Call to be less 'selfish' prompts woman to serve in Rwanda

Heather Quinlan Courtesy of Heather Quinlan CNA US Catholic News 7 30 13 Courtesy of Heather Quinlan.

Thirty-year-old Heather Quinlan will soon be leaving her home in California to spend a year in Rwanda serving as a mentor and English teacher at a Catholic boarding school for girls ages 11 to 19.

"It seemed like a suitable time … in the last four years I had wrestled so much with my vocation – I spent a couple years praying about the consecrated life and a couple years discerning a relationship, so for four years I felt just so focused on myself," she told CNA July 29.

Quinlan will be at the School of Our Lady of Providence of Karubanda as a missionary with Fidesco, a Catholic organization of the Emmanuel Community which provides volunteers to assist in developing countries.

"My prayers were about my life, my thoughts were about my life, and so when I was thinking about Fidesco I thought, man, it would be so good … to stop thinking about myself, and go someplace where people need so much love and are in so much need, that my prayers revolve around them."

"So I look forward to that, to stop being selfish, and to just live for these others," she said.

The Karubanda school houses 600 girls and is located in Butare, a cathedral city of some 77,000 people in southern Rwanda.

The school's current Fidesco volunteer has been there primarily to teach English, but would be "swarmed" by the schoolgirls who would "ask her about class, but also just life questions," Quinlan said.

"You can imagine all these teenagers, their parents can come visit the last Sunday of the month, so there's not a lot of parental interaction in-person … so these children have questions."

The kids were so eager for advice about their lives that the current volunteer said "we need someone who can come and have her own designated space or office, and all of the girls can come and talk to her about all of their questions, all these things they're wrestling with," Quinlan explained.

"So that's going to be me."

"I'll be present to the girls, play sports with them, take them on hikes in the little forest on the property. Through those interactions, I'll talk about life with them, and faith. So those are the two things I've been told – a mentor and an English teacher."

Quinlan leaves next week for six days of Fidesco training in France, and has already had considerable missionary experience to help prepare her for her year in Rwanda. She has served as a campus minister at a university and as an evangelization director for a parish in Minneapolis, Minn.

She also spent a year in the Emmanuel School of Mission, a program of evangelization in Rome that also included shorter missions to Ireland, the Netherlands, and Lisbon, Portugal.

Quinlan is a member of the Emmanuel Community, a public association of the faithful will three pillars, Adoration, compassion, and evangelization. She described Fidesco as the community's "compassion" or "humanitarian" branch. It was founded in 1981 after a group of African bishops requested missionaries of the Emmanuel Community who would bring both professional skills and a "good Christian witness" to their countries.

"I always thought I would do Fidesco," Quinlan said, explaining that she had long been intrigued by the Peace Corps, and thought "this is a Catholic Peace Corps!" when she learned of the organization.

More immediately, Quinlan read in December "Kisses from Katie," which recounts the experience of another young woman who taught school in Uganda for a year.

"I thought, 'Jesus is literally starving to death in other countries, and he's abandoned,' and my heart really went out, especially to the children … So, I decided I wanted to do something."

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"I just wanted to care for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor."

She said the words of Pope Francis, "go to the fringes," are exciting for her, "as I leave the comfort of my home, and just go, where things are radically different … just to be available to meet them there."

"I put that link together in my mind: I'm going to do this year of service to the poor, and Pope Francis is the Pope, and he's talking about that … go, go and be with the poor."

Quinlan explained that "Fidesco is really insistent that people do not choose their mission (location). They find people can face the difficulties of the mission better, if the mission has been given to them."

So when she applied and went to an interview weekend, she was given two weeks to say yes or no to a year of service with Fidesco. Without knowing where she might be going.

"I thought Fidesco wasn't for me," she said, because during the interview weekend it was explained that the group is more about "service with love" than evangelization.

"And I thought 'aw, I want to evangelize … how could I not?'"

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She was made another offer of missionary work in which she'd be giving her testimony, "talking about the Lord every single day."

"I could just be talking about Jesus all the time," Quinlan said. And yet faced with this opportunity for evangelization, "I wanted to go serve the poor."

"So I ended up choosing Fidesco, trusting that the Lord knows the desires of my heart, so he's not going to give me a mission project that's just completely boring for me or doesn't fit me."

Quinlan said she was confirmed in her trust when she learned she was going to Rwanda to work at a school, since "I really wanted to work with children" because of reading "Kisses from Katie."

Fidesco volunteers receive a stipend that allows them to live "moderately but justly." The organization provides half of the stipend, and the volunteers must fundraise the remaining half.

To learn more about Quinlan and support her in her mission work please visit:

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