June 2, 2010 // Local

Catholic parishes join hands in Matthew 25 ministry

Matthew 25 volunteers from St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend stand before a home in progress for Habitat for Humanity.

By Karen Clifford

“We believe that the Matthew 25 ministry is important because it is a hand-up and not a hand-out. In the Church today, we have many charitable ministries that basically give people a fish to eat. These are important but they do not address long-term needs. Helping a family build their own home is teaching them to teach themselves how to fish.”
— Jay Freel Landry, member of the Little Flower Parish team of Matthew 25

SOUTH BEND — Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County builds homes with volunteers in partnership with those in need of adequate housing. The Matthew 25 ministry supplies volunteers and monetary donations to the building of a home each summer for low income families within St. Joseph County. Currently 40 area churches participate, seven of which are Catholic.

Gene Cavanaugh, who coordinates the Matthew 25 ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in South Bend, explains the concept of the organization. “In Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus tells his followers that when we help those who are poor, broken-spirited or desolate that we are in fact doing what we do for Him. This ministry is important, as it helps us to love and serve others and by so doing show our love for God.”

Pete O’ Daniel, a Matthew 25 volunteer from Sacred Heart Parish in South Bend works on last summer’s Habitat for Humanity build.

Matthew 25 coordinator Daniel Tychonievich from St. Matthew Cathedral adds, “The Habitat Ministry represents the ideals of good Christian stewardship. It assists people to change their lives and the lives of their family. For some partner families, it is the first time that they have ever lived in a house, and for other families, the children may become the first in the family to ever go to college. It can help end a cycle of poverty by giving the families a hand up and the perspective that all things are possible.”

Gwen Johnson, assistant to the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County, notes that the entire building of a home by Matthew 25 volunteers takes place over an eight to 10 week period. Habitat for Humanity’s construction crew does the first step in the home building process by digging and pouring a foundation. Then the crew meets with Matthew 25 volunteers at Habitat’s retail store and builds walls for the new home. The walls are put on a flatbed truck and like the Amish tradition of “barn raising,” the walls of the home are put in place at the home site.

Cavanaugh recalls the excitement of Sacred Heart volunteers as they helped put the walls in place. “It is pretty exciting to see how much goes up in one day from what starts out at the beginning of the day as a concrete slab or a floor over a basement.”

Mishawaka’s St. Bavo Parish also has Matthew 25 volunteers that have participated in the wall raising of a new home. Coordinator David McCormick recalls, “While it is not as aesthetically pleasing at the end of this day, you can see the beginning of a home where none existed the day prior.”

During the home building, volunteers help to do many things such as paint, put up drywall, mud the walls, hang cabinets, trim and place exterior siding. Some parish volunteers provide lunch to the morning and afternoon Matthew 25 crews.

The importance of the ministry is shared by all parishes involved in the building process. Matthew 25 coordinator Dan Mandell from St. Augustine Parish in South Bend notes the current downturn in the economy helps to motivate his volunteers. “Finding adequate housing is one of the most challenging and expensive costs a family must meet, and many families in our community are suffering from this recession.”

Bill Young, Matthew 25 coordinator for St. Pius X in Granger adds, “It also provides our parishioners a way to give back for the blessings they have received. For many of the volunteers this is the first time they have ever worked on a new home. Most are amazed at what they are able to do. They feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that they were able to help build a home for a deserving family.”

Interacting with the partner family through the building progression is a high point of the process. “I am always deeply struck by the humble faith of the future homeowners. Their gratitude is usually openly expressed, but it is the work crew that comes away from the day thankful to have been part of building His kingdom in some small way,” says McCormick.

Tychonievich recalls with fondness last year’s partner family. “There was a single mother with two children that had been living at a cheap hotel room for the last three years. Seeing the appreciation and excitement of this family at the house blessing was very touching and gratifying, and reinforced the importance of what Habitat does.”

Diana Geary and Michael Byron, Matthew 25 volunteers from St. Pius X Parish in Granger work inside last summer’s Habitat for Humanity build.

Landry sums up the mission of the Catholic parishes involved in Matthew 25. “This experience reminds me of the Creed where we say that we are ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Working on a Habitat house brings up these adjectives of unity, the holiness of doing God’s work by participating in the building of God’s reign, the universality of the need of affordable housing and home ownership, and the apostolic nature of the Church: We do not exist for ourselves.”

He concludes, “Rather, we exist to go out as we are commanded at the end of each Eucharist to love others and to participate in the building of God’s reign by using the gifts and resources that we have been given by God.”

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