2013 alum, with the help of her family, works in South America to assist victims of domestic violence.
Last year, Maria Pangori, a 2013 graduate of Notre Dame Prep and 2017 alum of John Carroll University, earned the Schell Award, which honors JCU seniors who have provided consistent and outstanding leadership in campus ministry through retreats, immersion experiences, liturgy, prayer and justice and who live as “women and men for others.”
The award is no surprise to people in the Notre Dame community who know Maria and who know her family. That's because the Pangoris have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to helping those in need — wherever in the world they might be.
Case in point: the Pangori family (NDP senior Anthony, mom Laura and dad Steve) recently returned from Ecuador after spending a week helping duaghter Maria, who has been immersed in a year-long ministry in the city of Monte Sinai, which is located in southwest Ecuador. Maria works with Rostro de Cristo, a Catholic program that provides spiritual, educational and ministerial opportunities in Ecuador for young people of faith in the United States.
"There are many Bible verses explaining the need for compassion for the poor, impoverished and homeless people of our society," said Laura Pangori after returning to Michigan from Ecuador. "One verse in the Gospel of Matthew reminds us that being charitable and loving to everyone is important in our faith, and we are called to see the Christ in every person, putting all prejudices and doubt aside. We cannot be more proud of Maria! She is so compassionate and loving."
As part of her year-long stay in Ecuador, Maria Pangori works at Casa de Acogida (House of Shelter), which is a shelter for women and their children who are escaping extreme and even life-threatening situations of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, with a culture heavily steeped in machismo in Ecuador, this situation is very normalized and common.
"The house where Maria works is a safe place for the women and their children to learn to be autonomous, build back their own strength and esteem, and listen and support other women who faced similar devastating realities," Laura Pangori said. "But the stories about what the women and children have experienced prior to coming to the shelter are unbelievably horrific."
Blessed to have an opportunity to help
For Maria, who spends her weekdays working at Casa and her weekends building relationships with those in her neighborhood, she truly believes she is seeing Christ in everyone she's worked with so far in Ecuador.
"It is extremely difficult to put this experience into words," she said. "My heart wants to share some of the many sacred moments and neighbors that have allowed me to see God's kingdom so alive. I knew before starting this year that Rostro de Cristo's mission was to recognize the face of Christ in everyone I encounter, but what I didn't realize is how much this has given me such an indescribable inner peace."
Maria said that she and her fellow volunteers look at their ministry in Ecuador as all-inclusive.
"We are here to be a shoulder to cry on, someone to hug, someone to play with or dance with, or someone to just sit with," she said. "Hearing some of the most unimaginable situations and stories from the women can be extremely hard, but I see God in their strength and in their love they have for their children.
"I also see God in the way of a 17-year-old girl, who has a 3-year-old daughter from the result of being raped, but who dances so freely while she is cleaning the dishes, and with the most beautiful smile," Maria added. "I see God in the children who run into my arms with unconditional love every time I enter the gates. I see God in the way a mother who was burned with acid from her abuser reads the Bible out loud on the patio and prays with her children before every meal."
She said she has deeply fallen in love with every woman and child who lives in the shelter.
"I feel eternally blessed that God has given me the opportunity to cry with them, laugh with them, pray with them, learn from them, and love them."
Tank top drive
When planning to visit Maria in Ecuador last month, the Pangori family did not want to go empty-handed, according to mom Laura.
"I had spoken to the executive director of Rostro de Cristo for approval and Maria spoke to the owner of Casa to find out what the most immediate needs of the women were," Laura Pangori said. "We were told that the women and children have absolutely nothing in their possession after escaping to Casa. They arrive with their children and just the clothes on their back."
"We didn't know what response we would receive when deciding to do such a clothing drive for Casa," Laura said. "The support and donations from all of our acquaintances and fellow Notre Damers made our drive a huge success. In two weeks, we collected more than 175 tank tops and also received a monetary donation that will be used for diapers and other needs for the children at Casa.
"Much love and happiness were delivered to the women and children at Casa."
More about Rostro de Cristo:
Founded in 1988 by Fr. Jim Ronan of the Archdiocese of Boston, Mass., Rostro de Cristo is a volunteer and retreat program of the Catholic Church based in Ecuador. Beginning with its first house in central Durán over 15 years ago, the Rostro de Cristo community is constantly moving to the areas surrounding Guayaquil where the need is greatest. As the community has moved, it has also grown, from its first year of only three in-country volunteers to fourteen volunteers located in two different communities, and more than 150 alumni. Currently, volunteers are living and working in the communities of Arbolito and Monte Sinai, and hosting 25 retreat groups year-round from a diverse pool of parishes, universities and high schools across the U.S.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.