As kids across the country head back to school, four recent college grads are preparing to take off for new lives in the missions.

They are being sent by Fidesco, a 30-year-old Paris-based Catholic agency that has a new branch in the United States and is sending Americans abroad for the first time.

Founded in 1981 by the Emmanuel Community, following a meeting at the Vatican with African bishops, Fidesco now operates in 31 countries and sends 250 volunteers every year. Its name is based on the Latin word for faith, fides. The co is for cooperation.
Each volunteer makes a two-year commitment.

Wyoming native Natalie Kean, 28, is headed for a slum outside Manila in the Philippines. An alumna of the University of Wyoming and a recent graduate of the law school at St. Louis University, she became familiar with Fidesco while living in Georgia and clerking for a federal magistrate judge.

She is a member of the Emmanuel community and was at a gathering of the community in Gainesville, where Fidesco has a mission. Some of the volunteers were speaking about their experiences, and she became intrigued.

“I’ve come to have a sense over the past couple of years that I need to try to experience solidarity with the poor because I feel I can’t understand poverty fully with my whole body, my whole desire until I know what they’re living,” said Kean, who at St. Louis University specialized in health care law and hopes to eventually be involved in public interest law.

“What appealed to me about Fidesco is that they really try to use your professional skills and experiences, so it’s not totally a random assignment.”

Speaking earlier this summer at a reception for Fidesco at the Manhattan residence of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, she said she has no trepidations about going abroad. “I trust Fidesco completely to provide as safe an environment as possible for me, but I know it will be emotionally challenging,” she told me. “Just seeing the conditions, feeling maybe overwhelmed by seeing how many people need help and I just can’t help all of them — I think that will be a real challenge.”

With her faith accompanying her — fides co — she will, I believe, be up for that challenge.

Godspeed, Natalie.