By Carolina Scipioni
Last week, twenty-three young parishioners from Our Lady of Refuge Parish were grateful to have received a Fr. Jorge da Silva, SM, Memorial Scholarship to support their university or college studies.
This scholarship fund was established seven years ago, but its roots are traced back 20 years ago to the inspiration of a single man-of-God: Fr. Jorge da Silva, SM.
Marcia Green, the founder of this scholarship program, recalls how she was inspired by Fr. Jorge to get involved with the families in the Santee Mission – now part of Our Lady of Refuge Parish.
Back then, Marcia was a recently retired nurse with many years of experience working at El Camino Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, and other health organizations. She specialized in health education and taught many communities about how to prevent diabetes and manage other chronic diseases.
One day, knowing that she had retired, Fr. Jorge said to her, “You know that the Santee Mission doesn’t have a nurse anymore; here are the names of two other nurses that might want to help.” And then he asked a question that Marcia would hear repeated many times: “Why don’t you go and see what you can do?”
And so, the Healthcare Ministry at the Santee Mission was born – a ministry 15-years strong now. Once a month, several nurses would set up tables outside of the multi-purpose room that St. Maria Goretti Parish rented from the school district. They would take the adults’ blood pressure and provide them with assessment, information, health education and referral as needed. They got to know these families well and developed close relationships with them.
One day Sister Marian Daniel, SNJM, approached Marcia and said, “You know, some of the adults are asking for English classes so that they can help their kids with school work.” And the question came again: “Why don’t you go and see what you can do?”
Marcia took the challenge because she knew quite well that these calls to service were coming from above. She engaged her parish community from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Los Gatos to recruit volunteers to go to the Santee Mission and teach English regularly. Within the first weekend, after a parent from the Santee Mission spoke after each Mass, 42 volunteers signed up to help. The ESL ministry was born – but there was still more to come.
When Sister Mary Becker, SNJM, approached Marcia, she could sense that there was yet another challenge to embrace. She said, “You know, we have a bright young man who has been accepted to Cal Poly Pomona. He will be the first in his family to attend college, and he is very excited. He is in great need of a computer. Why don’t you go and see what you can do?”
Marcia remembered the family and decided to give the young boy a call to assess his needs. She started asking all kinds of questions and realized that the mother couldn’t afford to go to the orientation, and the boy would get there by a Greyhound Bus all on his own. Marcia recalled how she looked at her usually packed calendar and saw that the three days of the orientation were completely open. “Ok God, what do you have in mind?”, Marcia said to herself. Marcia and her husband drove this boy and his mother down to Pomona for orientation. They learned more about the need in that community – not only financial need but also the need for mentors for both students and parents. And so, the Scholarship Fund ministry was born.
The first year, eight students applied, then thirteen, then seventeen, and the word continued to spread. By the grace of God and the generosity of many donors, there had always been enough to help all the applicants in some way. These are great students who have done well in high school, are involved in their parish, and have shown leadership in their community.
“This year, given the county orders, the awards were presented in a different, yet beautiful way,” says Marcia. “We set up a table with all the awards in the foyer of the church. Behind me, the students receiving the award could see the tabernacle and the stained-glass windows as focal points through the open doors. As each student came forward to receive the scholarship award, we invited them to go inside the church to pray in gratitude to the generous God through whom this, and all things are possible.”
When it came to naming the scholarship fund, Marcia knew that honoring Fr. Jorge Da Silva would be the best thing to do. “He was,” Marcia says, “the most peaceful and happy person I have ever met in my entire life and a true model of faith for me. There was something different about him, and he cared deeply about the Santee Mission.” He was also the first of many to inspire her ministry by asking: “Why don’t you go and see what you can do?”