By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 21, 2009
Miles Chesley remembered the lonely days of a young man in the armed forces.
Serving in the Navy, he found any piece of mail was exciting, even something like a seed catalog was notable, he said. It wasn’t that the mail was uplifting, but that someone actually thought of him and took the time to mail a note, he said.
As the nation marks Memorial Day, the 59-year-old chemist and parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi, Cartersville, is doing what he can to serve members of the military.
GB: What is your ministry and how did it begin?
MC: In 2005, I started it to keep in touch with a few parishioners and their relatives deployed overseas. It was to let them know people were thinking of them.
Every two weeks, I ship out about a dozen letters with church bulletins, small tidbits from the newspaper, anything that gives news from home.
Around Independence Day, Christmas and other holidays, I will put cards at the back of the church and ask people to sign them. Signatures and messages of good wishes cover the cards. And every few months I mail care packages. They love getting Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn.
GB: How many people do you keep in touch with?
MC: I keep in touch with about a dozen people at a time. Overall, I have written about 100 people. Some people I have been in touch with for five years and I have never met.
At times, people come to me after Mass and introduce themselves. It takes me a minute to remember how I know them. Those are happy times.
GB: How has the ministry changed?
MC: I am now in touch with people who have little connection to the parish. The circle has expanded. They are friends of friends or neighbors of people here.
Also, the parish has embraced larger ministries to directly help people in Iraq. One is called Kick for Nick, which was started in memory of a soccer-loving soldier. The parish sent in 2008 some 250 soccer balls to be distributed to Iraqi youngsters by soldiers to build good relations.
Also, the parish shipped some 1,500 pounds of school supplies, clothes, toiletries, toys and other items to Iraq. The request came from an Army captain stationed there whose father is a member of the parish.
Recently, parish women worked to finish handmade blankets in response to a request from a parishioner soldier in Iraq.
GB: Any memories from this experience?
MC: It was very sad when one of my pen pals died in combat. His parents are parishioners. That was the worst time. Young people aren’t supposed to die. The parish pulled together during that sad time.
The best times are when I get an e-mail telling me how the soldier appreciates the little mailings, or if they appear at the church when they are visiting and say hello.
GB: Any suggestions for how others can get involved?
MC: It is simple. Make an announcement in your parish that you want to send cards, letters to service members. People will come to you.