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St. Teresa of Kolkata inspires O'Connell Thanksgiving tradition

“Turkey Blitz,” a Thanksgiving fundraiser in collaboration with the Missionaries of Charity, completed its 20th year at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington. In 1997, the school began its involvement with the religious order’s Washington home, Gift of Peace, when visual arts teacher Joe Crivella proposed the idea to then-Principal Alward Burch. 

“It’s an unusual story,” said Crivella, who traces the history to around 1993, when a Missionary of Charity was hit by a truck in Washington.

The nun was taken to the hospital, where Crivella’s wife, Therese Crivella, and her sister, Marjorie Moreau, were both working as nurses. They recognized the white and blue habit and contacted the Missionaries of Charity. When the sisters arrived, they were told that she wouldn’t make it through the night. With permission from the hospital staff, the sisters prayed around her. Thirty days later, the injured sister walked out of the hospital on crutches, and received post-operative care from Therese Crivella. 

Therese’s medical service spread to the community and involved, Joe, who volunteered with the Missionaries in their outreach to the homeless, sick and destitute of Washington. He met Mother Teresa and grew in admiration of the sisters. The experience solidified his Catholic faith.

He also noticed that the sisters had a “meager Thanksgiving celebration.” 

“It’s like everyone knows we go all out (for Thanksgiving),” said Crivella. “But the idea of giving thanks isn’t as perpetuated as it once was.”

In 1997, three days before the holiday, Crivella approached Burch about creating a fundraiser to provide food for the sisters’ Thanksgiving meal. Burch liked the idea and because of its short notice they dubbed it “Turkey Blitz.”

A flier created by O’Connell students features visual arts teacher Joe Crivella’s face. Courtesy Photo.

Two decades later the school spends a week raising money. During that week, Crivella receives a phone call from the sisters with a grocery list and the number of families attending. After the money is collected, he purchases the items and delivers them to the sisters with the help of students.

In the beginning, 15 to 20 families ate Thanksgiving dinner with the sisters. Last year there were 220 families. 

“Sometimes we have to raise $7,000 (and) other times $1,000,” said Crivella. Each year the goal is met, and in amazement he says, “God always provides.”

After the meal, the sisters give the families goody bags filled with olive oil, coffee, flour and other staples to sustain them for the weeks to come.

The school has incorporated the “Turkey Blitz” into its calendar of charitable events alongside the Chunky Soup Drive and Super Dance. 

Art students lend their talents by creating fliers that pay homage to Crivella — one with his face photoshopped on a turkey’s head.

Crivella visits religion classes and shares his stories of working with the sisters and his personal meeting with the now St. Teresa of Kolkata. That encounter, he said, changed his life at a time when he had grown resentful toward God after enduring much grief. 

Within three years, he had lost three siblings and put his mother in hospice care. The morning after his brother had died, the third sibling to pass, the Missionaries of Charity called to ask him to drive six sisters to the airport.
“I didn’t want to go,” he said, but he went anyway. 

One of the sisters in the group was Mother Teresa, and because of her fame they took an unusual route. Stopping at a traffic light, he saw St. Martin of Tours Church in Washington, the church where his brother had received his sacraments. At the same time, Mother Teresa picked up a letter from the car floor that Crivella had written to his brother. She asked who it was for, and after Crivella explained his recent passing she asked that they pray for him. 

“It had to be providence, not coincidence,” he said, claiming that the experience reaffirmed his Catholic faith.

“It’s a marvelous thing for O’Connell to start this (project) while she was alive,” said Crivella, adding to the school’s connection to the saint when she visited in 1982. 

Crivella hopes to pass the torch to the student-run Young Men’s Executive Club, saying he’s getting too old to lead it.

As long as the Missionaries of Charity host families for Thanksgiving, says Crivella, he hopes O’Connell will be thankful to be a part of it.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016