The first batch of colorful cards filled with warm and encouraging messages arrived at the Motherhouse in late October, opening up a new and meaningful connection with the Sisters who are missing the hugs, visits, and in-person camaraderie of pre-pandemic life with our dear neighbors.
The special delivery was a surprise to everyone except Sister Sarah Crotty, Campus Outreach Coordinator, who connected this past fall with Alexis Weldon, whose son Patrick invited the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Baden to be one of nine sites to receive cards from “Art with Heart.” The two have been corresponding by mail ever since. Sister Sarah is overwhelmed with gratitude for Patrick’s desire to “bring a smile to the faces of the Sisters, and some joy” during this season of physical separation when prolonged isolation can take a toll on even the heartiest of spirits.
“Art with Heart” emerged following an unexpectedly free summer for 14-year-old Patrick of Monongahela whose basketball season was sidelined due to the pandemic. He wondered what he could do to help others in this COVID time of restriction. Together with his Mom, the two decided to volunteer with the local “Meals on Wheels” program, picking up a route that took them to 25 homes each week.
To add a personal touch and, he hoped, to show those who spend most of their days alone that they aren’t forgotten, Patrick decorated hand-made cards for each resident with cheerful messages expressing care and concern, delivering a new one each week with their meal. Much to his surprise during return visits, he began to see those cards displayed all over the residents’ homes. “Gee Mom,” Alexis remembers of his discovery, “they’re saving everything.”
“He was really touched by that,” she adds, and began to realize the impact these seemingly small acts of kindness could have on people’s lives. This revelation formed the genesis of the young man’s “Art with Heart” project which, to date, has produced nearly 800 homemade cards and drawings – made by K-8 grade students at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School in Upper St. Clair – to older residents in southwestern Pennsylvania, including our Sisters at the Motherhouse.
Hatching the plan from his virtual, at-home classroom, Patrick first enlisted his art teacher, Mrs. Messich, whom he’d never met in person but who was eager to support the project, and secured the blessing of the school’s principal, Ken Klase, who helped them rally the entire school to participate in the card drive.
As the cards arrived in the Motherhouse, Sister Sarah displayed them and included a note explaining the students’ kind gesture and offering thank-you cards for Sisters to send a personal note of gratitude. Her eyes bright with joy, Sister Nancy Hupert was glad to help, adding “what a wonderful thing to do.”
Many Sisters have joined her, writing back to the students to express their appreciation for being remembered. “Thank you for thinking of us!” writes Sister Fran Hurley, while Sister Jane Stephen Rosko shares a request, “I am writing this while it’s snowing out – you must send snow pics, please!”
There’s a good chance that’ll happen, according to Sister Sarah, who says Patrick has shown no signs of slowing down. Since the October packet arrived with a dozen pieces of art, a second batch of cards came just before Thanksgiving.
“We intend on periodically sending you packets,” Patrick wrote in his most recent letter to Sister Sarah. Already, he and his classmates have delivered 780 hand-made cards and artwork not only into the hands and hearts of our Sisters, but also to hospital patients, nursing home residents, a monastery, and other communities of women religious.
While Patrick’s family had no connection with the Sisters prior to “Art with Heart,” a new relationship has formed, thanks to Patrick who found our Sisters through an internet search. “He wanted to reach out to retired religious,” Alexis explains, appreciating their contributions to education and parish communities.
“I’m so glad he was able to do it,” she reflects, sharing that the students, too, were moved by the Sisters’ thoughtfulness when Patrick distributed the thank-you cards the Sisters had written. “It was amazing to see that maybe something good could come out of COVID.” Indeed it has, through the power of kindness and the gift of sharing it with others.