Caring for the Whole Person

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in ComLead

Two weeks before starting at Canisius College, I set out on a Mission Trip to Moneague, Jamaica with a group of eighteen adults from St. Gregory the Great RC Church, my home parish in Williamsville, NY.  We were on a mission to serve the most vulnerable through an amazing organization called Mustard Seed. Our group’s assignment was at Jacob’s Ladder, one of Mustard Seed’s homes that specifically cares for adults with physical and mental disabilities.

I don’t know if there could have been a better way for me to have experienced the full meaning of the mission and identity of Canisius than this Mission Trip. One of the principle beliefs of Canisius’ Jesuit tradition is the ideology of “caring for the whole person.” To care for the whole person means tending to each individual’s mind, body and spirit.

“We go out and serve the world by caring for those in need around us. All together, these experiences transform our community of learners into thoughtful, faithful, and compassionate global citizens and leaders.”

Reading our goodbye letter written by Sandy, Mustard Seed Resident

Reading our goodbye letter written by Sandy, Mustard Seed Resident

From the moment our group arrived at Jacob’s Ladder, we were greeted with warm smiles and hugs, excited laughter and friendly waves from the residents anxiously anticipating our arrival. This type of loving embrace was present throughout the entirety of our trip. Many of the people just craved human touch. Whether this meant to simply hold their hand and go for a short walk, or kick around a deflated soccer ball with them, your physical presence was all they needed.

What makes one a leader though is their ability to seek out what may not be right before his or her eyes. It’s being able to find out what lies beneath the surface, to break down the barriers and find the individuals who are on the outskirts and bring them to the light.

We discovered a few individuals who lingered on the outside and mostly just kept to themselves. Curious as to why this was, a few of us from the group engaged them to find that they may be physically disabled, but have a mind that’s very bright and very aware. Unfortunately, they do not have many opportunities to take part in real, fruitful conversation with others because those that they live with are not able to. On the outside, our group’s initial reaction may have been to interact with them as we did the others – hugs and smiles, high fives and childish voices. However, this isn’t what their mind craved. They needed meaningful conversation, so we took the time to ask them insightful questions and challenge them to think beyond what they’re accustomed to daily.

This is what it means to care for the whole person. The notion of serving others, especially the meekest of our world set me off on just the right foot to begin my studies and Graduate Assistantship at Canisius. The College offers many opportunities for service-immersion experiences for its students to live and work in solidarity with the poor throughout the world.  Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and be a leader. You will surprise yourself at how much you will grow in all three facets of mind, body and spirit.


Sarah Guenther ComLead Graduate Assistant

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