The world moved.

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.

Hungry for good news?

The airwaves and printing presses were buzzing last week all around Montana, and even nationally. For a change, the buzz was good. The media, including USA Today and the local CBS affiliate, was telling a story of great hope emanating from a tiny town called Browning, located on the plains just east of the continental divide and 50 miles south of the Canadian border.

Lumen Christi Award

Fr. Wall presents Fr. Kohler with Lumen Christi Award

I was lucky enough to be there, one of a group representing Catholic Extension, the narrator of this amazing story. We had come from Chicago, led by Catholic Extension President Father Jack Wall, to present our annual Lumen Christi award to Fr. Ed Kohler, a hero of Browning. The name of the award comes from Latin, meaning “light of Christ,” and we award it annually to someone who demonstrates the power of faith to transform lives and communities.

Fr. Kohler, originally from Missoula, Montana, has spent three decades working among the Blackfeet Native people in rural Montana. The 64 year-old “Fr. Ed” is pastor of Little Flower Parish in this town of 3,000, where the average income is around $5,000, and the average life expectancy is not much over 50 years. Depression, alcoholism and addiction are rampant. But in the midst of so much hardship, Fr. Kohler and his parish community inspire hope.

Blackfeet Chief Earl Old Person

Chief Earl Old Person is the leader of the Blackfeet nation and spoke at the ceremony. Standing before the crowd wearing his magnificent eagle feather headdress, Chief Earl said, “Our ancestors have always struggled to survive,” but added that people like Fr. Ed and the community of Little Flower make him optimistic about the future of his Nation.

Fr. Kohler gives witness to the transformative power of faith. He gathers his people and nourishes hungry hearts, convincing them to believe in themselves and hope in God.

Little Flower Parish Gym

Consequently, this parish community can be proud of so much. It has robust youth groups; an academically successful Catholic school (grades 4-8) that is the “passport” from poverty to a better future for scores of native children; and a nationally renowned spiritual retreat movement, which has helped thousands of adults free themselves from destructive behavior and addiction .

But back to the scene last week: imagine hundreds of people gathered to celebrate. Community members, tribal leaders, parishioners, local civic leaders, the diocesan bishop (to whom the Blackfeet people have given the name, “Holy Warrior”) all packed in a crowded gymnasium, all thrilled for their beloved Fr. Ed.

Extension Team at Little Flower Parish

The community sang traditional Blackfeet songs in their native tongue, along with religious songs, such as “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art,” delivered in a Country-Cowboy style that was slow, smooth, and twangy. Later, we asked Fr. Ed how the nearly half million dollars of financial support provided by Catholic Extension’s donors has helped his ministry at Little Flower parish. He simply wept. Then he said, “Catholic Extension and its donors are really the light of Christ for us.”

We’re all hungry for good news like this. All of us need to know about the Ed Kohlers and the Little Flower parishes that are reaching amazing heights with stunningly few resources, in the face of tremendous social, economic and spiritual challenge.

– Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Read more about our Lumen Christi Nominee and Catholic Extension.

For more on Catholic Extension’s journeys, follow Joe on Twitter.

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Phillip replied, “Come and see.”

Fr. Jack Wall, our president at Catholic Extension, likes quoting this exchange between Nathanael and Philip from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. After three months working at Catholic Extension, I finally understand why.

Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Being part of Catholic Extension’s mission is a distinct privilege.  We see the work of God alive in some of the most remote corners of the United States, cities and towns most have never heard of. Our mission is to strengthen the Church’s life and work in hundreds of places that, at first glance, beg the question: Can any good thing come out Elberta, Utah or Cleveland, Texas or Browning, Montana? These are places where the faith of its residents is abundant, but often the resources they have are not. In these places, live people whose hope – rooted in their love of God and each other – buffers the temptation to become overwhelmed by poverty and isolation. These are people who are committed each day to work for change and a future that reflects the richness of their giftedness and diverse strengths.

In each of these places, the Catholic Church walks alongside the people, ensuring that their faith is being nourished by their communion with God, among one other and with other Catholics around the country and the world. Catholic Extension exists to sustain, strengthen and transform the Church in every single one of these places throughout the U.S.

Frank Santoni, Regional Director of Grants Management

Catholic Extension is often referred to as the “best kept secret in the Church.”  The only thing I knew about it was that it produces calendars – the kind of calendars my grandmother may have once hung in our kitchen when I was growing up. I had no idea of Catholic Extension’s unique century-old mission which now – thanks to Fr. Jack and many others new to the cause like me – in the process of getting a major refresh and update. It has been literally out with the typewriters, in with the laptops. That’s where this blog comes in.

As part of the Grants Management team at Catholic Extension, each month Joe Boland, my Grants Management colleague, and I are privileged to lead visits by our staff to the places we serve. We go to hear stories and meet the people whose faith is transforming their lives and the lives of those around them. We go to meet the Church leaders who are dedicating their lives to inspire hope and work for change. It is their stories that compel us to renew our promise each day at Catholic Extension to help our Church grow and flourish, along with its people, in some of our country’s most forgotten corners.

At the end of the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Nathanael, having taken Philip’s advice to “come and see” meets Jesus face to face for the first time. It doesn’t take long before Nathanael proclaims that Jesus is King of Israel and the Son of God. Jesus reply to him: “You will see greater things than these.”

Our hope is to convey the stories of what we “see” in the Nazareths of our nation. And, like Nathanael, become witnesses to what God is up to in these places. To paraphrase Jesus’ response: We ain’t seen nothing yet.

– Frank Santoni, Regional Director of Grants Management

Frank & Joe will contribute on a monthly basis to the Catholic Extension blog, documenting and reflecting on the compelling stories and inspiring people Catholic Extension helps along the way.

Join us on the journey!  Follow Joe & Frank on Twitter.

Sr. Marguerite Bartz

The St. Michael Indian School, located on the Navajo Reservation in the Diocese of Gallup between New Mexico and Arizona, was awarded a $41,451 grant last spring to fund vital renovations for the school. The grant is the first awarded by the Sister Marguerite Bartz Fund, which was created to honor the educator and servant Sr. Marguerite Bartz who was tragically murdered in 2009. Click to read more about how her legacy lives on.