Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
As Jeannie Gaffigan endured her arduous recovery from the surgery that removed a life-threatening tumor from her brain stem, she felt overwhelmed by a desire to work with the youth of her Catholic parish in New York City, Old St. Patrick’s. Her oldest son and daughter had received the sacrament of Confirmation, and she wasn’t sure what their spiritual formation would look like from that point forward.
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Jeannie explained that she and another mother brought together some preteens and teens, asking what societal needs they saw and what they felt they could accomplish. The adults taught the group about raising money and collecting items, and they called this group the St Patrick’s Warriors. As time passed, they interacted with a youth group from Ascension Church called The Spirit Squad, which was so large that they started a food pantry for food-insecure people in their neighborhood. They eventually crossed paths with a Jewish youth group doing similar service work. That’s when Jeannie experienced an epiphany.
She said, “In the Gospel, Jesus [says to go] to the ends of the earth. In New York City, you don’t have to go to the ends of the earth. We’re in the middle of all these vibrant cultures and groups of people who are doing good. That’s very much [in line] with The Christophers: what are we doing to uplift and be a light in the darkness?” And so, The Imagine Society was born to unite diverse youth groups from the city under one umbrella organization.
One of the Imagine Society’s projects was held at Ascension Church. It was a pop-up shelter in which 20 homeless men received food, shelter, and an experience of community for one night. Jeannie said, “We had the kids from the different groups plan the menu, the decor, the goody bags…with a little hand sanitizer and lots of [other] items. And one of the most beautiful parts of the evening was the engagement and conversation. The kids sat down at the table and brought over a cup of coffee, and brought out the [playing] cards and the Jenga, and had conversations. It was this amazing unification of all these different kids and cultures and acts of service. We got so much out of it.”
Plans for future events shifted when the coronavirus pandemic hit and everyone had to shelter at home. But the Imagine Society quickly adapted and came up with ways they could still help those in need. “We pivoted all of our activities to support the frontline workers and the victims that are most affected,” Jeannie explained. “When you do something meaningful and you think about other people, your own mental health and well-being is completely changed. It was important for all of us, the teenagers and the adults, to feel connected and feel like we were… not powerless and not victims, and that we were able to offer our support and love in the middle of this pandemic.”
As a mother of five, wife and writing partner of comedian Jim Gaffigan, and co-leader of two youth groups, Jeannie accomplishes a lot. But she says, “I could not do anything without begging the Blessed Mother to help me every day. If it was up to me, I would be lying in bed watching Netflix all day eating ice cream. But I feel like something bigger than me is pushing me to do this stuff. I feel motivated by a higher purpose.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note HOW GOD CAN LIGHT YOUR WAY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org