Making a Difference,As Glenmary's new development director (effective Dec. 1, 2013), I totally agree with my predecessor, Father Dominic Duggins, that the best way to communicate the difference Glenmary is making in Mission Land, USA—with your support—is through stories. I could gather and share statistical information on the number of people enrolled in our missions' RCIA and faith formation programs, homes built and repaired for low-income families, ecumenical projects in progress, food distributed to the hungry, newspaper articles published, and more. But actual stories from our home missions can capture and show how our ministry is making an impact on the people and communities we serve.
Sharing the Gifts of the Church
I pastored Glenmary missions for 24 years (1988-2012) in five states before moving to Glenmary Headquarters in August 2012 to work in the Development Office and eventually transition into the director role—after Father Dominic stepped down and became a Glenmary senior member. I want to thank him for his many years of devoted service and leadership in this position. I benefited greatly from his example. And, like him, I'm commmitted to helping Glenmary raise the funds needed to support its home mission work and pursue its vision in the future.
God gave me a number of gifts that matched the needs of my mission ministry. But what I've realized since last August is that God also gave me gifts to meet the needs of my new fund-raising ministry.
I have a rich collection of mission stories that I can share with you. And I know firsthand how great the mission need is. But when I tell you stories from my own experiences, they will also echo the countless stories my fellow missioners and lay coworkers could relate about other missions, at other times, in other counties and states. Here are just a few of mine:
• As a newly ordained Glenmary priest in 1988, my very first assignment was as pastor of our McRae, Ga., mission, located in Telfair County but also serving Dodge and Wheeler counties. The reality was that the majority of Dodge-County Catholics had grown tired of the 50- to 70-mile round trip to and from McRae and were staying home. The dream that soon arose was the establishment of another mission in Dodge—the first-ever Catholic church in that county.
The pursuit of this dream energized my first Glenmary ministry. But the crucial factor was that the people embraced the dream and worked together tirelessly for 11 months to make it a reality—helping gather the community and clean and fix up a vacant, dilapidated old Protestant church building for use as their worship space. Seventy-seven Catholics—Anglos, Latinos, African Americans, and those of Italian, Chinese, and Filipino descent—attended the dedication Mass in December 1989 celebrated by the bishop of the Savannah diocese. It was the first Sunday Mass in county history. And I became pastor of a second mission.
"My faith is definitely stronger," said a young female, African American mission member in those early days. "I can feel the benefit of going to Mass. I look forward to seeing the parishioners. We really are family."
Years later, Glenmary returned both these thriving missions to the care of the diocese, and they are still active diocesan parishes.
Today in Georgia—although Glenmary has established 25 missions there, has returned 23 to the pastoral care of their dioceses, and is leading two missions now—there are still more than 50 Georgia counties without a Catholic Church presence. And the mission need remains.
• In Booneville, Ark., in 2006, I became the first resident pastor of the local mission in three decades. In a community where a Benedictine monk had visited just once a week for 30 years for Mass and sacraments, my first priority was community building. We began having very popular Wednesday family nights that helped bring the parish together. We developed the youth group into a great, diocesan-award-winning asset, helping young people feel more a part of the congregation. And we built up and strengthened the religious education program.
In addition, our mission and other local churches met a major crisis with an unprecedented ecumenical response. After a major fire that destroyed the plant of the county's largest employer—who did not rebuild—our ministerial alliance became a first responder, establishing a permanent, nonprofit resource center with job counseling, a food pantry, and other assistance for all county residents in need. Local Catholics went from non-involvement in ecumenical efforts to service on the front lines—and attitudes toward Catholics became light-years better. Today, this close-knit parish—which Glenmary returned to the pastoral care of its diocese in 2012—is preparing to build a new church for its growing congregation, carrying out the plans we put in place while I was pastor.
Catherine Phillips, the director of religious education and youth ministry, made the comment last year that Glenmarians have "empowered us to put our faith into action."
• After arriving in Booneville, I was part of the story of a family's journey to the Church that humbles me to this day. One of my first tasks as pastor was to reach out to county residents, especially the inactive Catholics. But after some months, I learned of the death of Stan Campbell, an inactive Catholic whom I had somehow never met.
I immediately visited the family to pray with them and offer my and the whole parish's support. They were deeply touched by our concern. And when Stan's wife Deborah asked if his funeral could be held at the mission, I immediately said yes.
After the funeral, Deborah told me she wanted to join the Church. Her daughter and grandchildren, who had been baptized as infants, wanted to renew their faith. And her son-in-law wanted to join the RCIA process with her.
The joy that was part of the Easter Vigil when Deborah and her son-in-law were received into the Church still remains with me and inspires my ministry today. And Deborah says joining the Church is the best thing that has ever happened to her.
As always, it's only with your prayers and financial assistance that we can keep sharing the gifts of the Church and serving the spiritual and material needs of people living in our mission counties. When you support Glenmary's work, you are our partners in mission in helping to change their lives. On their behalf, I want to express our deepest gratitude.
If you would like more information about our home mission ministry, please don't hesitate to contact me.