When the word “stewardship,” is uttered, sometimes hands go immediately to checkbooks. When someone says “Respect Life,” images come to mind of holding signs in front of an abortion clinic.
At St. Pius X Parish in Granger, both terms manifest themselves in a much wider scope. In fact, initiatives that used to be considered “stewardship and evangelization” are now called “stewardship and engagement.” As the pastor, Msgr. William Schooler points out, “evangelization” is the responsibility of every baptized Christian, under the pastor’s leadership.
Betsy Quinn, director of the parish Office of Stewardship and Engagement, works full-time to draw every parishioner into the three-tiered ministry of prayer, service and sacrificial giving. A core team for each of those three tiers coordinates an annual renewal, inviting parishioners to grow in stewardship as a way of life: receiving God’s gifts gratefully and sharing them responsibly with others. Every new parishioner is assigned a mentor family for a year, so they have help getting involved in different parish ministries.
Stewardship is also practiced by every child in the parish school and religious education program; teachers help all to discern their gifts and use them to serve others. There is a particular Respect Life emphasis in the seventh grade. Students learn about and serve several community organizations: For the Center for Hospice, they make blankets for the bereaved and in the past have cooked meals with their families for residents of Hannah’s House in Mishawaka, a residence for single pregnant mothers.
When Msgr. Schooler asked her to become director of stewardship and engagement in 2006, some of the work involved marketing and development as the parish built an education center and then a new church. But Quinn sees prayer, service, faith formation and community-building as much more fundamental to stewardship. She reports to the parish regularly in an effort to increase accountability and transparency, and she’s also working on a gratitude program to acknowledge those who so generously share their time, talent and treasure.
St. Pius X recognizes that Catholics are called to respect life at every age and stage. For that reason, the respect life ministry as coordinated by volunteer Barb Williams includes not only prayer and practical action on behalf of the unborn and their parents, but also ministry to those in six senior residential facilities. The 16 outreaches led by 19 parishioners include ministries to young adults, those in mid-life, the bereaved and those of child-bearing years, who are supported under the umbrella of the Elizabeth Ministry. At the parish, “Respect Life” also embraces the Children of St. Angela Merici — those with special needs — and health care professionals in the Catholic Medical Association.
Because anti-racism is also an essential element of respecting life, that ministry is collaborating with the director of adult faith formation and the Catholic social teaching ministry to host a three-week discussion this fall of the American bishops’ 2018 letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”
Like Quinn, Williams also stepped into her ministry at Msgr. Schooler’s invitation. Quinn calls her “the true hero,” who invests countless volunteer hours in leading this ministry. Among other things, she keeps up with communications from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops so she can put a prayer intention in the bulletin every week about a different aspect of the seamless garment of life issues, enabling parishioners to pray along with the bishops.
Williams sends monthly respect life updates to 411 parishioners, making them aware of specific needs. For example, the Christ Child Society of South Bend is running low on winter boots and size 8 shirts. Marie Burt, who coordinates the ministry, says generous people swiftly meet those needs.
“There are so many needs and so many good organizations,” said Williams, “but there are only so many hours in the day, and everyone isn’t called to do everything.” So, she highlights specific opportunities for service, inviting parishioners to pray about what God may be calling them to do. “Try something new!” she tells them. “We may feel as if we aren’t able to do much but doing even a little can make a difference. It takes many drops of water to fill a bucket.”
The current pandemic has changed the way some people can be served. The 62 volunteers who can no longer visit six local nursing homes have tried to keep in touch by sending the residents cards and Miraculous Medals. One parishioner asked others in her subdivision to make Easter cards and donate books and magazines so seniors would have something different to read.
Vicki Geschke became involved in this ministry when her confirmation-age son was looking for a service project. Since he found it easier to connect with their retriever than with unfamiliar adults, they hit on the idea of bringing the dog to Bell Tower. “We were so very touched by seeing ordinarily quiet elderly residents who beamed with joy as they stroked Annie and shared stories of their own beloved animals. Small kindnesses — huge impact.” Geschke continued to visit Bel Tower until March, “reminding our brothers and sisters that God hasn’t — and never will — abandon them in these years.”
Linda Osborn chose to become involved with the Women’s Care Center after she finished giving a Christ Renews His Parish retreat in 2014; she is now on the WCC staff but continues to coordinate parish service. “Joining Respect Life at St. Pius has brought me a joy that is unexplainable,” she said. “When Barb sends out her requests for help, I am able to participate in more meaningful prayer for all the ministries falling under “Respect Life.” It’s made me more aware. In addition, I am able to do small things for the other ministries like give needed items to Christ Child or send cards to our elderly in nursing homes who are so lonely. It’s been a true blessing in my life.”
Since October is Respect Life Month, it’s an intense time for Williams and the entire respect life team. Besides intercessions in the prayer of the faithful at every Mass, there is a giant baby shower to benefit the Women’s Care Center, the Christ Child Society and Hannah’s House. Williams is always touched by the generosity of anonymous parishioners, who contribute many handmade baby items.
Parishioners are also encouraged to participate in 40 Days for Life going through October, the “LifeChain” from 2-3 p.m. Oct. 4 in front of Whole Woman’s Health in South Bend, the Michiana Right to Life banquet taking place virtually this year at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 22 and the diocese-sponsored memorial Mass for families who have lost infants before or after birth, which will take place at St. Therese, Little Flower Parish.
Williams said her role in coordinating “Respect Life” ministries at St. Pius X keeps the inherent dignity of each human person in the forefront of her mind and heart. “By interfacing with so many community organizations and parish ministries, I am reminded of what a caring, pro-life community we live in. There are so many ways to share God’s love with others. It’s a blessing to be reminded of the myriad of good that occurs daily in our midst.”
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