When Jesus spoke the words, “rebuild my Church” to St. Francis of Assisi, He was speaking both figuratively and literally. The church structure at San Damiano was dilapidated and in dire need of repair. But beyond the four walls, St. Francis was keenly aware that the Lord was asking Him to go into the community and bring the message of mercy and hope to those living on the fringes of society.
Similarly, when Father Andrew Budzinski was assigned to St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort Wayne as pastor two years ago, he understood that the Lord was asking a comparable mission of him. “The first few weeks after I arrived, there were huge wind gusts, rainstorms and trees knocked over,” he said. “When I came into the parish on my second or third day, I heard water gushing into the church building. I literally thought that a section of our roof was gone. I found out the bell tower had cracks in the tuck lining, and there was water damage everywhere on the inside of the church.”
Because of this, Father Budzinski believed a perfect theme for his pastorship — as well as a new capital campaign — was, “Rebuild My Church.” St. John the Baptist is raising about $1.2 million to repair water damage, replace the church ceiling and put a much-needed sign on Fairfield Avenue, as well as add a handicapped-accessible ramp for the chapel.
“When Jesus spoke those words to St. Francis, He wasn’t primarily talking about the physical structure of the church,” said Father Budzinski. “Of course, St. Francis did rebuild the church. But essentially, He was asking (St. Francis) to rebuild the spiritual structure of the Church. And that’s what we want to do at St. John’s: rebuild the spiritual lives of the people in our surrounding community.”
The parish is doing this in several ways. To begin, Father Budzinski came up with what he coined “the seven pillars of parish life,” which include evangelization, encounter with Christ, worship, catechesis, works of mercy, vocation, and stewardship. “I asked myself in the beginning of my assignment as pastor, ‘What does Jesus really ask the Church to do in the world?’ and this is what I came up with,” he explained.
Father Budzinski has begun formation in about four of these pillars by inviting parishioners to be members of a leadership team for each. The lay leaders have begun identifying and fulfilling, along with Father Budzinski, the primary needs of the people within each of these areas. Addressing the evangelization pillar, for example, St. John the Baptist has begun a door-to-door ministry in which parishioners knock on the doors of houses in the area one Saturday per month, asking if anyone has prayer intentions. They collect the petitions and pray aloud for each one at a subsequent Mass.
“We are one of the few true neighborhood parishes in the diocese, because we are literally surrounded on all four sides by homes,” said Father Budzinski. Because of that, he feels a great responsibility to invite everyone in the vicinity to come see what St. John has to offer so that they might come to deepen their relationship with Jesus. “It’s about responding to the call to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,’” he added.
This strong sense of community extends to St. John the Baptist School and its staff. According to Principal Beatrice Royal, “Everyone knows each other’s strengths as educators and works together as ‘one body in Christ.’” After-school tutoring is offered to students in the East Allen County and Fort Wayne Community school systems, so sometimes there are junior high teachers mentoring younger children or elementary teachers helping older students.
Additionally, “We see teachers in the hallway chatting with students about their clothing or about completing their homework. It’s not to be judgmental, but more of an encouragement. I see how it demonstrates their genuine care for the well-being of every student,” Royal elaborated.
Both Father Budzinski and Royal believe that of primary importance to the lives of both the school students and their families is their responsibility to offer formation in the faith. One of the ways they have done this is by offering for eucharistic adoration for the students every Thursday. Father Budzinski stays with the students during this time and instructs them on different ways they can pray, so that the students are able to build an intimate relationship with Jesus.
Rhonda Noll, head of administration and accounting at St. John the Baptist, believes the core beauty of the parish is the fact that less is more. “When I started working here five years ago, I saw a community where everyone knew each other and how they all fit together as unique members of the body of Christ. We don’t have much in terms of material things, but the intimacy here is a huge draw to the parish.”
It’s the strong, tight-knit bonds of friendship and family that make St. John the Baptist more than just a place to worship together. It’s an extension of the hearts of those who worship and work at the parish, and a response to Jesus’ call to “Rebuild My Church.”
St. John the Baptist
4500 Fairfield Ave.
Fort Wayne, IN 46807
Sunday — 8,10:30 a.m.
Saturday — 8:15 a.m. (Guerin Chapel); 4:30 p.m.
Holy Day — See bulletin
Weekday — M-F 6:30 a.m. (Guerin Chapel); T-Th 8:15 a.m.;
F 8:15 a.m. (Guerin Chapel)
Reconciliation: M-F 5-5:45 p.m.; Saturday 3:30-4:15 p.m.; and by appointment
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