What impact does Catholic Extension have on a poor mission diocese? Just ask Bishop Herbert Bevard of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He will tell you that Catholic Extension is a lifeline for poor mission dioceses, and that Catholic Extension donors have helped him with some of the diocese’s most important assets–its seminarians, the roof on its cathedral, its communications system for reaching out to parishioners spread out on the islands, and the faith that sustains them.
Serving as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas, which encompasses the islands of St. Croix and St. John, Bishop Bevard explained that the islands are widely known for their beautiful, white sandy beaches and crystal clear, turquoise Caribbean waters.
But, behind this idyllic backdrop, many residents struggle, he said, which reaffirms the importance of the Church’s presence here.
For a bishop trying to run a mission diocese, Bishop Bevard explained that there are very few places to turn to for help. he runs his diocese on a shoestring budget, employing only one part-time and two full-time employees. however, upon reaching out to worldwide missionary societies for aid, he quickly learned that as a U.S. mission diocese, St. Thomas often did not qualify for aid.
“I think it’s very important that we support all the missions,” he said. “We need support for missions in Third World countries, in parts of Asia and Africa and South America...But it’s also very important to support the home missions. It would be a shame if we were supporting missions thousands of miles away, while the Church right here in the United States found itself unable to continue. And without Catholic Extension, our programs and ultimately the diocese would not be able to continue to exist.”
Today, Catholic Extension donors are helping this diocese grow stronger in several ways, including support for seminarian education, a cost that is prohibitive to most mission dioceses. Catholic Extension also funds St. Thomas’ Catholic TV, as well as its radio and newspaper. Catholic media are essential for keeping the islanders connected to the greater Church and to each other. The station also provides Mass to people who are hospitalized or homebound.
In addition, through an aggressive challenge grant that the diocese has been able to meet, Catholic Extension helped support “Phase 1” of the restoration of the 169-year-old Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul on St. Thomas. “We have a beautiful, but very old cathedral, and Catholic Extension helped us put a new roof on it. Without that new roof and new beams, the engineers said that the next serious hurricane would destroy the building,” he said.
Bishop Bevard continues to be touched by the deep faith and reverence of the people in his diocese. “our people truly are very faithful to the Church, to the teachings of the Church and to the sacramental practice,” he noted. “They have great love and affection for their priests, and there’s a long Catholic history here.” he also is especially grateful that in Catholic Extension, he has a place where he can turn: “Thanks be to God, largely because of Extension, we are able to do it.”