A few months before my high school graduation, Tía Quina and her daughter presented mom with “the opportunity” to enroll me in “a worthwhile summer program.” Their parish priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe had provided applications for the Latin American Mission Program (LAMP) that Bishop Hastrich from Madison, WI had founded a couple of years before to provide services to communities in northern Mexico.
Mom had already given permission for me to spend June with my great-aunt’s family in California, so why not do LAMP with Carmen in July? If mom agreed, the experience would be shared, they said. But even a naïve green bean like me could read between the lines: Carmen was years older and way more responsible than me, but she didn’t want to “go alone.” So my great-aunt wasn’t really asking. I was going, and that was that.
Imagine our collective surprise when our letters of acceptance listed Palmillas as Carmen’s assignment and Matamoros as mine!
Bishop Hastrich placed us minors— recent high school graduates and/or seminarians mostly from the Madison, WI area and me from Brownsville— with adult volunteers— parents, grandparents, and other specialized workers— and encouraged our service within the downtown area of a Mexican city along the U.S. border while young adults, like Carmen, served with older adults in rural areas hours away.
I never heard about Carmen’s LAMP experience, but mine was very positive. Except for a couple of kids who were part of a family of volunteers, Kathy Ganser and I were the youngest teens; but age was a nonfactor. Everyone was respectful, got along well, and quickly became fast friends.Living at Don Bosco’s was eventful. Sometimes water pressure was so low that we’d wait a good long while to rinse the shampoo out of our hair. And clothes washed the day before didn’t always dry on time, so we sped up the process by ironing them in the morning. Our late-night antics in the school courtyard most likely drove the Sisters nutz, but they were gracious hostesses nonetheless. Maybe they thought us silly? They certainly laughed a lot when they treated us to a day at the beach. They even left their head coverings at home! Did they remember us after we left? I wonder.
At the seminary Father Mata always smiled when he spoke to us girls. One time after Mass he gently suggested that, when the time came that a boy caught our eye, we should “fall in love with the person’s eyes because they’re the windows of the soul, they never lie, and they never grow old.” We giggled, of course, but what did we know?
And Bishop Hastrich? He was so down to earth that he hated for anyone to kiss his ring. He was approachable, inclusive, genuine, and kind. He enjoyed the group’s after-dinner presentations on the seminary rooftop and valued guests and volunteers alike.
Longing to reconnect
After we returned home, many of us corresponded until life’s realities took hold and we lost track of each other. Still, our collective friendship with Carmelo— good-natured, mischievous, all-around good buddy-seminarian— transcended time, distance, and lack of communication. His synergy flowed not just between LAMP in Wisconsin and both the seminary and Casa San Martin in Matamoros, but within us too.
As years passed I longed to reconnect with Carmelo. I wanted to hear about his life post-LAMP and learn about our friends. Only I didn’t know how to reach him… until I serendipitously discovered the discolored envelope on which he’d written his address decades before when he’d unexpectedly visited mom’s house one afternoon.
Past, present, future
Without even realizing it, Carmelo was key to solving the mystery of the missing puzzle piece. Corresponding with him helped me unlock the part of myself that I’d been clueless about for too long, the part that longed to connect— only I hadn’t known to what. Yet the experience was an emotional double-edged sword: Finding Carmelo (June 2012) led to Pat (July 2013) and to Sheila, Tom, and others at LAMP’s fiftieth anniversary reunion (April 2014); losing Carmelo (June 2014) stunned me to tearful sentiment but led Kathy back to us at his memorial service (September 2014).
Prayers from the LAMP handbook
For the spread of the gospel… God our father, you will all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of your truth. Send workers into your great harvest that the gospel may be preached to every creature [so that] your people, gathered together by the word of life and strengthened by the power of the sacraments, may advance in the way of salvation and love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
From the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe… God of power and mercy, you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. May her prayers help all men and women to accept each other as brothers and sisters. Through your justice present in our hearts may your peace reign in the world.
Thanks to Kathy Ganser Shea (in the first photo below with brother Dennis, left, and friend Jack Freeman) for taking a camera on mission. She not only saved the photos but also wrote the names on the backs! Simply amazing for those of us who were there and remember some of the names but not the faces. Great job, Kathy!
The middle photo of Carmelo is from Kathy’s stash; the other two, Kathy’s and/or Pat’s.
Links of interest… Bishop Hastrich… Bishop O’Connor Center (BOC)… Coping with grief & loss (five stages / more / seven emotional states)… LAMP: 40th year serving in Mexico / 50 years / 50th anniversary… Liguori Mission House… Queen of the Americas Guild (more)… Sinsinawa Dominicans (directions – Mound Center)… St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish…
© Deli Lanoux, Ed.D. and Shared thoughts…, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deli Lanoux, Ed.D. and Shared thoughts… with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.