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Connecting the Rich to the Poor

May 23, 2011

By Sarah G., Mercy Volunteer Corps member

While superficially, Catherine McAuley and I don’t have much in common, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy is a major role model in my life right now.

I am a nurse working in a tropical country for two years. She devoted her life to working with the poor in Ireland. But for these two years with Mercy Volunteer Corps, she is an inspiration, confidant and friend.

I especially thought of her when a wealthy Guyanese man required a nurse to travel with him to London, England, for hospitalization. It was a quickly planned trip, and my U.S. passport gave me the freedom to travel around the world more easily than a Guyanese nurse could have. Within 24 hours of being asked to go, our journey was underway. In the rush of the departure, I wondered how I would adhere to the guidelines I’d committed to as a Mercy Volunteer: community, spirituality, service, and simplicity.

I had come to Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, to serve the poor. Many Guyanese don’t even have money for basic healthcare in their own country. Now, I was in the service of a wealthy man, a man who could afford to fly himself and nurse first class across an ocean for better healthcare. As I sat in my first-class seat being offered champagne, a hot towel and decadent desserts, I asked myself a familiar question: “What would Catherine McAuley have done?”

I reflected on Catherine McAuley’s life. Orphaned at a vulnerable time for a young woman, she made the best of her situation. Within a few years, she was living with and working for a wealthy couple. Over the years she built a close relationship with the Callaghans and eventually inherited their fortune. She did not squander the blessing, but used the money to help others. She founded a center that provided services for women and children. The Baggot Street center was in an affluent area of town, and the wealthy people there could not avoid seeing the impoverished people that came to Catherine’s center. She once said that it was our responsibility to “connect the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and the skilled to the uninstructed, the influential to those of no consequence, and the powerful to the weak to do the work of God on earth.”

These words helped me to understand the responsibility of my situation. Sometimes serving the poor isn’t exactly serving the soup at the soup kitchen. Sometimes it is making a connection with a local grocer to get soup ingredients donated.

On my trip I found myself gushing about the works of the Mercy community in Guyana. I spoke excitedly about the boys from St John Bosco Orphanage who would spend Christmas in our home. More than once, I defended the Guyanese nurses and healthcare system. Through sharing my experience as a Mercy Volunteer with my wealthy patient and his family, they were connected to my service and the Guyanese poor. By telling them my stories, they reciprocated by sharing stories with me. My patient is very charitable and generous with the blessings he has received. Who knows? The Mercy community may continue to be blessed by this man and his family’s generosity.

Turning Catherine’s words into actions felt natural. I had come to Guyana to serve the poor, and there was a way to do that through helping this wealthy man. The fee for serving as a last-minute traveling nurse was more than I expected. This money could do so much good for my employer, St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Guyana, which is still picking up the pieces after suffering a catastrophic fire. In donating my nursing fee to rebuilding Mercy Hospital, I can connect my patient’s wealth to the poor of Guyana who cannot afford to be medically evacuated to a better healthcare system.

This was a win-win-win scenario. The patient made it to the London hospital safely. I traveled to London and experienced many blessings there. Mercy Hospital received a donation toward continuing its work and service to the Guyanese people. This is what Catherine McAuley meant when she spoke of “connecting the rich to the poor.”

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