Within a few weeks of her birth in 1990, Shannon Hickey was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease. Doctors predicted she wouldn’t live past the age of two.
Shannon’s mother Kelly found support in family friend Father Mychal Judge who called her frequently to pray with her and reassure her that everything would be okay.
Those prayers were answered when Kelly discovered, and then took part in, an innovative medical procedure that allowed her to donate a part of her liver to her seven-month-old daughter. The surgery saved Shannon’s life. Her family gave credit to God and the prayers of Fr. Mychal who remained a “constant” loving presence in their lives.
When Fr. Mychal Judge was killed by falling debris at the World Trade Center on 9/11, Shannon felt devastated. As she recalled during an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” she asked, “How could God let this happen?” Several months later, Shannon found a way to offer tribute to Fr. Mychal’s legacy of caring for the less fortunate.
Every year, Shannon and her family celebrated the anniversary of her liver transplant with a party in their Pennsylvania home. In 2002, eleven-year-old Shannon asked that, instead of presents, guests bring socks that she could donate to the homeless – specifically, those who came to the bread line at New York City’s St. Francis of Assisi Church where Fr. Mychal had lived. Her Mom sent out emails to family and friends explaining what they were doing. Shannon wound up collecting 1,500 pairs of socks.
Along with the socks, Shannon and her family planned to give everyone a copy of Fr. Mychal’s prayer which reads, “Lord, take me where you want me to go / Let me meet who you want me to meet / Tell me what you want me to say / And keep me out of your way.”
The day came for Shannon and her family to distribute the socks to the men and women who come to St. Francis every morning at 7:00am to receive the free sandwich and cup of coffee provided by the Church. Prior to that first time, Shannon admits, “Honestly, I was very scared…I was so used to my little house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania…When we got to New York, there were all these homeless men and women lined up in the street and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even anticipate this’…Once we got on the line, every single fear I had literally just disappeared…I talked to one person and I realized that they’re just like me; it’s just different circumstances that got them to where they are now.”
Though Shannon (pictured here with her brother, sister, and a homeless man) had always been committed to her Catholic faith, she experienced a spiritual epiphany that day - “When you look at (the homeless) on the street, they’re sitting there with their heads down. But if you go up to them and say, ‘Good morning,’ all of a sudden their head comes up and their entire face brightens up…I never realized that saying ‘Good morning’ to someone could really make somebody’s day. It made me realize that God’s in every single one of them so why treat them any different than I treat my friends?”
The sock distribution was originally intended to be a one-time event, but God apparently had other plans. After one of the homeless asked Shannon’s grandmother Sharon if she had any underwear to distribute, the family had a new mission. And that’s how “Mychal’s Message” was born. This non-profit serves the poor and homeless primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. The annual underwear distribution – dubbed “Blessed Bloomers” – takes place every September 11th at St. Francis of Assisi Church. “Mychal’s Message” also collect diapers for babies, “prayer bears” for kids, and coats for the homeless.
Another recent project is “Home Sweet Home” in which teens spend the night sleeping in cardboard boxes in the parking lot of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lancaster, PA. The experience helps teens better understand the problem of homelessness and raises money to help the less fortunate. (For a full list of projects, visit www.MychalsMessage.org.)
Regarding the philosophy behind her ongoing efforts, Shannon explains, “I am a really big believer in the fact that any single act of kindness will make a difference in one person’s life. That’s how I started out the ministry. I didn’t start out by thinking I was going to change the world because I know I can’t change the world…I know one pair of socks isn’t going to change a person. It’s not going to change their entire life – but it will change their day… That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – make one difference in one person’s life.”
Through all the work she does, the now 18-year-old college freshman never forgets the inspiration behind it – the loss of her beloved friend Fr. Mychal Judge. Shannon says, “He’s the one who truly made me realize that in every ending, there’s a new beginning.”
(To download the full interview with Shannon Hickey, visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast)