By Br. Casey Cole, OFM

Mercy in action.   

This is the phrase that defines the community of Mount de Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, and that led two groups of students to go on school-sponsored mission trips this year. 

“Every year it’s a joy to send students on these service trips,” says campus minister Dr. Gabriel Germann. “Our students are challenged in a different setting to put love into action, and to share the opportunity to grow with each other. Looking back, we can see so much formation and openness as a result of these trips.” 

Challenging indeed. This year, chaplain Br. Casey Cole, OFM, has accompanied groups to difficult places: the friars’ soup kitchen in Philadelphia and mission in Negril, Jamaica. 


Compassion and companionship in Philadelphia

A trip to Philadelphia in the middle of January isn’t a dream vacation for most people from the South, especially when it’s to a place where drugs are tearing people apart and trash lines the streets. But each year, students find a warmth they never expect at St. Francis Inn.  

Although students were assigned a variety of jobs — from serving food to cleaning dishes, chopping vegetables to preparing desserts — they did more than serve the Inn’s guests. Given the freedom to stop and talk with people whenever they had a chance, many took the opportunity to sit down and have conversations, learning about those in need and forging friendships. 

“Some people were so isolated that we were the only ones they talked with that day,” Annallise Milam said. “It was a privilege to hear their stories and grow to know them. It was encouraging to see how strong peoples’ faiths were even as many were trying to keep from rock bottom.” 

The Inn’s longtime volunteers know this is the mission of the friars: beginning each day with the Eucharist, volunteers are fed by Christ so that they can recognize him in others and fulfill his command in Matthew 25 to serve him in others. 

For students such as Charlie Whitehead, experiences like this are more than just a weeklong trip – they are life changing.  

“Going to Philadelphia changed my view on homelessness and the chances we have where we live to help others,” he said. 


Joy through service in Jamaica 

Building off the success of many years serving at St. Francis Inn, Br. Casey and Dr. Germann expanded the reach of the school’s mission this year, accompanying 10 students on a weeklong trip to Negril, Jamaica, to serve at the friars’ missions. 

Each day, students broke into groups and served one of three ministries: a soup kitchen, a parish in need of painting, and, the crowd favorite, an elementary school to tutor children.  

Senior student Brittany Cardenas shared her love for the school. 

“One thing that I will always remember is seeing the joy that the children expressed seeing us, “Brittay said. “ It helped me realize that a simple greeting and hug is all that you need to have a great day.” 

For most, simply being out of the country in an environment entirely different from their own was enough to spark something new.  

“We were not entirely sure what to expect, but hopeful that it would offer the students a view of the world they had never encountered to help them grow in empathy,” said Br. Casey. “We were not disappointed. I think these students returned home very different than how they started.” 


A friar holding a camera points off to the left as students in school uniforms mill about a school courtyard

Mercy school, Franciscan heart 

Mount de Sales Academy was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1876 and has stood as a sign of mercy and inclusion for almost 150 years.  

According to president David Held, “What separates us is that we’re concerned with forming the whole student. It gives them a view of the world that helps formulate their moral compass.” 

A few students get to experience this each year through week-long mission trips, but it is an entire culture that permeates everything they do.  

In addition to the 20 hours of community service required of every student, the school also promotes mercy in the community. They collect toys at Christmas, solicit donations for local organizations, and gather food for the local pantry.  

This year, they outdid their previous record by delivering more than 15,000 cans in one day. 

“The school was founded as a Mercy school, but there is no doubt that the Franciscan charism is alive here, even if they don’t know it," said Br. Casey. "I love serving this community and encourage any friar interested in education or community service to consider living and serving here.” 

Photos courtesy of Br. Casey Cole, OFM.