Putting a Price on the Invaluable

During my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I met the extraordinary Missionaries of Villaregia in the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Missionaries are a congregation of 16 men and women who minister to the spiritually and materially poor.  They work particularly closely with at-risk youth and families in crisis by inviting them into a community of faith and teaching them what can be possible in life when love is at the heart of it.  In any given year, they serve as many as 2,000 youths and hundreds of married couples.

The Missionaries and the local bishop have sought Catholic Extension’s support to build a missionary center that will enable them to significantly expand their ministry.  My visit was intended to assess how Catholic Extension can help.

During my visit, I heard compelling stories from several young adults whose lives have been changed by the Missionaries and who now are part of this movement.

Alejandro and Maria

I met 24-year-old Alejandro.  This law student explained that during his childhood, his parents left him.  He overcame those turbulent years because the Catholic faith community, pastored by the Missionaries, became his family.  It was in this community that he learned he was not alone in the world and that he, too, could be a mentor for others.  Alejandro and his girlfriend, Maria, also a 24-year-old graduate student from the same parish, lead a faith-sharing group at their local university, where they read scripture and support their fellow students.  On weekends, Maria and Alejandro still return to their parish to teach and mentor young children and teens.

Anna

Anna is 18-years-old.  She is the direct result of the work of Alejandro and Maria at the missionary center, who have been mentoring her from a young age.  She is also a new university student who is considering how she, too, can give back.  She is even thinking about a vocation to religious life as a sister.

Raymond

Raymond is 25-years-old and grew up in a home with a father that abused drugs and alcohol. This experience made life as a young person very difficult.  One retreat, led by the Missionaries, changed his life forever.  He realized that life was more than his own circumstances and learned what it meant to be loved by a family. Years later, he and his father reconciled with the help of the Missionaries.  Raymond continues to do anything he can to support this life-changing ministry.

Jennifer – “We are all capable. Nobody’s so poor that they can’t do something for God”

Jennifer is a 24-year-old from a Catholic family. As a teenager, she didn’t think much of herself or believe that she had much to offer the world.  When she met the Missionaries of Villaregia, that all changed.  Jennifer began to believe that God was calling her to do something special.  Since that time, she’s discovered her sense of worth and feels ready to give back.  She felt so strongly about this calling that she joined the Missionaries as a novice sister.  Now in her second year, the future looks bright for Jennifer as she considers how to best live a life of service in the Church.

Maria Magdalena

Maria Magdalena is a 21-year-old nursing student.  She met the Missionaries as a late teen.  They helped her realize that the most beautiful thing a person can do in life is to live it for others.   She now helps by mentoring other young people.  Tears filled her eyes as she pondered the new possibilities that new facility would bring to her ministry.  “We are family and this is a house for everyone.  People will come here to be fed,” she sobbed.

As these stories suggest, the Missionaries have touched the lives of many youths in the community.  Their programs have become so successful that they’ve quickly outgrown their current facilities.

After 14 years of saving and two years of construction, the missionaries are just $800,000 short on cash for making the missionary center a reality.  But, with just $300,000, they can finish the framing and dry wall and begin to use the center, which will accommodate as many as 900 people for gatherings and 200 overnight guests.

Fr. Roberto, who leads the Missionaries, believes that with such a strong foundation of young leaders, the new facility will be bustling with activity in no time.  The only thing that stands in the way of this is a cash shortfall. 

Stay tuned for Catholic Extension’s response.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Committed to Excellence in the Caribbean

The Caribbean islands trigger some stereotypical imagery: people spending their days on beachfront hammocks secured between two palm trees, sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, and being carefree.  But life here is more than a Corona commercial, and after my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I have to admit that I am exhausted.  For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to keep pace with the Puerto Rican communities supported by Catholic Extension.  They are tireless in their commitment to serve the Church and to provide faith and hope for people whose lives are filled with hardship.

Nearly 300 ordained and lay leaders gather to learn about Parish administration.

Religious and lay leaders attended the administrative leadership event

Nearly 300 Puerto Rican priests and lay ministers gathered in Ponce, Puerto Rico for an administrative leadership event hosted and sponsored by Catholic Extension.  The number of participants was impressive, as ministers are stretched thin on the island and often don’t have spare time for professional development.   But there they were, traveling from all over the island to discuss best practices in matters of financial and personnel management.  Halfway through the daylong seminar, on a blisteringly hot day, the air conditioning broke in the sports complex where we gathered.  Even still, all participants stuck it out through the intense heat until the very end.  They wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to learn about internal audit procedures and discuss effective volunteer management.  That’s true dedication!  Though drenched, people hung around afterwards to express how incredibly thankful they were for the workshop.

Leaders of Puerto Rico eagerly ask follow up questions about the budgeting process.

Later that evening I met with the parishioners of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in the small town of Puente Jobos,( in the Diocese of Ponce) where there were as many stray dogs, cats, and roosters roaming the streets as there were people.  This parish of 700 people needs new offices.  We held our meeting in the parish’s current “office:” a picnic table outside the church.   Daniel, a smiley and energetic parishioner, has been working hard for his parish for 26 years.  For years the parish has been fundraising and saving for a much-needed renovation.  Thanks to their efforts, coupled with a $75,000 commitment from Catholic Extension, Daniel will finally have a meeting space for himself and his fellow parish leaders who do everything from religious education to neighborhood outreach.   They hope that their work will help reverse the rampant problems caused by drugs, domestic violence, and criminal behavior in their small, inner-island community.

Parishioners of Ss. Peter and Paul do business from the picnic table in the absence of parish offices.

“We feel so blessed that there are Catholics throughout the U.S. who are sacrificing for us by giving to Catholic Extension,” said one of the parish leaders.  “This makes the saying ‘universal church’ come alive for me,” added another.

Are these people the carefree folks that we continentals have pegged them to be?  No.  Are they committed to excellence in spite of challenges?  Most definitely.

This is the heart of Catholic Extension’s mission: to extend support to those dedicated people throughout the U.S. and its territories who, though under-resourced, strive to create excellence in church life and ministry.

— 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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