Eastern Kentucky Mission Reaches Out to Others

Posted: 9/5/2012

Sister Marie Colette Gerry, OSF, pastoral coordinator of Glenmary's Grayson, Ky., missionSister Marie Colette Gerry, OSF, says one of the most amazing aspects of her five years as pastoral coordinator at Glenmary's Grayson, Ky., mission is that every year, one or two people—and one year an entire family—have chosen to become Catholics and join the mission community. Some had never been baptized before.

"It's just been unending," she says. "What a tremendous blessing, especially in a small rural community like ours. Developing relationships with these individuals has been a real blessing for us, too." What's more, she adds, all these new Catholics have been very active in the mission community from day one.

When asked why they're drawn to Sts. John and Elizabeth mission, Sister Colette replies that "I think God is sending them to us." But she also believes it may be partly attributable to the mission's most outstanding qualities: its hospitality, welcoming spirit and generous outreach to others.

Before she came to Kentucky and Glenmary, Sister Colette was an educator and principal for 39 years—about half the time in rural communities. But in 1999, she chose to take on the role of pastoral associate at Glenmary's Morgantown, Ky., mission. Even after Glenmary returned that mission to the care of the Owensboro diocese in 2004, she served there two more years.

She learned to value the help and guidance of Lorraine Vancamp and Liz Dudas of Glenmary's Department of Pastoral Ministers and Pastoral Services (DPMPS). And she found the Glenmary priests she met to be very supportive and helpful.

In 2007 she accepted the pastoral coordinator position at the Grayson mission, because she sensed it was a good match and because she felt very comfortable with Glenmary.

"The people here want to do as much as they can for the mission, our Carter County community, and others nearby," she says. "This is a poor, minimum-wage area with many people on fixed incomes, but our mission members are known around here for helping people in need.

"The mission has always had good lay leadership. And we're building on the good work of earlier Glenmary missioners and coworkers."

The Grayson mission community is composed of about 45 Anglo and 10 Latino families—in a county whose population is less than 1 percent Catholic. Glenmary Father Dave Glockner and a visiting diocesan priest fluent in Spanish celebrate Masses and administer sacraments for mission members.

Employment opportunities that once drew Latinos to Grayson dried up by 2007, causing quite a few to move to Ashland, Ky., about 20 miles away. "But many have kept coming back to Grayson for Mass," says Sister Colette.

She oversees the mission's religious education and sacramental preparation programs while empowering mission members to coordinate these programs. During the 2011-12 school year, 16 children participated in religious education, with five receiving first Communion. Sister Colette coordinates the RCIA program with a mission member's assistance. (Update: In the 2012-13 school year, 17 children are participating in relgious education. Three will receive first Communion and one, confirmation.)

She and the parishioners also participate in programs such as RENEW to help foster their spiritual growth. And at her and the mission's request, the DPMPS team has facilitated other parish programs including an evangelization workshop and annual parish planning sessions.

In the area of social outreach, Sister Colette says, "Our mission members are very active in Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels and other organizations, as well as in major local efforts like Project Merry Christmas (started by the mission), which helps needy families." Another mission initiative is its food collection for the Bethany House Pantry in Olive Hill, Ky.

Mission members and Sister Colette also serve on the boards for Bethany House and emergency food and shelter programs in Carter County and neighboring Elliott County.

Sister Colette belongs to the local ministerial association, which meets periodically and sponsors interfaith services, and she serves on the diocesan peace and justice committee. She is also part of a monthly interdenominational prayer group that meets before city council meetings to pray for the city, state and nation.

In addition, she and the mission are responsible for other outreach in Elliott County, where there is no Catholic church. For example, Father Dave celebrates weekly Mass with inmates at the county's state correctional center. And longtime mission members Sister Sally Neale and Sister Maritia Smith, SSND, have been a Catholic presence in this nearby county for the past 17 years. "They run a women's resource center and a Head Start program," Sister Colette says. "They do marvelous work and add so much to our community. We do all that we can to help support their ministry (called Sarah's Place)."

Sister Colette is quick to add that all the mission's efforts would be extremely challenging without the prayers and financial assistance of its three "adopting" parishes—through Glenmary's Adopt-a-Mission Program—and other donors. "We're so blessed to have their support, and we help each other answer the mission call."

She's just very thankful, she says, to be part of her mission's growth as a caring Catholic community.

This article appears in the September 2012 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.