Seeing Christ in All We Serve

Emma Henderschedt Features

This installment of “Franciscan Influences,” a series published by HNP Today since 2010, was submitted by a graduate of one of the Province-sponsored colleges who values the lessons she learned about Franciscan traditions and her experiences while serving as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister. The previous installment was written by the great-nephew of William DeBiase, OFM.

The author on the day of her graduation from Siena College with the late F. Edward Coughlin, OFM. (Photo courtesy of Emma)

I like to think that my attachment to the Franciscans began as I entered the world when I was born at a hospital named for St. Francis. However, it was not until my late teenage years that my Franciscan connection took root. Although I grew up in a Catholic family, my connection to Franciscan values began during my Siena College experience. I had my heart set on Siena from the moment I visited. What I found most compelling was the campus, the social work department, and the campus ministry involvement. In four fast years, I learned how community is central to our being – the need for human relationships, and the importance of service, peacemaking, standing in solidarity, and extending our arms to those on the margins.

One of the joys of Siena is growing in faith alongside other students. My faith journey would not have been the same without the push and pull of those who worshipped with me on Sunday nights, or those who lived down the hall, or those who were always interested in a walk to the grotto. The gift of mentorship from friars on campus served as support, encouraged accountability, and provided a friend. I worked side-by-side with Lawrence Anderson, OFM, in the Chaplain’s Office, facilitating weekly spiritual programming. My relationship with Fr. Larry transcends the walls of the chapel, as he is still an integral part of my life through texting, Alumni Theology on Tap nights, and visits to Albany.

The author (right) at an FVM event in Silver Spring. The late Chris Posch is playing the guitar. (Photo courtesy of Emma Henderschedt)

FVM – Giving Away Your Light
After graduating from Siena, I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to begin a year with Holy Name Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry at St. Camillus Parish and St. Francis International School. I lived with three other volunteers, who in a short time became my brothers and sisters for life, and served in a community that so quickly became home. Under the supervision and friendship of Christopher Posch, OFM, the pastor, my Franciscan roots grew deeper.

But “2020” was not a question on the FVM application. My FVM experience was one of great dichotomies – one filled with vibrant life and relationships, and one filled with deep heartbreak and pain in response to being so up close and personal to the pandemic and those it was affecting the most. The Covid-19 pandemic took our ministry routines, our community, and our beloved “Hermano Chris.” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, my FVM experience was an adventure that I hold close to my heart.

On a positive note, I was able to serve in a first-grade classroom, mentor and translate for a middle school student, teach an English as a second language class, cook for Meals on Wheels, and teach Sunday School all while being in community. I saw Christ in each child as the kids ran around the playground, tagging me for the eighth time that morning. I saw Christ in the ESL adult students who brought their children into class, giving their all on a Friday morning to learn another language. I saw Christ at every single St. Camillus Mass I attended, a celebration of culture, love, and light. And mostly, I saw Christ in my volunteer house, with each meal we ate around our table, and each laugh, cry, and hug exchanged.

During our closing retreat, we were told that the most important part of this year of service is what comes next. We must give away the light that we captured and harnessed during this past year. While FVM moments will always be in my heart, I know it is my responsibility to share the memories, lessons, love, and light with the world – which is why I decided to pursue a second degree in social work.

Realizing Social Work Is Franciscan
Following my year of service with the Franciscans, I began an accelerated master of social work program through The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I took full-time classes and engaged in a field placement at a dual-language elementary school in the city – where I provided therapeutic interventions to students, facilitated a parents support group during COVID-19, and assisted parents with completing social service applications.

The author on her graduation day on the Siena College campus. (Photo courtesy of Emma)

Throughout my social work education, both at Siena and CUA, I recognized that, simply put – social work is Franciscan. I pursued two social work degrees because I knew I wanted to be in the margins, I wanted to commit to service in all that I do. The values of the social work profession include service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, and the importance of human relationships.

My next adventure is much closer to home. I have been accepted as the clinical social work fellow in the Child Study Center through Yale’s School of Medicine. While not boldly Franciscan, I know that the roots of the tradition are deeply woven into my passions, my relationships, and my prayer life. I am eager to see Christ in all who I serve, continue to challenge injustices, and to love, to give, and to grow.

I do not know where I would be or who I would be without my Franciscan family. I am continually strengthened by the community it has given me, the sense of advocacy and fire the people have lit inside me and the values that the Franciscan tradition has taught me. Being Franciscan is how I love. Being Franciscan is how I serve. Being Franciscan is how I will continue to live.

— Emma Henderschedt, a 2019 Siena College graduate, was raised in Marlborough, Connecticut. She served with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry from 2019 to 2020 and, in May 2021, graduated from The Catholic University of America with a master’s degree in social work. The impact of a service trip to Puerto Rico, in which she participated as an FVM, was described in an article published in the May 2020 issue of the HNP Today newsletter.

Editor’s note: Other Siena College alumni have contributed to the Franciscan Influences series through the years. They include Robert Porcelli, Jack Sise, Gary Sheffer, and David Smith.