Making Things Happen

Last week, a visit to the Diocese of Marquette, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, demonstrated so vividly for me that we belong to a Church that can make great things happen… even on a small budget.

I met with Sister Rosaline who operates the Our Lady Help of Christians Center for outreach near Gwinn, Mich.  With $50,000 in support from Catholic Extension’s donors, the center will be able to expand its ministry from a shoestring operation to a more robust presence in a community that desperately needs the steady hand of the Church. Sr. Rosaline can now purchase a phone—a luxury she did without until several months ago when news of Catholic Extension’s support reached her.

Sr. Rosaline reaches out to local families and children through the Our Lady Help of Christians Center.

The Our Lady Help of Christians Center provides meals to the hungry and referral services to an isolated rural community beset by poverty, drugs and violence.  The center serves an area that has been deeply affected by two major industries slowing down or completely leaving the area. Iron ore mining, which was historically a strong source of jobs, is no longer the lifeblood of the region. The K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, which brought tens of thousands of families to this otherwise rural community, closed in 1995.  The center is able to serve thousands of people in need, including children, who were affected by the decline of these industries essential to the region, or who find K.I. Sawyer the only affordable place to live.

As we visited the center, a group of local children approached Sr. Rosaline, some walking barefoot on asphalt, others with the day’s dirt on their hands and faces.  Sr. Rosaline is the face of the Church’s compassion for this abandoned community and the children clearly know her well. “How are you today?” she cheerfully asks one child as she stoops down and cups the girl’s chin in her hand.

Before departing, Sr. Rosaline turned to me and said, “Without Catholic Extension’s support, this ministry would have discontinued.”  Looking back on it now, I wish I could have been quick-witted enough in that moment to answer her by saying, “Sister, without people like you, Catholic Extension would have discontinued long ago.”

Catholic Extension’s mission is to help extend the faith in the U.S., but this can only be accomplished in partnership with dynamic Catholics like Sr. Rosaline who stand ready to do the hard work necessary to “extend” the Church’s presence and mission.

We belong to a Church that gets things done.   It is the Church that works.  It is the Church that continually extends itself beyond its four walls to serve the larger community.  Across the country, anywhere Catholics have a determination to live their faith, Catholic Extension is a ready partner for them in their efforts to mobilize.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

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Needs, Solutions and Impact

Identifying the needs of Catholic communities, developing solutions that address those needs and measuring the impact of our work and our donors’ gifts – these are among the many services Catholic Extension provides to the Church in the U.S.   On a recent trip to Little Rock, I met leaders from 23 of the 86 “mission dioceses” supported by Catholic Extension to learn about their emerging needs, understand how we can help and evaluate the strategies that have been successful.

Needs:

I met Fr. Leonardo, director of Hispanic Ministry in the Diocese of Tulsa, OK.  He is solely in charge of the pastoral care of as many as 25,000 Catholics.  He drives 600 miles every weekend to visit the communities he supports.  From now on, I’ll just think of him the next time I’m tempted to complain that my life is hard.  Without a great deal of funding or any support staff, Fr. Leonardo’s efforts are severely limited, especially his efforts to reach out to poor and at-risk youth.  Last December, 400 impoverished young people from his diocese signed up for a potentially life-changing retreat, but because he couldn’t pay for the buses to transport these young people and had no staff to coordinate alternative transportation, he had to cancel.  “I just need someone who can focus all of their attention on these young people who have nothing,” Fr. Leonardo lamented.

I met the dynamic and successful Jesus Abrego, who works with youth in the Diocese of Beaumont, TX.  Just last week, he organized an event which drew thousands of spiritually hungry youth.  However, Abrego fears his efforts are not enough. “We have a rich past that we should celebrate,” he said.  “But, I am concerned about the future. How many of our young people are in jail, pregnant at 16 or addicted to drugs?”  It is his priority to find new and better ways to reach out to those youths.

The experiences of Fr. Leonardo and Jesus Abrego — those of having too big of a task with too little staff and funding — are unfortunately not uncommon experiences in our Church today.

Jesus Abrego, Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, Diocese of Beaumont, Texas

Solutions:

Investing in pastoral leaders is a simple and practical solution for our Church.  For more than 100 years, Catholic Extension has been providing salary support for pastoral leaders, and the need for this type of support is greater now more than ever.

Currently, Catholic Extension is proposing a $15 million partnership initiative with other funding organizations and Catholic dioceses, which would provide seed money to help establish 100 new positions for pastoral leaders across the country over the next three years.  These positions would help dynamic leaders like Fr. Leonardo and Jesus Abrego expand the outreach of the Church to the most vulnerable populations.

This initiative was enthusiastically embraced by the 23 diocesan representatives that gathered with me in Little Rock.  The additional leaders will help them engage Catholics on the margins, especially young Catholics.

Impact:

This solution of providing salary support has proven to be effective.  Take, for example, the Diocese of Little Rock, which experienced double-digit growth in its Catholic population over the last 20 years.  Catholic Extension invested heavily in the salaries of pastoral leaders in this diocese.

In the town of DeQueen, in the far southwest corner of Arkansas, Catholic Extension provided salary support to St. Barbara.  When that effort began, there were about 70 Catholics who belonged to the rural parish.  The new pastoral leaders, however, worked hard at building a vibrant faith community, and today the parish has more than 1,500 active Catholics.

Starting this week, Catholic Extension is funding the salaries of pastoral leaders who are moving their ministry across the state from DeQueen to Hamburg, Arkansas.  Currently, Holy Spirit Parish in Hamburg is a small community.  But Msgr. Scott Friend, the Vicar General of the diocese, knows that the area has great potential to grow, and in two to three years time they expect to have a community that rivals the size of the one in DeQueen.

The future is within reach, but we as Catholics are going to have to stretch ourselves to make it there.   What I learned on this trip to Little Rock is that while the needs are profound, there are steps we can take right now to address them and make a lasting difference for so many dedicated Catholics right here in our own country.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Seeing Great Returns on Our Investments

As we begin 2011, I look back at this past year with a sense of awe at what I’ve seen accomplished by the thousands of people to whom Catholic Extension donors entrusted $18 million dollars of support.

In 2010 I traveled tens of thousands of miles across the United States and its territories, and visited Catholic communities in some of the most forgotten places of our nation.  As I reflect on my visits, I arrive at one conclusion: these are people who are worth investing in.  Everywhere I turn, ordinary men and women have answered the call to serve in extraordinary ways.

Here are some of my experiences from 2010 that demonstrate the extraordinariness of our fellow Catholics and how they have done everything possible to deliver a great return on our investment:

  • Slashing Overhead in Puerto Rico.  I shared lunch with Bishop Inaki of the Diocese of Arecibo, PR.  Now in his mid seventies, Bishop Inaki spoke passionately about how during his nearly twenty–year tenure as bishop he has tried to focus his diocese on the poor.  He is deeply grateful for Catholic Extension’s $200,000 of annual assistance to the most under-resourced parishes in his diocese.  So, in an act of solidarity with the poor and in appreciation of outside donors who desire to fund mission and not overhead, Bishop Inaki has simply never taken a salary.  All he asks from the diocese are the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet.  This is an interesting way to manage expenses, I remember thinking to myself.
  • Supplying Demand in Arizona.I met with Sr. Mary and Sr. Maureen who are charged with the religious education and community

    Sister Mary (left) and Sister Maureen (right), Daughters of Charity, are part of a powerful team at St. Jude in Tuba City, AZ.

    outreach for St. Jude Parish, in Tuba City on the Navajo Reservation.   Parish collections average only about $600 on a Sunday, so Catholic Extension donors subsidize the humble salaries of the four religious sisters who work at the Church.  How are they breathing life into this community?  Let’s consider the numbers.  Besides the many souls that they’ve fed this past year, the church’s food bank served about 50,000 hungry stomachs.  On top of that, the parish proudly organized a dinner for 2,000 people the week before Thanksgiving.  The sisters and the parishioners were exhausted, but deeply satisfied.

  • Low Cost & High Quality in Tennessee. I met an attorney, Jim, who had blue prints in hand and a smile on his face as he told me his parish’s underdog story.  He is a faithful Catholic man, who volunteers as the parish book-keeper.  With just a little bit of help from Catholic Extension, he was able to bring the first Catholic Church to Fentress County, Tennessee.  For decades, Catholics had been gathering for

    The 3,200 square feet of St. Christopher Church, the first Catholic Church in Fentress County, TN.

    mass at the local Presbyterian Church.  Knowing that the Catholic community of 75 families could never reach its full potential without its own church, Jim led parishioners through the legal paperwork, architectural planning, construction details, and fundraising strategy associated with building a church.  A master at negotiation, Jim got bargains on the land purchase and church construction.  The end result? A new, state-of-the-art church, now named St. Christopher, for a thrifty price of only $650,000.

  • High-Performing Investment in North Carolina. With just a modest-sized grant of $25,000 from Catholic Extension, the Hispanic Evangelization Center in Lenoir, North Carolina, led by the dynamic Fr. Julio Dominguez, has done some impressive things this year.  The

    Fr. Julio with the dedicated leaders who have committed three years to the “School of Faith” program in the Diocese of Charlotte.

    Center has attracted 45 new people to its “School of Faith,” a three-year leadership training for lay Catholics who desire to serve their community.  Additionally, the Center has held two seminars for youth and families, attracting 500 and 700 people respectively, and it hosted a men’s retreat attracting 120 men for a three-day experience.  Not surprisingly, the Center has been identified as a model ministry for the entire diocese.  Fr. Julio told me, “I have witnessed the transforming effect of such a strong religious and spiritual experience in the lives of these [people].”

The stories I share with you are not the exceptions. They are the norm.  These are the heroic people behind the scenes in the Catholic Church across the U.S. , who change lives and bring hope to under-resourced communities.  And, they do all of this at an absurdly low cost.  This is why at Catholic Extension we can say to you with total confidence that “every dollar counts.”

Here’s to a successful 2010, and here’s to an even better 2011.

– Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

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