More Than Money Can Buy

Scarce resources cannot quell the hope of small, rural faith community.

The spirited parishioners of San Juan Diego Mission in Stilwell, Oklahoma, gather each week in a simple storefront.  The front portion of this rented space serves as their “church,” a place they’ve called home for all nine years of the community’s existence.  Their donated pews are worn-out hand-me-downs dating back to the 1970s.   The church retains a musty odor, because when it rains the roof serves as nothing more than a sieve.  Parishioners must celebrate Mass amid buckets collecting the rainwater.  In the back of the space is the parish’s garage-like “community and religious education center.”  There is no air conditioning, so parishioners must endure the blistering, 100-plus degree Oklahoma summers with no relief.

But this small, meager space is not what defines them.  Instead, they are distinguishable by a strong desire to live their faith and build a bright future for their children.  And this church has all the elements needed to be successful: the people have vision, passion, a sense of community, a strong worth ethic and youthfulness.

When San Juan Diego Mission opened its doors in April 2002, there were only about 23 families gathering for Mass.  Now, not even a decade later, and without the benefit of a resident priest or adequate space, their community has grown to 300 families strong, with plenty of young people to carry the faith into future generations.

“Here, our youth and our children are our priority,” said Antonio Garcia, CCD Coordinator for the parish.
Catholic Extension donors have enabled San Juan Diego to develop a peer ministry and faith formation program that will help keep teens close to the Church.

For this inspiring faith community, no obstacle is too great.  In addition to addressing their spiritual needs, parishioners have been determined to build a physical space—a dignified church to call home.  And after almost a decade of fundraising and selling tamales, they are grateful to see Catholic Extension donors step in to make this dream a reality.

For a tiny parish with so little on the surface, the faith-filled, persevering San Juan Diego Mission community is really so incredibly rich.

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