Meet a Catholic couple: Jean Harkins and her husband Bob

Originally Appeared in : 9716-8/3/17

2017 Gartland Award recipient Jean Hawkins and her husband Bob discuss the atmosphere at their parish, Nativity of our Lady Church in Darien, its restoration and their service with various parish ministries.


JH: Nativity of Our Lady Church, is just like a Church is supposed to be. Our community is giving, loving and looks out for each other. Our Church is beautiful and quaint with love pouring out the doors. Our Church has a red door, which we feel symbolizes the loving heart of Jesus.


BH: Our Church is one great, big family. Our Church was built in 1945 with just four or five families from Old Darien. Darien is a fishing community, including shrimpers, crabbers and oystermen for over 100 years now. Nativity is what I like to call post-and-beam construction, with gorgeous stained glass windows, oak floors and pews.


JH: This year has been full of sadness for our family. In May, Bob suffered a stroke, fortunately with no long-term effects. Our next to the youngest son, Brian suffered and died from brain cancer. And, I had my kidney removed due to cancer. Our Church embraced us by calls, cards, and Masses for Brian. Father Tim McKeown, our pastor was planning on traveling to Jacksonville, Florida to be with us for the Memorial Service for Brian. These kindnesses mean everything to us. 


Of the parish’s stained glass restoration project: 


BH: I am going to have to claim ignorance due to old age as I cannot remember the name of the company, but they are from out west. We did a lot of research and chose the one in business the longest and are the most qualified. It took us a year of fundraising. We held two spaghetti dinners, a fish fry, yard sale and held a musical concert with a vocalist out of Savannah. The total bill was $16,000. We did get a grant from the Church for $7,000, I think, to redo the 14 windows.We have several parishioners who together donated $2,500 to $3,000 right there.

Literally, they had to take a 3 feet by 3 feet section, send it out west to their professional stained glass window restorer who knew how to match it perfectly. They completely redid the windows on the outside. They sanded them, painted them, applied epoxy to eliminate rusting, installed a new type of lexan to eliminate fading and to withstand rocks being thrown. Years ago we had someone throw a rock through one, if you can believe that! 
We’ve just finished redoing the inside of the church. The floors are redone, one of the parishioners painted. It looks like a million bucks.
Currently, we continue working on the outside of the Church, and are fundraising to install a new red, tile roof, which will be about $30,000.


Of the Harkins’ volunteerism with the McIntosh County community food bank:


JH: Quite a few people are served, although it depends on the time of the year, whether they are retired and on a fixed income or whether the shrimping season is poor or other reasons. 


JH: Every person gets a bag of food that will feed a family of three for a week, and then manufacturers and individuals donate other items. Each sack contains canned meats, fruits or vegetables and non-perishables. Other items such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soaps, teabags and other non-food stamp items are included. The Episcopal Church provides four volunteers each Friday; the Mormon Church sends a delightful lady every Friday, to put together the bags. Each family provides identification of residency in McIntosh County. On a good week, we serve maybe 50 to 60 families. On a bad week, more. Toward the end of the month, it will jump much higher. 


Of Bob Harkins' work as the chairman of the Nativity Building and Grounds committee:


BH:  I served for 4 years, and my big project was getting the windows done. We had shrubs needing trims, trees removed, our big oak tree trimmed, flowers planted, statues restored. One of our parishioner’s sons created a meditational garden for his Eagle project which needed some restoration. We are so fortunate to have our retired priest, Father Leo Kennedy, currently assuming the responsibilities of our groundskeeper. We could not get along without him. 


Of Jean Harkins' work with Nativity’s pastoral and finance committees:

JH: I was on the first pastoral council at Nativity. It was basically organizing and establishing the proper documentation. My father was a WWII veteran and he taught me that after the war in Europe, families relied on the Catholic Church’s records for proof of their residency to obtain food, housing and basic needs. I appreciate the importance of the task. I then moved to the finance committee and worked on setting up budgets and striving to become our own parish.


Barbara Rusiecki is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Florida.

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