things — so many beautiful spots on campus were showing signs of age. Decades of weather have been hard on them, but other than that, they were in great condition.
This first project started a domino effect -— like you see when you paint a room at home — it makes you realize that the carpet needs to be replaced, then the curtains, etc.! Ha! After we cleaned the Fatima Shrine, we drifted across the street to clean the walls of the sunken garden. Then we cleaned the steps of Le Fer. Then we cleaned the benches and flag pole base in front of the library. Next we cleaned the patio in front of Hulman Hall. They were all big projects, so they’ve spread out over the last two years.
Last summer as I was walking through Providence Park I noticed there were plenty of other beautiful statues that needed cleaning. I made a mental note to look into it. As Volunteer Coordinator for SMWC, I often work with Sister Rebecca (Becky) Keller, SP, who is the Volunteer Services Director for the Sisters of Providence. During this time Sister Becky and I struck up a working friendship. As I began organizing Week of Service projects for our local alums, I was reminded of my walk through Providence Park and the beautiful statues that needed some care. I asked Sister Becky if this year we could clean an outdoor statue.
Sister Becky did a little research and identified Mother of Divine Providence, the large statue of Mary and Jesus in Providence Park, as the one statue they would like cleaned. It is in a prominent location near the Log Cabin Chapel and Providence Hall. When I went to look at it, I was secretly concerned that we could not get it as clean as we’d like. It was really discolored. But I also secretly hoped that I could gather enough workers to clean not just that one statue, but also the other three in that same area.
Well, Providence provides! We had a great group of workers, the terrible weather forecast cleared up, and in five hours we cleaned not the one but four statues and a bit of the grounds around them. We knew most people could not work the whole five hours, so we told people to drop in and help for whatever amount of time they could.
Our crew consisted of Sister Mary Montgomery, SP, Sister Joni Luna, SP, Virginia Cheij (intern from the White Violet Center), Nancy Payonk, SMWC alum ’81 (my sister-in-law), Janet Payonk, mother of a current SMWC student (another sister-in-law, but not an alum) Richard Payonk, husband of an alum (me!) and father of a current SMWC student (our daughter graduated in May!), Jill Webb and her daughter Jia (Jill used to work in Linden Leaf Gift Shop and her daughter is my former student — that’s how I managed to recruit them as helpers), Barbara Brugnaux (SMWC alum and current Trustee of The College) and me!
My two sister-in-laws both traveled in for the project, one from Champaign and one from up near Wisconsin. Like Richard and I, they’ve now caught the “bug” and have an eye on what we can clean next. They would like to come back during the summer and clean another statue or two for the Sisters. It is tiring and messy work, but so rewarding! Once you see the difference you can make in just a few hours, you want to do it again. I would encourage others to join us on our next project. It is a skill that is quickly learned and can make a big impact. Several Sisters came out to visit while we worked and all were so pleased with the changes they saw. And we were so pleased that they were so pleased!