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Living a simple life, helping spread her faith through gifts

Living a simple life, helping spread her faith through gifts

Dee Calisto of Berlin, Md., worked hard all of her life. As a government employee and a high school foreign language teacher in her native Maryland, she was cautious with her money. She saved so that she could have a comfortable retirement.

Then, she became a Secular Franciscan, which inspired her to shed certain possessions and to live a life of simplicity. So, no one understands the emotional struggle associated with giving more than she does.

"It took me a long time to discern, because I was very attached to my possessions," Dee said. "As a secular Franciscan, we have to have a poverty of spirit and a detachment from material possessions. That was very hard for me.

"I paid for my own education and always worried I would not have enough to take care of myself in retirement," Dee said. "I was very careful with the small amounts I made, and slowly, the money grew. When I retired, I joined the Franciscans, and I realized I did not need that money. I knew God would take care of me."

In turn, she wanted to take care of others. From a young age, Dee has been supporting her community. She was modeling her mother, a woman Dee described as always willing to help.

Dee grew up modestly. She, her parents and three siblings lived in a three-room house for many years before building their own home.

Despite not having much money, Dee's mother found ways to give back. She made food and cared for the sick in their area. Dee remembers her mother bathing the sick and washing their feet. That image stuck with her, and she committed her life to service.

She is a lector, altar server, tends to the church gardens and washes the altar linens. As an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist, she visits hospitals, nursing homes and shut-ins. She has also worked in prison ministry, clothing and food banks and is an active Hospice volunteer.

At age 32, she joined the Peace Corps. Using her degree in French, she traveled to Togo, Africa, and taught English to the children in her village in a secondary school run by an order of French sisters.

After returning home, Dee began working as a foreign language teacher in Maryland and donated a portion of her salary to Catholic charities. One day, she received a letter from Glenmary in the mail.

"I get a lot of requests for money, and I usually send $10 or $15," Dee said. "Glenmary also sent me their newsletter. I didn't read it at first. Then, I did, and I began to look forward to reading it. I wanted to see what Glenmary was doing.

"I was impressed with their ministry," Dee said. "They are carrying out the mission Jesus gave to the apostles, and they are helping people right in our own country, not somewhere far away. They go into areas where no one else wants to go and live on the level with those people. They see Jesus in everybody and respect the poor, giving them dignity."

Dee connected to Glenmary's mission on a personal level. She had recently begun her discernment for a secular vocation to the Franciscans. As she learned about St. Francis' teachings, she saw the same charism reflected in Glenmary's ministry. Both orders respect all creation - from human life to all life in the environment.

Also, St. Francis kissed the leper, and it changed him completely. That philosophy emboldened Dee's work in prisons, and she said it is similar to how Glenmary embraces people in rural America. Glenmarians are forever changed by their interactions with people in their mission areas.

In addition, she liked how Glenmary recruited and trained vocations prospects from the U.S., Mexico and Africa. After working in Africa, she knew that Africans are adaptable. They live close to the Earth and many are not accustomed to comforts that Americans enjoy. Their simple lifestyle made them excellent vocation candidates.

In 2007, Dee made a lifetime commitment to the Franciscans and began contemplating a larger, planned gift.

She created one charitable gift annuity, cashing in a bond that she had carefully cultivated. A few years later, she cashed in some stocks, creating a larger charitable gift annuity to benefit Glenmary.

"Jesus is the bread of life, and he has to be given to people who need him. We all need him," Dee said. "Glenmary provides that to people, not in a high-toned intellectual way, but in the simplicity of their lifestyle and involvement in their mission communities. It is beautiful, and I love that."