By John Powers
Parishes are valuable participants in their communities. They are places of worship and prayer. They are places for sacraments and celebrations. They are important landmarks in their community and rally sites for events and activities.
Josephite parishes stretch from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Angeles, California. Each of these parishes has an important impact on its parishioners and their communities.
In this issue of The Harvest, we surveyed the 40 Josephite parishes and asked how they were reaching out to the communities they serve. The answers are varied but each saw the Josephite charitable outreach as part and parcel of the gospel mission.
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat
All Josephite parishes operate regular activities to provide food and sustenance to those in need. Parishes operate on-going food pantries, serve meals and provide food baskets for holidays.
At St. Brigid church in Los Angeles, Father Michael Okechukwu, SSJ, said that every Wednesday for many years, parish volunteers serve hot meals in the church hall. “Although the program is scheduled to end at 2 p.m., the need is so great that it generally runs till 3:30 p.m.,” said Father Okechukwu.
He added, “We always try to meet the needs of the community. Charity is about giving away material objects and helping to bear one another’s burdens out of love. That is what makes us human.”
Holy Family parish in Natchez, Mississippi, runs a stew pot and collects food once a month. A special needs collection brings in $400 to $500 dollars a month for special needs. The pastor, Father James Fallon, SSJ, said many parishioners volunteer to participate.
At St. Luke parish in Washington, D.C., the food bank is a monthly activity that helps more than 50 families each month. According to Father Cornelius Ejiogu, SSJ, it is important that the distributed food lasts at least a week or two.
The parish outreach program welcomes corporate donors, including a bakery that donates bread. However, most of the donations come from parishioners who also donate money to buy food. Food is collected for three weeks and distributed in large baskets during the last week of the month.
The food bank was started by Josephite Father Joseph Del Vecchio when he was the pastor. Father Cornelius said, “Generosity is in our nature. When we are generous, we give a part of ourselves as well.”
At Church of the Incarnation in Washington, Father John Carroll, SSJ, said the most active charitable event at the parish is the food pantry. Started about 20 years ago, the food pantry is open on the third Friday of every month, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To raise money for the pantry, a special envelope is collected every third Sunday of the month.
About 100 families are served. “Charity is an ordinary way of life,” Father Carroll said. “We are involved with it day in and day out.”
At St. Francis Xavier church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, feeding the hungry is an ecumenical and mobile activity, according to Josephite Father Edward Chiffriller, pastor. “On one Saturday each month, two large trucks from the Baton Rouge Food Bank pull into the parking lot and more than a hundred volunteers from the member churches and organizations of Together Baton Rouge unload large quantities of fresh vegetables, fruit, milk, eggs, bread and other perishables donated by area supermarkets,” Father Chiffriller reports.
The volunteers organize the food into bags and boxes for distribution to the people who arrive early to get a good place in line.
Members of the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program eagerly help the recipients by carrying the food to their cars. By 11 a.m. all the food has been distributed and the volunteers load up the trash on the trucks and clean up the parking lot. About 350 households receive food each month.
At St. David parish in New Orleans, parishioners help to make holidays better for mem-bers of the community. Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas baskets are put together a month ahead of time. Every basket always contains a gift certificate or a gift card, and the food is never expired. Some baskets also contain clothing.
More than 100 families are served at St. David’s, according to Josephite Father Oswald Pierre Pierre-Jules, pastor. “Of course, every basket is different depending on the holiday.”
The annual program is funded by donations from parishioners. The collection is usually taken every second Sunday.
“The most important thing about charity is that we have the scripture in mind,” said Father Pierre-Jules, “We always want to let people know that they are not alone, and we are their family.”
Parishioners at St. Joseph Church in Alexandria, Virginia also prepare holiday baskets that include canned goods and turkey and chicken. More than 80 families were assisted last Christmas, said Father Donald Fest, SSJ, pastor.
At St. Luke parish in Washington, according to parish staff member, Shirley Williams, more than 50 families benefit from the parish food bank each month. That number swells to more than 100 families during the Thanksgiving food drive.
Ms. Williams said the parish youth also lead a blanket drive during Christmas. Teenagers distribute the blankets to the homeless found on park benches in the downtown area.
Youth and education
Father Patrick Healy, SSJ, pastor at St. Augustine Church in New Roads, Louisiana, said the parish hosts a literature program for children on the first Sunday of every month. “Young adult volunteers present a short lesson for children based on the weekly scripture readings.
The classes are held in a former elementary school building,” he said.
At Our Mother of Mercy in Church Point, Louisiana, Father Francis Butler, SSJ, said the parish offers a Head Start program. They also host a retreat for teens each summer. He said the parish is planning for an after-school program.
Father Butler said, “We want to demonstrate God’s love for the children of our community, especially as they are challenged by the secular culture. We want to bless them and help them meet the challenges they face in life.”
At St. James Major parish in Prichard, Alabama, assisting families to pay for Catholic school is important. They assist families who cannot afford a Catholic education by subsidizing tuition. The parish funds a scholarship program for Catholic school students. Started 12 years ago, Josephite Father Leo Udeagu, pastor, said the program raises about $10,000 each year.
He said that a board of parishioners meets monthly to discuss how many children they can assist and how to raise money to support them. Outside organizations have given grants to the parish for tuition assistance and the parishioners make donations. “Many children of our parish do not have the privilege to receive good Catholic education, and we do our best to be there for them and helping those who are struggling.”
At St. Joseph parish in Alexandria, Virginia, Father Fest said the parish hosts an Advent Angel Tree, which solicits gifts for nursing homes, the Oblate Sisters of Providence and retired Josephites. The youth help in that effort.
“It’s a great way to get the children involved, because it demonstrates the real meaning of Christmas,” said Beverley Anderson, who is in charge of the Advent Angel Tree program.
“The Cross Will Flower” program, led by women in the Alexandria parish, provides gifts for newborn babies, which are requested by the Crisis Pregnancy Center.
Meeting unexpected needs
For more than 15 years, Shrine of Our Mother Mercy parish in, Rayne, Louisiana, has met the emergency needs of the neighborhood by collaborating with a Christian service center in the community.
Josephite Father Richard Wagner said, “Helping the people around the community is fulfilling the corporal works of mercy.”
Holy Family and St. Anne parishes participate in a shelter for battered women and children, Father James Fallon said. The parishes also support a community volunteer nursing program, which brings parishioners together quarterly to discuss health-related issues.
At St. Francis Xavier Church in Houston, the parish has offered a Health Fair that provides free services such as medical screenings, blood pressure and glucose level checks, nutritional advice, dental screenings and much more, according to parish staff member Shirley Foreman. This year, more than 350 people participated in the Health Fair, she said.
At Most Pure Heart of Mary parish in Mobile, Father Kenneth Ugwu, said the young adult group collects winter coats, clothing, shoes, and bedding for families and individuals in shelters.
In addition to providing for the homeless, Most Pure Heart of Mary coordinates a Christmas gift program, called the Angel Tree, for children whose parents have been incarcerated. The Angel Tree program, led by Julia James, has been ongoing for at least 15 years.
Homelessness and emergency needs
At Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, Louisiana, Father Christopher Amadi, SSJ, said charitable outreach is “doing what Jesus would do by providing the people with what they need.” He said that many people in the community come to the church for food as well as help with their gas or electric bill.
“We also have helped people find a job,” he said.
At Corpus Christi parish in New Orleans, helping the homeless through the Brother’s Keeper Project is an outreach priority. The purpose of Brother’s Keeper is to gather daily necessities such as bowls, pots, utensils and toiletries for the homeless.
“Many times, these people are only offered a mattress and nothing else,” said parishioner Sheryl Turner who works with 36 other members of the parish in the program.
She said the Ladies Auxiliary was inspired to start the program when they were asked to donate shoes for the homeless. At that time, she said volunteer nurses would check the feet of the homeless because many of them would walk around barefoot. From that event, the program grew. Most of the donations are from the parish.
At St. Francis Xavier parish in Baltimore, Father James McLinden, SSJ, said that every Thursday there is an outreach program to help people within the community with their electric cut-offs and eviction notices. The church collaborates with the St. Vincent DePaul society to assist families residing in four zip codes around the parish each week. There is an annual budget of about $25,000 a year to support this program, he said, which is raised from a weekly collection.
He said the parish program has been helping the community for more than 15 years.
Father Healy said St. Augustine parishioners conduct home visits to discuss personal hardships and assist families. “We also are there to pray with them,” he said.