Helping Those Who Help Themselves

February 22, 2011

I am just returning from Kansas where I met with Catholics from Catholic Extension-supported parishes in the diocese of Dodge City.  This is a rural diocese, where hard work is simply a way of life. As I drove from town to town, the sights and smells of the agriculture industry driving this local economy were hard to miss.  I passed through endless fields where wheat and corn are grown every year atop the flat terrain; I passed by pungent-smelling ”feedlots,” where as many as 90,000 cattle are fed until they double their weight to supply beef demands in markets around the world; and I saw several plants where 4,000 employees slaughter, process, and pack 5,000 cattle a day.  The people who tend these fields and toil in these factories are clearly no strangers to hard work.

Cattle graze fields outside of Jetmore, KS

It was equally hard to miss how hard the people of Kansas work for their faith communities.  They bring the same ethic to their business and labor endeavors as they do to their Catholic faith. I understood very quickly that no job was too difficult to handle for the parishioners of St. Lawrence in Jetmore.  Parishioners in this southwestern Kansas town of about 1,500 residents do everything from managing the books to shoveling the sidewalk to providing religious education for their children.  With about 70 Catholic families in their community, these parishioners know that if their faith and their parish are to continue to thrive, they simply have to roll up their sleeves and make it happen.  “How is your parish different from parishes in urban areas?” I asked.  “We’ve seen many priests come and go over the last ten years,” said the head of the parish council, “so we have to take it upon ourselves to do the work in this church.” Catholic Extension provides a small $5,000 grant to the parish, which helps support the salary of their only paid staff person, the pastor.  “That grant helps us get by,” said Cheryl, the director of religious education. “Here, that money goes a long way.”

The religious education classroom, built by parishioners, where Cheryl teaches the faith to local children and teens

The parish is earnestly preparing for a great celebration later this year in which a seminarian from their parish will be ordained to the priesthood and celebrate his first mass in Jetmore.  His ordination affirms their faith and validates their hard work. An hour and a half southwest of Jetmore we visited St. Alphonsus mission parish in Satanta, where Catholic Extension provides a grant for a religious sister, who serves as the parish’s leader in the absence of a full-time pastor.  Sister Maltide has been there for eight years, and although she is not a native of Kansas, she has embraced their spirit of community and hard work.  Sr. Matilde shared with me that when she arrived in this rural town of 1,500, as many as seven teenage high school girls from the area were pregnant.  “We have got to change this,” she said.  With support from local parish volunteers, St. Alphonsus formed a youth group and a dynamic religious education program, drawing as many as 110 kids.  Thankfully, they’ve seen the teenage pregnancy problem subside. “We are a people who band together,” said Lisa, a parishioner at St. Alphonsus and a convert to Catholicism, who is active in youth ministry.  “I could literally pick up the phone and have 25 volunteers here within an hour to help with anything we need.”  It’s amazing what some hard-working people who are deeply rooted in their faith can accomplish.

Band of parish leaders in Satanta, KS

Later that evening I saw the new bishop, who was ordained and installed two weeks ago.  I told him that we were deeply inspired by what we had seen that day.  “Catholic Extension gives witness to the Catholic communities that are not on people’s radar screens,” I told him.  “But we believe with full conviction that the faith is most vibrant in dioceses like Dodge City, and that you are really at the heart of the church.”  Bishop John, a native Kansan, simply smiled and grinned.  I think he knows how truly blessed he is to be in a place where people are so dedicated and work so hard at their faith. — Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

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