The world moved a little bit this month, and I like the direction it’s going in.
We at Catholic Extension recently were privileged to present at a meeting of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities) held in Chicago on the work and impact of women religious in America. As part of our presentation, we brought nine brilliant women from across the country to tell their stories to this organization, a vitally important association of funders that provides tens of millions of dollars in financial support each year to Catholic ministries.
Four of our presenters were women religious and five were lay people who have been inspired to carry out the work of women religious. We had met all of them during our travels across the country to the places where our donors provide support – $1.7 million to women religious out of $18 million we will distribute this year.
Two of the women provide social and spiritual outreach to rural African-Americans in Mississippi. Four of them give social and spiritual support to primarily Navajo populations in Arizona, where many people struggle with addiction. One woman educates Apache children in Southern Arizona. And two women provide spiritual and social support to Hispanic populations in eastern Tennessee, where many Catholics work in extremely low-paying jobs in agrarian and manufacturing industries.
Each of our panelists represents the Catholic Church in all its beauty and diversity, and in all of its struggles and opportunities for growth. As they spoke of the lives they lead among the communities they love, the only sound in the room was of people passing around Kleenex boxes.
One of our panelists talked of how she was a teenage immigrant 20 years ago in Eastern Tennessee, struggling through school and working to support her family as a migrant strawberry picker in the region’s agricultural sector. The Church reached out to her and gave her a reason to remain hopeful. Today, she works for the same church that helped her 20 years ago, giving the same hope and outreach to today’s Hispanic immigrants that were once offered to her.
Knowing that she was in a room full of savvy funders who track metrics and outcomes on their financial support, our panelist simply and eloquently said, “I just realized as I was sitting here, that I am your outcome. I am able to be here because of what you do.” In response to this simple observation, the room of funders erupted in applause.
One panelist recounted that she had once struggled with severe alcohol addiction. At a young age she was a single mother of seven, and addiction was destroying her life and her family. Faced with an alcohol-related conviction, she spent several months in prison. The whole time, she said, the sisters were there for her and her family, giving her support, encouragement and license to change her life around. The sisters visited her in prison and watched over her family. Today, she is thankful to be free from the alcohol and has begun to restore her family life. She volunteers regularly with the sisters, understanding how important their work is in her community.
“Never Give up,” said the pint-sized, big-hearted Sr. Bernard, who is working in Arizona. She believes in a God of second chances, and a God for whom nothing is impossible. “I have seen some people with the same problem for 17 years. We need to continue to be there for them and serve them. We always have hope.”
Everyone at that FADICA meeting, myself included, was privileged to see what a powerful leaven faith can be in this world. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but recollect the passage from Matthew’s gospel, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Later that night I thought about my own life. I am about to become the father of a second daughter. My wife and I agree that in our home we will strive to create an environment where we can raise strong, bright, faith-filled women who are prepared not only to face the world, but to change it. I thought of the women at the FADICA meeting that day, how they are answering the call to take action in tough situations and give their best response to what their life and vocation has dealt them. How I wish for me and my daughters that we could all be as resolute in our effort to shake and move the world.
– Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management
For more on Catholic Extension’s journeys, follow Joe on Twitter.