Roncalli Catholic graduate shares mission experience

For five months Samantha Lonergan traded warm showers and flushing toilets for the opportunity to serve people in New Delhi, India. 
She returned from India March 1, and shared trip highlights March 16 with 88 seniors in a course she once took, religion teacher Tim Mueting’s Catholic Social Teachings, at her alma mater, Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha.
“It was so much fun to immerse myself in their culture, speak their language and learn their ways,” Lonergan said. “The travel was fun, but I was definitely a volunteer.”
A year’s research and clarifying her own criteria led to travel with IVHQ, an international volunteer organization. “They aren’t faith-based, but they had the best health program. I wanted to help impoverished people … in a medical clinic,” said Lonergan, 23, who is applying to medical school after graduating last year with a chemistry degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Gwen Velasco, a senior and an immigrant from the Philippines, asked during one of Lonergan’s four classroom presentations how she could provide similar services for the Philippines. 
Lonergan beamed and quickly said: “It just takes one person to get it set up. You can find the organization you want to work with or try to do it yourself. If you build it, they will come.”
Lonergan said she was inspired by the work of St. Teresa of Kolkata, and cited a favorite quote from the saint: ‘“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed to do the humble work.’”
“Everything Mother Teresa did, she did with a great amount of love,” Lonergan said. “She just evoked Jesus through all her work, even when she wasn’t evangelizing. I just went in and tried to do my own take on it and did everything I could with all the love I could.”
During her classroom presentations, Lonergan also shared information about India’s religions, food, family life and culture. 
“Food and family are very important. Teatime is a staple. People were always offering chai tea, which is super yummy,” she said, flashing an infectious smile. “I felt so loved and welcomed. I always felt like I was part of the community. 
“I wasn’t treated that differently – well, a little different. When you’re tall, white and blonde, you stick out. A lot of people asked for pictures with me.”
She lived with one of the clinic’s doctors, his wife and twin 10-year-old sons. They were her family while away from her parents, Tim and Marilou, and six siblings, all members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha. 
“I worked in a tiny medical clinic. It was a little room that had a small backroom that served as a shrine to Vishnu and doubled as a community space,” she said. On an average day, she saw about 70 people for general physical examinations.
Because of limited resources, not all children attend school, and slow clinic days allowed her to interact with them, she said.
“We played tag. Did each other’s hair. Gave them glove balloons,” she said.
She created a GoFundMe page and raised $1,500, purchasing basic medications for the clinic and vitamin syrup, toiletries and small snacks for school visits.
“I did checkups at three different grade schools. Most (children) were malnourished. They really needed and appreciated it,” she said. “Those were the best days.”
Mueting said Lonergan’s presentation was a great opportunity for his students. She shared what living Catholic social teaching looks like, said Mueting, who also is director of religion curriculum and Christian service coordinator for Roncalli Catholic. 
Lonergan said she plans to continue volunteering wherever she can, and she encouraged the students to do the same. 
“It can be India, but it doesn’t have to be,” she said. “There are lots of opportunities right here.”
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