Jesus established his Church, the sacrament of salvation carrying out the mandate that Jesus Christ has given to all who profess belief in him to love one another as he had loved us.
Most of us forget the significance of parishes — established to carry out Christ’s mandate to “love one another” — in the life and development of our communities.
In the early history of the archdiocese, it was the parish that followed the ethnic movement of our Catholics. The liturgies were provided in Latin; however, their own languages were used in communications and administration, giving people a sense of security and well-being. Parishes also offered an important connection, providing direction and serving the people’s needs. The pastor and parish priests, along with the religious communities of sisters, ministered to these new members of our society. Many sought the pastor’s advice before going forward engaging the lawful society, and the religious communities of sisters provided a vast array of outreach in education, health services, orphanages etc.
I have often reminded those in our modern society who criticize the Church’s involvement — claiming a need for a separation of Church and State — that they have truly short memories. They fail to realize the Church was teaching and educating members of society before public education was available. The Church provided hospitals before the government cared for the sick and dying, Catholic Charities reached out to the destitute and needy before welfare programs were established and parishes kept citizens informed and organized before the local governmental community formed area agencies. The parish was at the service of the community, and it still maintains that sense of service to this very day. The heart of the parish is at the service of the faithful in the name of Jesus in collaboration with the archdiocese for the good of the community.
A parish is a distinct territorial division established by the archdiocese under the direction of a pastor and administer to care for the souls within the assigned region. The key phrase is to “care for the souls.” This care implies the need to care for the total person, both the spiritual as well as the physical. The parish organization elicits the assistance of the parishioners in determining the needs and implementing the programs established by the archdiocese for the good of the Church. A parish council, often elected by the parish community, engages in assisting the pastor in the use of the parish resources for the good of the faithful. These resources may be persons, programs or material.
Almost every parish council has a human concerns committee. As a Catholic community, we are aware, by the dictates of our Catholic Social Teaching, of our responsibility for the needs of our brothers and sisters. There is inherent in this Catholic Social Teaching an understanding of the “community,” — that within the community we should foster a protection of the dignity of the human person. In God’s plan, the family acts as the base community through which the individual is introduced to their responsibility to their family members and to one’s neighbor. In the wisdom of the Church, the family is referred to as the “domestic Church.” The Church, which promotes the imago Dei — the image of God — in every one of us, calls us to recognize his presence in our brothers and sisters. We understand the responsibility to our family and the family of God.
The parish is like a family, and although a local parish community cannot do everything, it can choose those actions that need the most attention. In addition, the parish will often support organizations that outreach to the needy, such as establishing or supporting soup kitchens, food pantries, clothing distributions. Think of thousands upon thousands who are served by the local attention given by the parish to the community. Imagine the numerous absences of services to individuals if the parishes ceased to exist.
I have often said that every parish has a school. It may not be located on the grounds of the parish, but it is part of our mission. Catholic schools serve the needs of not only our Catholic community but those who within our community seek an excellent education and quality formation. Seton schools and other schools in the urban area assist those who are economically challenged and provide students with an education that will increase not only their ability to graduate from grammar school but also succeed in high school. This is a service that benefits the entire community. There are various studies which demonstrate that Catholic schools save the government billions of dollars yearly. It’s an educational environment that safeguards against a criminal element and generates parental interest in the well-being of the community.
Catholic Charities programs aid those within the archdiocese. For more than a century, Catholic Charities has been there to aid those often forgotten by the community. There is counseling, financial advice, adoption programs, adult day care, and family and children’s services. Most recently, Catholic Charities’ immigration assistance has helped new families to integrate into the communities, and the grateful stories of those families make us all proud of the work that Catholic Charities performs. Catholic Charities has sought to collaborate with other charitable agencies to maximize the use of resources for those in need.
The story of services performed by the Church would not be complete without the acknowledgement of the splendid work provided by the religious communities of priests, brothers and sisters. All have numerous ministries to the poor, the aged, immigrants, education, those intellectually challenged and those involved with sex trafficking, to mention a few areas. The archdiocese and its faithful are enriched by their presence.
Charitable organizations led by dedicated lay faithful abound in the archdiocese. Some are well known, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, whose work among the poor and those in need is legendary. They are found in many of our parishes. This lay organization does its work quietly with respect for the dignity of the individual. The Women’s Care Center and Women’s Support Center of Milwaukee assist women in the decisions they must make addressing their pregnancies. They provide tests, support and even material goods post birth for these women and their babies. The pro-life teaching of the Church is uppermost in the consideration of their efforts. Dismas Ministry is an outreach for prisoners, victims, their families: a second chance for those released from prison and reentering the community. In the name of Jesus, these individuals are offered a chance at reform. I mention only a few of the many lay and religious organizations that are motivated by the mandate of Jesus to Love One Another.
We are joined together as a Church in these great services, and we can support all these works through our prayers, the sacrifice of our time and in the donations that we offer. We are the Church, the family of God’s people.