Volunteer’s Life of Service Leads to Life of Faith

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Most Ignatian Volunteers come to IVC seeking to live their faith through service. But Lucy Howell came to IVC to find her faith amid her service.

Howell had always volunteered — PTA, classroom parent, Cub Scouts, community organizations, church. Her service eventually led her to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the Phoenix area, where she first encountered the people who would become the focus of her service for the next two decades: immigrants and refugees.

It was through her relationships with immigrants that she began a personal journey for a deeper faith life, which brought her to IVC in San Diego five years ago.

“For me it was a gradual recognition before I became aware of IVC — personal experience lived through the stories of families coming to St Vincent de Paul in Phoenix for help, dealing with the devastating result of deportation, family separation and loss of income,” Howell says.

Lucy Howell, a member of IVC San Diego, discusses the humanitarian assistance provided by the Kino Border Initiative in the Mexico-Arizona border in an interview with Cronkite News.. View the clip here.

She discovered that many of those who sought help from  St. Vincent de Paul’s were families whose primary breadwinners had been deported, leaving them with no support. As she came to understand the issues around immigration, she helped establish the Society’s Voice of the Poor Committee, which advocates on the behalf of those living in poverty, including immigrants.

During a visit to Washington in 2009 with Voice of the Poor, she met Fr. Sean Carroll, a Jesuit priest who helped found the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), a binational organization serving migrants. Located in the border town of Nogales, KBI is run by six religious organizations from the United States and Mexico, including the California and Mexican Jesuit provinces, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, and the Dioceses of Tucson and Nogales.

Soon, Howell found herself volunteering for KBI, helping the fledgling organization raise funds to expand its services to feed and shelter migrants, educate the public about the complexities of immigration, and advocate for more just immigration policies.

But her volunteer work with immigrants didn’t stop there. Even before KBI, Howell already had been serving on the board of the Casa Cornelia Law Center in San Diego, an organization she began working with after she and her husband began splitting their time between Phoenix and the San Diego area nearly 20 years ago.

Carmen Chavez (right), Executive Director of Casa Cornelia Law Center, celebrates with Lucy Howell, Board Vice Chair and Chair of Casa Cornelia’s 10th Annual La Mancha Awards honoring pro bono attorneys and volunteers. Nearly 400 guests attended the event, which raised $200,000 for the law center in October.

With the help of pro bono attorneys, Casa Cornelia assists those seeking asylum, helps immigrants onto a pathway to legal status, and most recently, represents undocumented children.

Beneath all her volunteering, however, she began to feel a greater need to attend to her spiritual life.

“I kept getting this tug,” Howell says. “The Holy Spirit called me for sure.”

She answered the call after KBI’s Fr. Carroll told her about IVC.

“IVC offers a spiritual component that I really was searching for,” she added.”I’m a convert to Catholicism and I’m still learning 52 years later.”

Through the monthly meetings and fellowship with other IVC volunteers, Howell began to view her volunteer work more through the lens of faith.

“Just going once a month, touching base, hearing how people are handling the spiritual side of their lives, going to monthly Mass — these were all very important faith touchstones for me,” she says, adding that her spiritual development also included completing the 19th annotation, a version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius designed for those who cannot spend the 30 days straight to do the Exercises.

More than ever, Howell is convinced her work with KBI and Casa Cornelia is where she is called to be. Although her tenure on the boards of both is coming to an end, she will continue to volunteer with and to support them. 

“Almost a decade ago, the impact of visiting the Kino Border Initiative soup kitchen in Nogales, Sonora, filled with deported men and women and looking into the eyes of those who had lost everything in an effort to reunite with family members in the U.S. or hope for a better life — would I have done the same and taken this risk?” she reflects.

“I have to say that I have filled my life with way too much busyness,” she says. “But now I take a deep breath and ask, what does God want me to do?”

IVC has helped Howell “recognize that I have been graced with wonderful opportunities and gifts in my life, and now it’s time for me to ask, what does God want me to do in my life now.”

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