Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

'Mustard Seed' Memories Now Etched on Angel's Heart

Demarest, NJ: Even before her plane touched down in Nicaragua, Anya Skae knew that was exactly where she wanted to be. The Nanuet, New York, resident and her group from the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River were on their way to volunteer at Mustard Seed Communities in Diriamba and Managua. 

These mission trips have been organized for several years by Father Benny Prado, who recently left Presentation to become pastor of a church in Montclair. Fr. Benny returned to his former parish to lead this year’s trip. 

“Many of my friends went on the mission trip the year before and told me that I really should consider going because it was such an amazing week,” Skae noted. “There was an entire application process. My parents were a little hesitant, and I actually handed in my application before they fully said ‘yes.’ I knew it was something that I really wanted to do.” 

Skae explained that her group was involved in a number of activities during their stay in Nicaragua. 

“The orphanage only lets mission teams do three days of manual labor. On two of those days, we scraped the paint off their cement wall and repainted it at the first MSC location in Diriamba,” she reported. “The other day, we repainted the cribs at the second MSC orphanage location in Managua. 

“I think though the most important responsibility was being companions for the residents at the orphanage. They range from ages 5-30. They all have disabilities as well. They all loved spending time with all of our team, doing the most simplistic things. Their smiles illuminated a type of happiness that I had never experienced in my life.

“I enjoyed being with the residents the most. I never realized that after being with them for one week I would create a connection with them that was like none other. I vividly remember Juana, who was so excited when I sang a random song I made up, or Roberto, who was jumping all of the waves when we brought some of the residents to the beach.” 

Skae is enthusiastic about returning to these Mustard Seed Communities. “If someone said to me right now, ‘I have a plane ticket to Nicaragua and a car,’ I would go in a heartbeat,” she commented. “Before going to Nicaragua, I took everything that I had for granted,” she reflected. “We lived a very simplistic life while we were there, not worrying about what was going on elsewhere. This didn't really hit me until I got home. My parents surprised me at the airport and I teared up, realizing that the residents I just left were abandoned by theirs. 

“When I got home, I sat in the shower for an hour, appreciating the hot water that I didn't have while in Nicaragua. I opened my closet and started sobbing, questioning why I have so much and they don't.” 

During the mission trip, Fr. Benny took all of the volunteers’ phones, a change Skae found refreshing.

“Today, we all spend so much time trying to capture everything on Snapchat, or posting on Instagram or Facebook. By not having my phone, I forgot about everything back at home and I was able to stay in the moment, creating memories I will never forget. Because of this, all of the memories and every single detail are etched in my heart forever. Thinking about it now, coming home was probably the hardest part.” 

Next fall, Skae sees herself studying biomedical engineering as a college freshman. Her experience in Nicaragua could influence her career path. 

“Because I was at an orphanage for disabled children, I was able to understand some of the disabilities that they have, especially the residents in the orphanage in Managua, which is for the babies and many residents with severe muscular dystrophy. When I came home, I realized that so many medical advances could be made there. I would love to be a part of a project that would create devices that they would be able to use with the residents.” 

Perhaps the tiny grain of Anya Skae’s Mustard Seed experience will produce results with a resounding impact. 

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.



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