Each Lent, members of St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield choose a cause or location to raise money for their annual Lenten Project. In 2009, they raised money for The Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador, and in 2007, the parish helped survivors of Hurricane Katrina get back on their feet. This past Lent, the human concerns committee did something a little different: they kept their focus close to home by “adopting” a local parish community in need.
“Every Lent we have what’s called our Lenten Outreach project, and we ask all of our parishioners to pool all of our Lenten alms together, recognizing that together we can always make far more of a difference than we could as individuals,” explained Susan McNeil, pastoral associate for human concerns. “People are terribly, wonderfully supportive of that here.”
After speaking with Mark Kemmeter, coordinator of the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s Office for Parishes, it was decided that St. Rafael and St. Adalbert, both in Milwaukee, were the two parishes that didn’t already have a sharing relationship with another parish most in need of funds.
“There were a number of similarities on the surface – that it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know people of another parish, perhaps other cultures, in addition to ours,” she explained. “Truly, their children – like ours – are the future priests and religious, deacons, lay ministers, in our archdiocese, and I asked our parish for $21,000 over Lent.” According to McNeil, “shockingly, in these economic times,” they raised more than $39,000.
Parishes serve immigrant communities
St. Adalbert and St. Rafael parishes have served immigrant communities throughout their history. St. Adalbert was built in 1908, and primarily served Catholic Polish immigrants who moved into the South Side. St. Rafael (San Rafael) the Archangel Parish was founded in 1999, with the merger of St. Barbara and Holy Spirit parishes in Milwaukee. Today, St. Adalbert and St. Rafael parishes have been largely joined to serve immigrants and second-generation families who have come to the United States seeking better lives for their families. According to St. Dominic’s website, those parishes still have a core of Polish families, but now also serve many Latino families.
“As a way of trying to kick off a relationship on a longer term basis, we used our Lenten Outreach Program this year as a start, in terms of finances, and in particular to learn a little bit more about the parish here locally, to try to establish something of a relationship and do a little sharing back and forth, and then see where it grows,” she explained.
The parish raised funds for this year’s project by letting the children’s ministry do what it does best.
“The children of our children’s ministry program, which is basically birth through sixth grade, hold a ‘priceless’ bake sale,” she said. “All of the kids and all of the programs bake different goods and make crafts and things like that, and then one weekend they hold this bake sale after all the Masses where there’s no price on anything – you just give what you feel is appropriate.”
According to McNeil, the bake sale, in addition to children’s ministry, the day school and youth ministry, generated one-third of the total of their Lenten project.
“Archbishop (Jerome E.) Listecki has really been encouraging parishes to look toward sharing relationships here within the archdiocese, recognizing that there’s also needs here at home,” McNeil said. “Parishes can never be about – my term – ‘survival of the fittest.’
“That we have parishes in areas where perhaps, for whatever reason, parishioners can’t financially support the parish to the degree that’s necessary to keep the place running, because people sometimes may have poverty, may be facing work issues. The parishes do wonderful work in those areas and are vitally important – particularly in some of our sections of Milwaukee and Waukesha – but there are needs there that are great,” she responded honestly.
Dedicated people ‘a lot of faith’
When McNeil first approached Fr. Luis Pacheco-Sanchez with the idea before the start of Lent, the pastor of St. Adalbert and St. Rafael parishes was hesitant to expect much.
“I had it happen in the past where people said, ‘Oh yes, we’re going to help you out,’ but then, you know, it never happened,” he said. “I learned my lesson over the years that, until things actually happen, you don’t look for it.”
“The whole purpose of having the parishes share is that, like I said in our thank you note (to St. Dominic’s), if they ever want they can come down and experience Mass here at our place or come and visit us, and see what’s going on down here.
“We don’t have a lot of funds, but we have a lot of dedicated people who have a lot of faith and they are evangelizing,” he added. “There are a lot of positive things happening down here.”
Although raising nearly $40,000 is a huge accomplishment for the 6,854-member parish, members of St. Dominic plan to continue their relationship with these two parishes, whose size outnumbers St. Dominic by nearly 50 percent.
“It’s amazing what they do there. They have a parish larger than ours, and they have two priests, like we do. They have almost 9,000 parishioners between the two parishes, almost no staff; every weekend they have 15-20 baptisms; they have a couple of weddings every weekend. The two priests say nine Masses every weekend,” she said.
“The amount of ministry going on there is incredible, and yet because many of their parishioners are first generation (immigrants) who struggle with language issues, perhaps they don’t have quite the level of education needed for certain jobs … the ability to support the parish – especially in these economic times, where those were precisely the people being squeezed – just wasn’t there.
“We hope to build more of a relationship – not just financial, though that would be a part of it – but more also of learning about their culture, because their faith is such a great gift to that community that we’d like them to share some of that with us,” she added.