Pictured Left to Right: Back Row – Sisters Linda Rivers, Connie Koch, Mary Schneiders, Debbie Blow, Cass McDonnell, Pat McGee.  Front Row – Sisters Barbara Langlois, Liz Menard, Mary Feigen, Eileen Hollen, Anne Marie Bucher, Andrea Jurewicz

On October 1, Dominican Sisters of Hope celebrated as the North Country Mission of Hope (NCMOH)  honored Sr. Debbie Blow, who retired last year as executive director, for 25 years of service. In 1998 she co-founded the organization located in Peru, New York to provide disaster relief to hurricane-ravaged Nicaragua. The effort was a natural extension of her teaching ministry to migrant children from Nicaragua and other countries, who were living with their families in warehouses in upstate New York while waiting to emigrate to Canada. Read the story of Sr. Debbie’s call to international ministry here.

Sunshine and fall foliage provided a beautiful backdrop to the celebration,  which was held outdoors beside NCMOH’s operations and donation center. Around 100 volunteers, donors, friends, and family members – including 12 fellow Dominican Sisters of Hope – watched as James Carlin, who succeeded Sr. Debbie as NCMOH’s executive director, unveiled a new sign naming the building in her honor.

The Most Rev. Terry LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg, blessed the ministry of NCMOH and its newly-dedicated building, quoting St. Catherine of Sienna “You are obliged to love your neighbor as yourself….assisting him both spiritually and materially” and adding “Isn’t that what Sr. Debbie’s ministry has been all about?”

Blessing the ministry of NMCOH and its Operations Center and Warehouse, now named for Sr. Debbie

Prioress Cass McDonnell, OP also praised Sr. Debbie for her “remarkable response to the call of justice,” having engaged thousands of volunteers, donors, and collaborators with an approach based on empowerment and relationships. Speaking on behalf of the Hope Congregation, she said she was especially proud of Sr. Debbie for her attention to those in greatest need and for helping “us be more responsive.”

Sr. Debbie turned the focus to all who have supported her ministry over the years, “This is what we did,” she said. Addressing her fellow Sisters, she said, “I couldn’t have been who I am without you” and thanked them for their donations and prayers. The Hope congregation is NCMOH’s longest supporting organization, and DSH sisters and staff have also accompanied her on mission trips to Nicaragua.

Sr. Debbie proclaims a future of HOPE for NCMOH

Others in attendance spoke of the life-changing power of NCMOH mission trips. Dentist Anne-Marie Spear participated on two health care teams, accompanied by her teenage son and daughter. Her son is now pursuing a career in nursing and public health, while her daughter works with children who have disabilities.  Beyond the significance of providing life-saving dental care, seeing youth volunteers in action “gave me hope for the future,” she said. Sr. Debbie has been an influence on her own life since she was an eighth grader, when she was a student in the very first class Sr. Debbie taught.

                           Sr. Debbie and Anne-Marie

Engineer Tom LaBombard met Sr. Debbie later in life, when she came to speak to the local Rotary Club. “I’m not churched,” he smiled, “but a part of me always wanted to do something like this.” Inspired by Sr. Debbie’s talk he began by making donations, but soon became a hands-on volunteer. He participated in several mission trips, working alongside local Nicaraguans to build home shelters, establish water filtration systems, distribute rice and beans, and plant Moringa trees which have nutritional, economic, and climate benefits. “I went the first time and was hooked,” he said. He also brought his children, including an adult daughter who volunteered her skills as a respiratory therapist. NCMOH had to halt mission trips in 2018 as a result of political unrest in Nicaragua, but he hopes a grandchild will go when it’s safe to resume travel there.  While trips are on hiatus, all NCMOH projects and programs continue due to education and empowerment of local Nicaraguans. The organization is also providing disaster and economic relief to other regions, including Puerto Rico and Ukraine.

Sr. Mary Schneiders and Tom, who served together on a NCMH trip

Retired State Senator Betty Little also attended the celebration, offering her congratulations to Sr. Debbie and recalling how Sr. Debbie was honored in 2013 by the New York Senate as a “Woman of Distinction.”

More photos below!

Donations celebrating Sr. Debbie’s 25 years of service may be made to North Country Mission of Hope by clicking here.