By Annie Hetzel (2021 summer missionary)

Stewardship was a word I heard often. As a Catholic growing up, I heard it many times from the pulpit at church, in youth groups, and even at home. Most of us recall “Stewardship Sunday”. Yet stewardship to me was a kind of nebulous word that lacked any personal meaning.

I have recently discovered that like so many things in life, until we experience stewardship personally, it is difficult to have a real frame of reference, and we might wonder at its full meaning. Before coming to work as a missionary with St. Isidore Corps in Maine, my definition of stewardship likely came from one of those Stewardship Sunday homilies that explained it as a way to direct the talents and resources that God gives us.

But this past summer I had a crash course in stewardship.

Over the last few months I have developed my own definition of stewardship and it is best expressed through the people I have witnessed. First there is Fr. Paul Dumais, the parish priest for St. Rose of Lima in Jay and St. Joseph’s in Farmington, two towns in rural Maine with unique qualities and a matching set of unique struggles. I have been amazed at the endless list of tasks that Father has for both of his parishes. I don’t know where he gets the energy, but he has an incredible amount of and manages to do all he does with intention, love, and a generous heart. Along with his small and mighty staff of big-hearted individuals and volunteers, Fr. Paul truly reflects Christ.

It has been wonderful to see how he pours that Christ-centered energy into those who serve with him and, in turn, they pour themselves into their community. Whether it is baking bread on Thursday evening, selling the bread at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, stocking the well-run food bank, handing out meals at the soup kitchen, tending to the large garden whose bounty stocks the shelves at the food pantry and the two 24-hour blessings boxes, or visiting the sick or those in prison, Fr. Paul leads a group of “Mainers” in inexhaustible ways.

Through all of this it is clear to me that Father Paul understands that the only way all of these things can be accomplished is to lean on the Lord.

And it seems to be a contagious message as I am beginning to understand it myself. When we immerse ourselves in prayer and take time throughout the day – no matter what it is we do – we do begin to develop a stewardship mindset. After all, nothing we have is truly ours; all things are a gift from God. We are asked by Him to be stewards of the many gifts and talents He has given us. Yes, there is that familiar definition, but this time I have a frame of reference and it makes sense because I have seen it in action.

I’ve noticed, though, that occasionally those gifts are harder to recognize. And yet, all we have to do is ask God to reveal them to us. Being here in Maine, serving in this way, I have ample opportunity to ask Our Lord to show me what His Will is for me in the here-and-now and how I can use the unique gifts He has given me for His glory.

So stewardship is no longer just a word, it is something I see all around me. In the women who knead the sourdough with pride, in the men who spend evenings after work helping with repairs in the church, in the couple who deliver groceries to the family without a car down the street, and in the people who diligently care for the garden on cold and hot days just the same. I realize that these are just a few examples (there are hundreds that go unnoticed) of true stewardship. What a privilege it has been for me to witness!

If you were to walk through the towns of Jay or Farmington, Maine, you might not expect these people to give in the many ways they do. In fact, you might even think they have every reason not to share their talents, time or treasure because some of them might not to have much themselves. Many work blue collar jobs that require manual labor, long hours, and little pay. Yet they are in the pews praying in thanksgiving on Sunday, and volunteering on Monday.

This is what I have learned this summer. Stewardship is not something we do out of obligation but out of thanksgiving to God for His many gifts. We are entrusted with this life by Our Lord to serve and to offer our time, our talents, and all of ourselves to honor Him.

This is true stewardship and we are all called to it!