Partners in Mission Grateful to Lead GS Programs into the Future

Article by Michelle Yanche,
Province of New York-Toronto.

“Dear God, what are we doing in this world and why are we here,
 if not to contribute to the well-being of our neighbors.”

St. Mary Euphrasia, Conferences, p. 45


When I was first introduced to Good Shepherd Services (GSS) in New York City in 1993, I was a recent college graduate ready for a career helping others. The more I learned about the Good Shepherd mission, the more I wanted to be a part of it. The mission aligned with my own values and sense of purpose, and the people who worked at GSS, like Sr. Paulette LoMonaco (a sister of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd who was the agency’s executive director), were incredibly inspiring. I felt like I had found my place.

I could never have imagined that 26 years later, I would succeed Sr. Paulette as executive director… nor could I have imagined that three months later, I would be called to lead GSS through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michelle Yanche, GSS Executive Director

It is hard to describe what those early days of the pandemic were like… the constant sirens of emergency vehicles, the morgue trucks that began to appear outside of the hospitals, the middle-of-the-night phone calls about children who needed to be picked up in emergency rooms after their parents were admitted, and the very real risks our staff faced just doing their jobs.

The past two years have been a time of living in our mission unlike anything I have ever experienced before, with the most inspiring displays of compassion, courage, and tenacity I have ever witnessed. The fact that the team and the organization that Sr. Paulette had built were able to face the COVID-19 pandemic and navigate it successfully without her is a testament to the way that she always led – in partnership – and to the power of our mission, that is so much greater than any one person.

At GSS, we work intentionally to foster connections with the larger Good Shepherd community. Some GSS leaders like myself have had the opportunity to take part in a pilgrimage experience in Angers, many others have participated in The Gathering in Detroit with sisters and partners in mission from across North America, and all GSS staff take part in mission orientation and other mission-centered trainings at GSS. We welcome sisters and partners in mission who visit from around the world. And we regularly share information about the larger work and community of which we are a part.

For many years we at GSS had been preparing for the time when a Good Shepherd sister would no longer lead the agency. Two years ago, that moment arrived, and yet over this time, the feelings of being connected to – and carried by – the larger Good Shepherd community were more present than ever: the knowledge that the sisters were holding us in prayer through the trials we were facing; the gratitude for hundreds of face masks hand-sewn by the contemplative sisters that arrived precisely when they were needed most; the support and partnership of our New York-Toronto community in meeting the urgent needs of GSS participants most severely impacted by the pandemic.

I am so grateful to be a partner in our Good Shepherd mission – and also for the responsibility that comes with it, most of all to our mission partners who are sisters. When the invitation came last year to participate in the “virtual” congregational chapter, I felt deeply grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much. Even though participating meant rising before dawn and then carrying a full regular workday after chapter meetings ended late morning here in New York City, being a part of the chapter was so inspiring and energizing that I barely felt the impact of working 14-hour days!

Participating in the chapter provided an opportunity to get to know and build relationships with sisters and partners in mission who I might never otherwise meet, a window into the many beautiful ways that our mission is alive in the work they are leading across the world, and the ability to wrestle together with other members of our Good Shepherd community to co-create the way forward. It also left me with the desire to take on greater leadership within our community and to serve in whatever way I am needed.

The chapter experience imparted a realization that our shared mission binds us all to something that is so much greater than ourselves or the challenges that we face at this moment. Our mission has been passed down to us through many hands, stretching all the way back to our foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia, and to St. John Eudes, and to partners in mission Countess d’Andigné and Count de Neuville. Eventually, it will pass from our hands into those of others, including individuals yet to be born. But right now, the mission and the work are ours.

The chapter meetings are now behind us, and the work mapped out in the chapter stretches out ahead. I am excited about both the responsibility and the privilege of helping to shepherd the mission forward into the future, whatever it may hold.