Coordinating and delivering items to people in need have been all in a day’s work for the past 50 years for Sisters Jo Ann Lucas, OP, Emilie Petelin, OP, and their friend Lynne Bondy. Yet, this team is not formally ministering in a social service agency.
They have made a difference in countless lives by delivering goods to food pantries in Troy and Adrian, Michigan; taking more than 500 loads of clothing and household items to Kentucky; making more than 100 trips to deliver clothes, blankets, and household goods to St. Luke’s NEW Life Center in Flint, Michigan; shipping 30 boxes of new T-shirts and sweatshirts to Poland for Ukrainian orphans; and financing a much-needed well for a village in Nigeria.
“We were all in schools, teaching, whether a grade school, kindergarten, or high school, and we were used to being connected with adults, parents of the kids,” Sister Jo Ann said. As teachers, the trio habitually responded to requests from parents who told them of a need.
“We checked it out, and that’s how it started,” Sister Jo Ann said. “People were needing food, and the word just spread…. We didn’t put an advertisement for people to know to come to us. People told each other, and among the three of us, we’d deal with the situation.”
Sister Emilie noted that the three were drawn in by the needs of people who are poor. They responded to requests for help “because the need was there,” she said. “The poor and the needy were at risk, so we provided food, medicine,” and other essentials.
Responding to these requests for help often involved work on weekends. “Lynne and I were living together, so if we needed to have two of us together, it would work easily,” Sister Jo Ann said, adding that Sister Emilie was available for follow-up. In many cases, the pair drove eight hours with loads of supplies for Resurrection Home in Beattyville, Kentucky, a center for abused women and their children directed by the late Sister Mary Kay Drouin, OP. “We’d have to stay in a hotel overnight and pay for all our meals, coming and going,” Sister Jo Ann recalled.
While the three were highly involved in their outreach, they also relied on help from others. “We go between people who have things and people who need them,” Lynne explained. They often collect donations – sometimes surprising items that ultimately fit somebody else’s needs. “People have been giving us donations so we could do this, never realizing what they were doing it for,” Sister Jo Ann said. “We eventually realized that this has to come from God.”
Lynne gave the example of a man who recently died, leaving $3,600 worth of insulin that his family didn’t want to throw away. “We spent a lot of time trying to find somebody who could take it,” Lynne said. “We found somebody who had been hospitalized twice for not [taking] her insulin. She got enough to last for a year. She was in tears.”
About 15 years ago, the trio’s outreach extended to Nigeria through Sister Eugenia Obasi, who stayed at Sister Jo Ann and Lynne’s home for a while. During their three visits to Sister Eugenia’s village in Nigeria, they took as many donated supplies as possible, Lynne said. While there, they discovered the village’s need for a well. “They had to get water from the river, and it was a couple of miles away,” Lynne said. “The kids had to go every morning before school and bring it to their mothers to use during the day.” She said the water wasn’t safe to drink, so they raised $50,000 to provide a well deep enough to ensure it was clean.
Lynne and Sisters Jo Ann and Emilie do not see their outreach efforts as extraordinary. “For me, it was just automatic,” Sister Jo Ann said. “I don’t think I was thinking we’re doing a great job. It never crossed my mind.” Lynne added that their outreach over the years was “instinctual,” adding that she had learned from her parents to care for others.
But others see their long-time ministry as inspiring and impactful. “Their action network was created many years ago and is still in action today,” said their friend Sister Sheila Delaney, OP. “They have just quietly responded to the ongoing calls for help. They are extraordinary women, graced by the Spirit, still in action – helping … groups and individuals who call on them for help.”
Sister Carol Weber, OP, Director of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, which serves and empowers families in need in Flint, Michigan, said the donations “always seemed to show up right when we needed them. The loads of things that they have brought here have been so beneficial to our people. It’s meant a lot to us because we have a lot of people whose houses burn down, and they have nothing.” Sister Carol said that donations of clothing and household items have made a significant difference. “They’ve been great partners.”