Mission, Wisconsin Parish Connect Through 'Adoption,' Visits, Service Trip
When members of Our Lady of the Assumption parish (OLA) in Beloit, Wis., explored "adopting" another church community, they were looking for more than a long-distance relationship. They wanted it to be personal.
"We wanted to reach out to a U.S. Catholic community that needed help," says Rita Bonds, a longtime OLA parishioner, "but we also wanted to get to know the people and touch their hearts and souls." After the pastor and parish council approved their search, they found Glenmary and its Adopt-A-Mission Program.
Rita contacted Allison Barrett, coordinator of this Glenmary program that invites willing, able parishes to support struggling Glenmary missions through prayer, financial aid and encouragement. At the end of their discussion, Allison recommended St. Joan of Arc mission in Plymouth, N.C., led by pastoral coordinator Sister Arcadia Rivera-Gutierrez, as a possible adoption.
The Plymouth mission has about 140 members, mostly Spanish-speaking and some English-speaking, in a county where fewer than 3 percent are Catholic and over 25 percent live below the national poverty level. OLA is a well-supported parish of about 3,400 English-speaking members.
Rita and and her husband, Dave, volunteered to visit St. Joan so the parishes could get better acquainted. They made the trip in March 2011.
"Sister Arcadia and the people were so gracious, friendly and faith-filled," Rita says. "We were sure this was the community we should partner with and get to know as friends." Dave comments admiringly on the "sweat equity" they expended in helping to build their parish center.
Sister Arcadia says she and mission members learned Rita and Dave are very good people who try to live out the Gospel and serve others.
The OLA parish council and pastor soon approved the adoption. In May 2011, Sister Arcadia accepted the invitation to visit OLA, where she spoke at Masses, talked with parishioners, and participated in an adoption signing ceremony. She was deeply touched by the warm response.
"We had a freewill collection," Dave says, "that paid for the first year's adoption, the supplies for a service trip to Plymouth, and an additional donation." Then Rita and Dave finalized arrangements with Sister Arcadia for the group mission trip OLA always had in mind.
"We asked her for a wish list of projects," Dave says. In July, 12 OLA parishioners drove 18 hours, one way, to Plymouth. At the start of their first workday, mission members came to join the effort.
Some of these mission members contributed equipment and worked to help make the outside church painting a two-parish, one-day job. OLA and St. Joan parishioners also moved furniture and painted the inside of the building that serves as the administrative center and the home of Sister Arcadia and Sister Martha (a volunteer coworker sponsored by their religious order). And OLA members installed shelves and cabinets.
The OLA group hosted a picnic the weekend they arrived, and "people from the two parishes sat together and socialized. I loved seeing them reaching out to one another," Sister Arcadia says.
On Wednesday evening after all the projects were done, Glenmary Father Mike Kerin celebrated a bilingual Mass, and then mission members hosted a thank-you meal and gave their new friends gifts and certificates of appreciation.
Since that time, the parishes have stayed in touch and have remembered each other in prayer. They'll also exchange bulletins, newsletters and photos to keep one another updated.
"We're so thankful to have a sister parish like OLA," says Sister Arcadia. "We know one another better now and have embraced each other."
Rita agrees. "We have received more from our friends at St. Joan than we have given, and we're sure our friendship will keep growing."
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2011 Home Mission News.