Posted: Friday Feb 8, 2013
Feb. 8, 2013
A sincere desire to serve others launched senior theology major Olivia Sharkey into worldwide learning and service experiences in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Taiwan and China during her college career.
Sharkey made her first mission trip to Guatemala as a freshman in 2010 when she had an opportunity to meet and work with the underprivileged students at Francisco Coll Elementary School, where she would return repeatedly to assist with the renovation of school facilities in the village where children live in extreme poverty.
Arranged by the Saint Vincent College Office of Service Learning, her trips included a second mission to Guatemala as a sophomore in February 2011 and a campus ministry-sponsored mission trip to Taiwan, China, in July.
She decided to become a full-time volunteer during the spring semester of her junior year with the International Samaritan program and spent four months in Guatemala City from January to April 2012. It was there she experienced both teaching and ministry by constructing and teaching English lessons at a dump community’s elementary school for first through sixth graders, assisting with the planning and facilitating of spiritual retreats for each grade and writing biweekly personal reflections on her experience for the organization’s office of development.
Upon her return from Guatemala, Sharkey’s summary of her experience was simply “gracias a Dios – thanks be to God for my semester abroad,” she said. “What a journey filled with such learning! How do I adequately convey my personal growth, the countless faith-filled experiences and the beautiful community that selflessly extended themselves to me every day? I do not think my words could ever fully do them justice.”
“I received an immeasurable amount of knowledge and grace from this experience,” she continued. “Among the numerous things I learned from the example of those around me, the most prominent lesson was the recognition and embrace of life as a continual journey. This personal journey was filled with so much, encompassing all the elements of life – the exciting, challenging, rewarding, difficult, humbling and overwhelming. I had the awesome opportunity to grow within myself, learn more about who I am and what I need in life, and most importantly, to rely on the Lord for strength.”
“The word that immediately comes to mind when describing my time in Guatemala is radical,” she concluded. “Each day was a blessing, blessings that will surely continue to affect my thoughts, perspectives and actions in years to come.”
Shortly after her return from Guatemala, she went to Nicaragua with an office of service learning group that taught English lessons to students at Reina Sofia Elementary School and helped to renovate the school facilities in an area of tremendous poverty.
“Saint Vincent has cultivated my desire for service in a major way,” she noted, “because service opportunities have been so readily available. The Benedictine tradition transcends this campus. Saint Vincent has been the catalyst for my growth as a person. I have also been greatly influenced by the lives of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Joseph.”
In order to continue to help the children in Guatemala, she created the Banana Project to raise funds to provide bananas to them on a weekly basis. With the help of other Saint Vincent student clubs and organizations, she has already raised about $1,800 and hopes to raise another $900 this spring. Donations are being accepted by the Saint Vincent College Business Office, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650 and specify that it is for Guatemala Banana Project. “It is a way for our community to connect with the Guatemalan community,” she said.
After her anticipated graduation in May with a major in theology and a minor in Spanish, she plans to return to Guatemala one last time as a representative of Saint Vincent. But, it is not the end of her plans for a life of service. “Sigue adelante – which means continue forward – will be my motto,” she said. “And that is what I shall do – continue forward, allowing the love and grace of the Guatemalan people to guide my actions.” She plans to complete a year of domestic service with a social justice organization and further her education with a master’s or doctorate before pursuing a career as a theology teacher in a high school where she can also organize student service trips.
In addition to her international travel and service, she also served as a catechist at Saint Benedict Parish in Greensburg, residence hall prefect for the office of student life, a tutor for the theology department, as a note-taker for students with learning disabilities and as a Eucharistic minister for campus ministry masses in the Mary, Mother of Wisdom Student Chapel. She has also worked as an office assistant for the Seminary Development Office.
Active in the Student Government Association, she served as president of her freshman class and as a senator the past three years. She is a member and chairperson of the Academic Affairs Committee, member of the Educational Policies Committee and a member of the Student Faculty Administration Benedictine Committee.
The recipient of academic and leadership scholarships, she has been a consistent member of the dean’s list and has been honored with membership on Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities, Alpha Lambda Delta (excellent academic achievement in first year of study), Theta Alpha Kappa (national honor society in field of theology), Phi Sigma Iota (outstanding ability in field of foreign language) and Alpha Chi (national honor society in psychology).
A 2009 graduate of Nazareth Academy in Philadelphia, she is the daughter of Timothy and Ramona Sharkey. They are all members of St. Dominic Church in Philadelphia.
Photo: Olivia Sharkey
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