It may not be Time’s Person of the Year but it was The Telegraph’s recognition of the work done by Sr. Theresa Griem, DC at Depaul USA’s Daybreak Center in Macon, Georgia.
Sister Elizabeth Greim once resisted the life she now relishes.
But now she finds herself described this way in an article celebrating her designation as “Person of the Year”… “(Sister Elizabeth) just seems to bring out the best in people,” she said. “Some kind of way it makes you want to be a better person yourself.” Something all members of the Vincentian family strive to be..
She befriends Macon’s poor, serves its homeless and intercedes for international victims of sex trafficking.
Those efforts and her role in fusing different faiths to shoulder that work has earned her the distinction of The Telegraph’s Person of the Year for 2013.
The little Catholic girl growing up in Boston would pray every night not to receive the calling that has defined her.
“Becoming a sister was not what I wanted to be. I could have lived a nice life, but it wouldn’t be the one I would thrive in,” Greim said earlier this month while working at Daybreak, the homeless center she helped build in Macon.
Her office is next to the front door Daybreak’s offices, but her work is everywhere.
“You can’t say ‘no’ to Sister,” Daybreak volunteer coordinator Nan Eaton said. “There’s something about her. It’s magical, I guess.”
‘One miracle after another’
Daybreak Assistant Director Patricia Bogatschow describes a “circle of grace” that surrounds the 53-year-old Greim.
“I think that’s why Daybreak is such a success,” she said. “People see that and catch that, then they feel the same thing and they run with it.”
Bogatschow thinks the apostolic Daughter of Charity creates the environment that makes Daybreak such a success.
“There’s just a real honesty and genuineness about her that just sort of resonates and permeates everything she touches,” Bogatschow said.
The story provide a link to a 2 minute YouTube video prepared by the Telegraph to celebrate her mission
Compelled, not called
The Telegraph article reveals how her family upbringing shaped who she is today.
As a child spending the night at Nana’s, young Elizabeth prayed the Stations of the Cross, a Catholic observance that traces Jesus’ steps to crucifixion.
They thought about the suffering of people they knew and prayed for them.
During the day, she and her grandmother would often pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to give to anyone they saw in Boston who needed something to eat.
Her grandmother also enjoyed handing out gift cards at the Burger King.
Greim smiles when she talks about her father’s mother, Theresa Greim.
“Everything about her marked who I am,” she said of the devout grandmother who became a physical therapist after her marriage failed. “She made adventurous choices.”
Looking back through those nightly mental walks to Calvary, Greim realizes she learned a lesson about service versus forced servitude.
In the Fifth Station, Simon is called to help Jesus carry the cross. In the Sixth Station, a woman named Veronica steps forward, unsolicited, and wipes Jesus’ face.
“Veronica saw the love of Christ in giving himself to us, so she was compelled to reach out and touch the face of a dying man,” Greim said.
It is Veronica’s compulsion to serve that Greim discovered in the core of her own being.
After high school, college, broken romantic relationships and teaching, she entered the Daughters of Charity at age 36.
About the only thing she didn’t embrace about her schooling was the shoe dress code.
She had to leave behind her beloved brown sandals and don shoes of navy or brown.
Greim, who says she’s an introvert at heart, embraced the cloistered life of prayer and studying. She came to realize her mission was with the people.
As much as little Elizabeth was praying for a different life, Greim now embraces her vocation and its vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
No matter how cold the weather, her bare toes are back where they belong, in her trademark brown Birkenstock sandals.
“I hate wearing shoes,” she said.
With her own struggles to discover God’s plan for her, she strives to make it easier for others to reach their potential.
“It’s really important to help others see who they were intended to be,” Greim said of her work at Daybreak. “I get up excited. I want to live my life every day.”
Although Catholic nuns no longer are required to dress in traditional habits, Greim chooses to wear her coif, a navy veil that covers her hair.
“I felt like that it helped me remember who I was each morning and what I’m here to do,” she said.
She realizes some see the hair covering as a symbol of hope, or a mantle of service.
“This is my way of claiming my vocation, especially in an area that’s non-Catholic,” she said.
It’s also an identifier that helps her bridge diversity.
“She can bring such diverse people together and bring out the best in all of them,” said Macon’s Kay Gerhardt.
Greim often hugs the men and women who visit almost daily.
“She’s happiest when she’s out here, talking to the homeless, the poorest of the poor,” said Gerhardt, now a board member for DePaul USA, the organization that birthed Daybreak. “She has such a beautiful spirit. It just shines through.”
Gerhardt met Greim when sister first came to Macon. The two later worked together at Family Advancement Ministries, where Greim was executive director before coming to Daybreak.
“She can go into a room and read a group of people and know exactly what to say to engage them,” Gerhardt said.
A section of the article about the Birth of Daybreak describes her instrumental role in efforts to curtail human sex-trafficking and the fortuitous confluence with Depaul USA looking for another program to aid the homeless which led to Daybreak being launched. A dozen congregations from nine different faiths now pledge support to keep the center open.
Lisa Hewell might be self-conscious about her soon-to-be-repaired missing teeth, but Daybreak’s executive director has given her plenty to smile about.
“Sister Elizabeth is a person I strive to be more like every day. She’s a joy to be around,” Hewell said. “To see her work and what she does for other people, and her heart that she has, the compassion she has, it drives me to want to do more.”
Greim knows she will one day leave Daybreak when she receives another mission.
She is confident volunteers will carry on. The team logged more than 8,000 volunteer hours in just the first nine months of this year.
“It still flabbergasts me that people just show up to volunteer,” Gerhardt said. “(Sister Elizabeth) just seems to bring out the best in people,” she said. “Some kind of way it makes you want to be a better person yourself.”