“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25:35
On Wednesday, March 18, 2009, family and friends will join Divine Word College in honoring Mary “Cookie” Scherrman as the 2009 recipient of the Matthew 25 Award – presented annually to someone engaged in front-line ministries with the “least among us” in the spirit of the gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25. Award recipients minister among immigrants and refugees, street people, AIDS victims, inner-city youth, prisoners – all those who live at the margins of our society and still lack a public voice.
Divine Word College president Rev. Michael Hutchins, SVD, says, “The Divine Word College community looks forward to this year’s Matthew 25 Award celebration with special anticipation. We are delighted to recognize Ms. Cookie Scherrman, someone who epitomizes all that the Award represents, humble and enabling service to those in need.”
|Fr. Mark Weber, SVD, Cookie Scherrman, Don Scherrman,
Fr. Mike Hutchins, SVD
For over two decades, Cookie Scherrman of Dyersville has been living the Gospel of “Mathew 25” as she reaches out to the hungry, thirsty and less fortunate around her. Scherrman’s introduction to pastoral ministry came in 1984, when her pastor from St. Frances Xavier Church knocked on her door. “He asked me if I would serve on the parish Social Concerns Committee,” Sherrman recalls. “The Dyersville Food Pantry, established in 1986, was our first project.” A combined community and parish effort, the pantry serves ten rural communities surrounding Dyersville.
In 1990, her parish initiated a project of delivering money collected from the parish and medical supplies to Holy Cross Parish in Fonds Verettes, Haiti. Since the project began, Scherrman has gone to Haiti many times. “In the past, my two grandsons and one granddaughter have accompanied me to Haiti; and this year my granddaughter, who is a junior at Beckman High School, will go along.” Scherrman’s group often includes students from Beckman High School in Dyersville. “These trips give students an opportunity to experience life in Haiti, and to learn that we must help, love, care and pray for one another in whatever way we can,” says Scherrman.
Unlike tourists to the Caribbean, Scherrman and her parish group go to the poorest areas of Haiti. And there, they receive the warmest welcome and experience true Christian zest for life. “Despite their poverty and struggles against natural disasters, the people have the greatest resiliency and love for life,” says Scherrman.
In Fonds Verettes, a typical day for the group begins with a walk up the hill to morning Mass in the chapel, followed by hugs and greetings all around. A simple breakfast of spaghetti noodles, hard-boiled eggs, and coffee gives the team energy for morning activities like delivering medical supplies to the area clinics. They also visit other villages and schools, offering the group’s students an opportunity to see firsthand how the people live. “We can achieve peace through education,” Scherrman says. “Fighting doesn’t solve anything.”
Scherrman’s annual trip to Haiti does not always go smoothly. Before any trip, there is a lot of packing to do. “We usually have a basement full of supplies to organize and pack away for the trip. This year we packed seven very large tubs of medical supplies to bring with us.” Scherrman also recalls the culture shock she experienced when arriving in Haiti for the first time. “We landed in Port-au-Prince before Lent, and the airport was in chaos! The city was celebrating Mardi Gras and there was a massive amount of people dancing in the street.” Scherrman further explains, “On any trip, plans don’t always happen the way you want them to. And you have to be flexible.”
From the airport, the team and boxes of supplies are usually picked up by friends from the parish. Squeezed in next to supply boxes, the team endures a long ride on very bumpy dirt roads to Fonds Verettes. “What’s worse,” Scherrman adds, “is while driving on the winding mountain roads, there are no guard rails to stop us if we should tip over.” Arriving at the town, Scherrman describes its situation as “abject poverty.” “I asked myself, how can they live here?” Some of the problems in Haiti are malnutrition, lack of education, unemployment, and a big discrepancy between the rich and the poor.
Scherrman recalls a moving experience eight years ago, in which a flood hit the Fonds Verettes area, washing away the church and rectory where a young man by the name of Rodrique and his family were staying. Her parish immediately collected necessary vestments and worship items and brought them to the Fonds Verettes community. Upon seeing Scherrman, Rodrique said, “I knew you would come.” Reflecting on her experience in Haiti, Scherrman says, “You grow so much when you go there – Haiti doesn’t need me as much as I need Haiti.”
Amidst the difficulties and excitement of ministering to the people in Fonds Verettes, Scherrman and her group maintain a strong prayer life. “In our daily evening reflection, we share with one another how we particularly saw Jesus in the people we met that day,” says Scherrman. “Prayer and community are my source of energy,” adds Scherrman. She also reminds the team to keep journals to reflect on their experiences, and also to share their experiences with their friends and family when they get home.
Returning to the States, Scherrman often experiences reverse culture shock. “It’s hard to believe that many of us are living with so many basic and excessive things that our Haitan friends will never have – such as a water faucet, comfortable bed, a refrigerator full of food, smooth roads and sidewalks. Even though many of us live with these material things, we don’t truly live a full life,” says Scherrman. The people she visits in Haiti, on the other hand, live their life to the fullest, showing Christian values in their welcoming and hospitality, despite their poverty. “They give us so much hospitality that I often feel undeserving,” says Scherrman.
Scherrman continues to be involved in pastoral ministries, visiting shut-ins and bereavement ministry. Scherrman and a small group prepare monthly meals for the Catholic Worker House in Dubuque, which serves food to people of various socioeconomic needs. Scherrman maintains interaction with young people, guiding and involving them in ministry, believing that “young people are our hope for peace in the world.”
Reflecting on receiving the award, Scherrman says, “It is a very humbling experience. No one person does all these projects alone. I feel blessed to belong to such a parish that helps in so many ways.” Her family also plays a big role in her ministry. “My husband is supportive of the things that I do. My family is interested, so it helps me to remain enthusiastic.” Scherrman has served the community for many years, and is very hopeful of a bright and peaceful future. Scherrman firmly believes: “To be Christians, you have to have hope.” And this hope, instilled in prayer and a supportive family and community, is the driving force behind Scherrman’s continual effort to show God’s love to the world.