Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, February 22, 2018

ocsjm-homefront file-webIf not for the vision of a handful of Hartford archdiocesan priests 46 years ago, nearly 800 meals may not have been served free of charge to the elderly, homebound and others in need – and that’s just in Winsted, and it’s just last year.

The one-of-a-kind Cooperative Parish Sharing (CPS) program of the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM) recently distributed grants totaling $130,111 to 38 programs in 25 parishes. All of the programs are focused on social justice.

“Sometimes the fund helps a Hispanic priest come to say a Mass or to address the needs of a Hispanic community,” said Lynn Campbell, OCSJM’s executive director. “We see programs for youth leadership. We see programs for parishes that have schools.”

In the case of St. Joseph Parish in Winsted, four grants totaling $10,535 funded the Community Life meal program as well as St. Anthony School’s after-school and HomeFront programs. OCSJM honored the parish last October with the Dr. Charlie Schlegel Award for Cooperative Parish Sharing Projects.

Cooperative Parish Sharing was one of the first programs of the social justice ministry when the ministry (then called the Office for Urban Affairs) was established in 1968, Ms. Campbell said. “There were a lot of issues going on in the cities, so a group of priests got together and [asked], ‘How can we help the city parishes?’”

All 213 parishes in the archdiocese are invited to participate by pledging money to a general fund managed by her office, Ms. Campbell said. More than half the parishes contribute, even some needy parishes. Then, once a year, the chancery sends the social justice ministry office a list of financially troubled parishes, and grants are distributed based on those recommendations.

“It is very unique throughout the country. There was only one other diocese that I am aware of, and that is Chicago,” she said. In that archdiocese, parishes help each other directly, not by funneling money to a centralized agency, she said.

If you can’t remember being asked to give to a special collection for the CPS program, your memory may not be faulty. “It is a donation from the parish to our office, not necessarily a collection at all. The [parish] finance committee can just choose an amount that they want to give,” she said.

When parishes learn they are eligible for grants, they are asked to complete an application. A committee then reviews the applications and visits each parish that applies, Ms. Campbell said.

Linda McKelvey is chair of the Community Life program at St. Joseph Parish. The grants enable her program to deliver 280 meals annually to shut-ins and another 500 meals at luncheons in the parish center.

Without the grants, she said, “We would have to rely on contributions from the parishioners, and especially the members of my committee.”

Patricia Devanney, principal of St. Anthony School in Winsted, said, “Because of the funding that we receive for our after-school and summer programs, we’re able to offer the students some assistance so that more kids can take part in it.” The summer programs at the school include a vacation Bible study and an art program, she said.

Franciscan Father Ronald Gliatta, pastor, said, “This program is so in keeping with the traditions of the Franciscan order, which I am a member of – the outreach to those less fortunate in our community, the outreach to the elderly, the outreach to the poor of our parish community and the local community at large.”

The linked parishes St. Aedan/St. Brendan in New Haven received a total of $7,485 in CPS grants.

Sister Jeanne Marie Vonder Haar, of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is using a grant to make the parishes’ annual Catechists Day more accessible. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Caritas Christi Center in Hamden.

The grant “enables a lot of the New Haven parishes that can’t afford to [host] quality speakers to hear good theology [nearby],” she said.

Deacon Joseph Ryzewski applied for three CPS grants for this year, including a HomeFront grant to help refurbish a house in New Haven, a grant to enable young people from a neighboring parish in Hamden to ride the same bus as youth from St. Aedan/St. Brendan to the annual archdiocesan youth rally and a grant to the parishes’ vacation Bible camp.

“We’re very grateful for the support from the archdiocese and the parishes, because we’re all in it together,” Deacon Ryzewski said.

Michael Votto, principal of St. Aedan/St. Brendan School, said that a $4,635 grant from CPS was a “godsend” to his two-week summer program that offers remedial and enrichment education in math, reading and science.

“It’s a godsend because it allows us to provide some intervention skills that you can’t do sometimes during the school year. [Students] get a little more attention, especially in the remedial aspect of it,” Mr. Votto said.

Father Thomas B. Shepard, pastor, said, “It doesn’t just help the parishes; it helps our parishes help others. We, as the Catholic parishes of the west side of New Haven, have an obligation to all the children, not just the Catholics in the area.”

He added, “It works through parishes, which means that the people of God are involved in this process, and that’s great because they then connect with other people, and there’s this whole grace-filled moment of people helping other people.”