This essay is the work of Sandy Piwko, the AMA Director and Vocations Promoter for the U.S. Province. In it, she shares a little bit about why she loves her job. She calls it “Sister with a Small S” – and that’s just how the Sisters of the U.S. Province think about her! Sandy has made 16 Vineyard Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Assumption Center (and headquarters of both AMA-USA and the vocation office) a beehive of activity, fun, prayer, and work.
This month marks five years that I have been the U.S. Director of Volunteer Ministry and Vocation Promotion. Many wonderful encounters here in Worcester and internationally have led me to make new friends of all ages and ethnicities; I have witnessed first-hand how God’s love is shared through our AMA volunteers, lay friends, and of course our beloved Assumption Sisters. They have welcomed me and my family with open arms, and their support and prayers have sustained us in many ways. I consider myself a “sister” in my heart and I hope they feel the same.
Six years ago, after having worked for my parish as the Director of Religious Education for 12 years, I was feeling a nudge to something else when I saw the Assumption job posting. With a new Master’s Degree from Boston College and a thesis on vocational discernment, I thought to myself, “I could do that job.” I knew I enjoyed working with young people and the dual role intrigued me too.
Before applying, I did my research on the Assumption. In the process, I discovered a young Frenchwoman who was committed to her Church, faith, and her mission to raise the lives of women and young girls to transform society through education and prayer. What a goal! I was impressed that at age 22 she wasn’t dissuaded by Church hierarchy and stayed the course to have the Assumption Rule approved.
Words from SME, "Each of us has a mission on earth. It is simply a question of seeking how God can use us to make His Gospel known and live," made me feel that I’d found a spiritual friend, and someone who had to be attractive to the young. During the Bicentennial Pilgrimage to France in 2017, I saw how right I was. In those ten days I witnessed over and over again the acceptance of the “other” beyond borders and politics. Something different was indeed possible, and it was the Assumption that provided the push to make it happen.
My dual role with the Assumption is not only unique within the congregation but also in the larger world of volunteer programs and vocation promotion. Accompanying AMAs and being in tune with their views on faith and spirituality informs my work with our vocation team -- FAST (Future Assumption Sisters Team). This group, with members from all the communities, works to stay up to date on the roads young adults are taking in the Church.
Of course, I work with individual inquirers about religious life in the Assumption, and I co-manage the vocations page on our website and our Facebook pages (Province and AMA) with Sr. Mary Ann. In addition, I attend area meetings of the National Religious Vocation Conference. NRVC offers many assets for our use, but for me, the best one is its members. Thanks to its broad network from across the country, I can exchange with and learn from other directors about their ministry of walking with discerners. Currently, I serve as the co-coordinator of NRVC Region I (New England), one of twelve U.S. regional groups.
And then there’s being the AMA director. I begin recruiting in the fall and early spring for volunteers. Before the pandemic, I usually attended about five college fairs in person and two virtual ones. But for the last two years recruiting has mostly been through the virtual platform REMO.
Doing things virtually can have its benefits. A few weeks ago,for example, I planned a virtual informational session with four AMA alums. I advertised it on our Facebook page and sent it to the campus ministry offices many Catholic universities. I felt immense pride and joy as I listened to our alums sharing their experiences of AMA. Each had such conviction about the benefit of a service year. They were passionate about how those special moments spent with the Sisters and those they encountered in their ministries impacted their lives then and today. They reminded me once again why this part of my job gives me such a great sense of purpose: I am witnessing God’s Kingdom being built, one AMA at a time!
The Assumption’s AMA directors have quarterly check-ins via Zoom. We catch up on what is new with our volunteers and our volunteer sites. These directors, a mix of Sisters and laypeople, have become my friends and are a great support in my ministry. One of our projects was to update our international program listings, and the new JCvivit team is continuing to expand our director circle with worldwide Zoom gatherings. These are exciting times for AMA!
When the pandemic hit, we had to find new ways to stay connected with people. We sponsored virtual Lectio Divina programs during Advent and Lent and started a book group with past AMA volunteers; meanwhile our FAST team now meets once a month via Zoom rather than twice a year in person. Happily, when the weather became warmer and Covid got slower, we could also gather outside for much-needed personal contact.
It seems that the Assumption theme has been running through my life for a long time. My family and I have belonged to St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Milford, MA for over 35 years, and my husband Paul is a professor at Assumption University. Right from the beginning, Paul and I felt very welcomed by the Sisters and their friends and they have become an integral part of our lives. Witnessing their love of and dedication to the people in their communities, I feel blessed and full of joy to play a part in their – our -- mission. May the spirit of Saint Marie Eugenie continue to prosper here in the U.S. and throughout the wider congregation!