Summer Volunteer Experience Leads to Longtime Support of Glenmary

Posted: 5/5/2011

Madeleine and Jim KernsThe summer of 1969 was a turning point for Jim Kerns, a 20-year-old college student. He drove from his Fairfield, Ct., home to Clarkesville, Ga., and spent part of the summer volunteering in the Glenmary mission area there. His time in Georgia made an indelible impression on him—and would later have a major impact on his and his future wife Madeleine's charitable donations.

"My parents had already become strong Glenmary supporters after getting to know priests from the nearby Glenmary formation house who celebrated Masses at our parish," Jim says. "That's one of the reasons I volunteered with them."

He saw and learned many things that summer. He worked at a local kindergarten Head Start program, painted a parishioner's house, assisted at liturgies, played guitar for another mission's Masses, cut grass, and more.

He knows now that his Head Start job and community work were part of Glenmary's social outreach to help people and establish a Catholic presence. "It reminds me of what St. Francis said: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words,'" says Jim.

He also got to know the two Glenmarians serving the Clarkesville mission and to see them in action. "They were wonderful, humble, spiritually strong men who lived simply," he says. "When you're young and see people dedicating their lives to the Lord and the work of the Kingdom, you remember."

He grew to understand Glenmary's overall mission better, too, because he was part of it: establishing the Catholic Church and serving the spiritually and materially poor in Appalachia and the South.

After that summer, Jim went on to complete his studies and work as an electrical engineer. Meanwhile, Madeleine graduated and entered the business world, specializing in communications.

They married in 1971. By 1973, they were already established in their jobs and settled in their first home. Jim says that's when they made some decisions about charitable contributions beyond just giving to their parish.

They wanted to pick one primary charity to support and trust—to "put all the wood behind one arrow," as Jim quotes the old saying—even though they'd donate to others. "We talked about Glenmary and said, ‘This is it.'"

They felt very confident that when they gave to Glenmary, their donations would be used to support Glenmary's work. "Their mission is a wonderful combination that represents everything we value," Jim says.

Their parents had always sacrificed to support their parishes. The lesson of giving was part of their legacy, a lesson the young couple had taken to heart.

That was 38 years ago. Jim and Madeleine have supported Glenmary faithfully ever since, through generous donations as well as a will provision. Jim says they've also found that Glenmary Mass cards are an ideal way to offer liturgies for people and their intentions while supporting Glenmary.

They retired to Florida several years ago and devoted themselves to charitable and Church efforts.

Madeleine is a Habitat for Humanity crew leader at home construction sites and in the Habitat store.

Jim, after helping build 80 Habitat homes, now focuses on helping coordinate the men's discipleship ministry for his parish as well as a larger effort to establish similar ministries throughout the Palm Beach diocese.

The couple recently attended the first Glenmary donor gathering ever held in Florida. It reaffirmed their trust in Glenmary. And it also caused Jim to think more about a new calling he has felt for some time.

"I'd like to raise money for Glenmary," he says. "I feel the Lord has put it on my heart." At this point, he thinks helping organize another donor gathering may be the best way.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 Planning Ahead newsletter.