Do you ever wonder, who were the first volunteers? Volunteering may have been around since humans built societies. But, where did the word volunteering come from? In terms of modern society, Wikipedia states that the verb volunteering was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the noun volunteer, in 1600, for one who offers himself for military service. However, it is in the 19th century that the concept of volunteering gained traction. Americans experienced the Great Awakening and people became more aware of the disadvantaged. There was a strong movement of younger people who started helping the needy in their communities. And, in 1851 the first YMCA was started. And, the rest is history.
Even though the modern day term of volunteering was not coined until 1755, as Wikipedia records, it does not mean that people weren’t doing “the act” of volunteering long before that. In fact, missionary work could be where the roots of volunteerism was conceptualized. Although, Saints were under the economy of the Catholic church, their acts were in the service of local communities. Here is a description of three of the most popular Saints who gave their time and energy to serve and be a blessing to others.
First on the list is Saint Patrick. It is Saint Patrick’s Day and people are celebrating everywhere. However, many people may not be aware of the true history of the day. Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Roman-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. He was known as the Apostle of Ireland and founded Christianity there. As a young boy he was taken as a slave to Ireland, captured by Irish pirates. After six years in captivity, he escaped and returned home to his family. Shortly after returning home, he became a cleric and then returned to northern and western Ireland to serve the people there. Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17 (believed to be the day Saint Patrick died) and is celebrated as a religious and cultural holiday inside Ireland and beyond.
Saint Nicholas is responsible for tradition of the modern day Santa Claus. He was born in the 4th-century into a Greek family, in modern day Turkey. Nicholas was known for his habit of secret-gift-giving and for doing miracles attributed to his intercession. He was also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Another name for him was Nikolaos of Myra. Saint Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra shortly after his pilgrimage to Egypt, modern day Israel, and the Palestine area.
A woman admired around the world for her charitable work is Mother Teresa. She is known in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. After eighteen years, she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life. In 1950 Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity that manages homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children’s and family counseling programs; orphanages, and schools. Mother Teresa, among many other recognitions, won the Noble Peace Prize in 1979.
The history of volunteering just may spring its roots in the tradition of Saints and missionaries. No doubt, these men and women have changed the world for the better. It doesn’t take becoming a missionary or Saint, though, to make a big difference. You can make a big impact just right were you are. Extreme Community Makeover exists to be the liaison between Denver communities and people like yourself, who have the heart to serve. Sign-up to “be a saint” in somebody’s life this year and register for an ECM Work Day.