Walking Hand-in-Hand

ATD Fourth World Movement’s force comes from the individuals and communities who commit their talents, ideas, energy, and resources to build a society that includes and respects the dignity of all its people. Sr. Jane McKinley is one of these individuals in New Orleans. She writes about what initially drew her to ATD Fourth World, what motivates her involvement, the community of people she has included in those efforts, and the yearly Garden Party fundraiser she spearheads each year.

Sr. Jane McKinley, RSCJ, New Orleans, LA
Shortly after I arrived in New Orleans from San Francisco in 1995, I was invited to a discussion group that studied the writings of Fr. Joseph Wresinski, founder of ATD Fourth World Movement. This group also carried out activities with families living in persistent poverty, and I was asked to be a driver for a day trip to tour a plantation. After the trip I sat in Audubon Park, watched the ripples on the pond, and asked myself whether this was a movement I wanted to be part of. A tentative “Yes” surfaced.

Sr. Jane McKinley (center right) welcomes guests at the March 26, 2017 Garden Party in New Orleans. All photos provided by Paul D. Mankovich
Sr. Jane McKinley (center right) welcomes guests at the March 26, 2017 Garden Party in New Orleans. All photos provided by Paul D. Mankovich

Since then my years have been laced with a variety of ATD Fourth World Movement activities – attending conferences in Paris, Maryland, and New Orleans; speaking of ATD Fourth World to others; working on and promoting the book Not Meant to Live like This; participating in Street Libraries, October 17thCommemorations, an advisory council, and more.

What have marked me most are friendships with mothers and children in two families. As the children have grown up, aspirations I had heard from them – “I want to be somebody,” and “I want to draw for the rest of my life.” – have clashed with the punishing realities of Katrina deportation, residence eviction, and invisibility to those who have enough.

I grew up during the Great Depression, the only child of parents who had enough; my father was employed. Entering the convent at age 19 and working in Sacred Heart schools for three decades, I came to New Orleans with a lot to learn about what it is to live in persistent poverty. What I am learning is that each person has a spark with the potential to become a flame – unique, creative, contributive to our world. To feed the spark, persons need friends with whom to walk hand-in-hand.

My commitment continues to be anchored by the way ATD Fourth World sees things, in fidelity to the vision of Fr. Wresinski. It understands that specific scars relegate persons to the margins: Being preoccupied with survival robs us of chances to discover our own creative gifts and expand our perspectives. Seeing myself as more dependent than others saps my energy and motivation. Every person has the potential to make a contribution. Taking persistent poverty for granted denies that potential.

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The Garden Party in New Orleans, a fundraising event for ATD Fourth World that Sr. Jane has organized for over 12 years.

In 2004 Corinna Bain, then on the local Fourth World Movement team, asked me whether I would put on a fundraiser. I prayed about it. The Temenos reflection groups I facilitated were in full swing. Coming to Temenos to pursue their own lives in the context of God’s love, members would be likely to latch on to a concrete event supporting Jesus’ imperative to love our neighbor. Ruth Schmedtje, a Temenos member and the epitome of contagious enthusiasm, said “Yes” to working with me. We held the first fundraiser on May 8th, 2005. Three and a half months later Katrina hit. Our local ATD Fourth World team traveled to other parts, connecting with the now-dispersed families from New Orleans. Slowed down but not deterred, we began holding the fundraising event annually. At some point John Gniady, now an Organizing Committee member, said, “Stop calling it a fundraiser; call it a ‘Garden Party.’”  For eight years we enjoyed the home and garden of Gwen Smalley, then the homes and gardens of Patsy Hunter, Ann and John Casbon, Karen and Dr. Ollie Edmunds. Over the 12 years at least 43 Temenos men and women have done the leg work for the party. Virtually all Temenos members support it and help to make it known. With time we’ve added live music, a silent auction, and extended the invitation and attendees.

The purpose of this event has always been twofold: To support financially the work of the local ATD Fourth World team within the most underserved communities. And to familiarize our guests, and through them a wider public, with ATD Fourth World Movement and those it serves.

In November 2013, Pope Francis, referring to the poorest, reminded the world,“The excluded are still waiting.” ATD Fourth World Movement walks hand-in-hand with those still waiting. It challenges the roots of persistent poverty, knowing that when the gifts of the shackled are let loose the world will be a happier place.