The apostles’ priorities for the fledgling Church 2,000 years ago included prayer, ministry of the Word and ensuring material needs of widows and children are met.
Fast-forward a couple thousand years from those early Church years, and the same priorities are being met at St. Joseph Parish in Imperial. But getting people to engage is ever-evolving.
Father Daniel Shaughnessy, parish pastor, said a different approach is called for in reaching out to people in today’s fast-paced world. He quotes Sister Nathalie Meyer, OP, interim director of Catholic education for the archdiocese, who says “we have to get them on the pavement.”
One example is parish barbecues from 4:30 p.m. prior to the start of the Parish School of Religion classes. “It provides a meal but also fellowship. It gets parents out of the car. The cafeteria is full of parents sitting with their kids,” Father Shaughnessy said.
In the day school, social events are encouraged by grade at a parent’s home or at the parish for parents to get to know each other and form a relationship. “We don’t just want a child to show up. We want to get to know a family,” Father Shaughnessy said.
Offering the sacrament of confession on weeknights, working in conjunction with other parishes in the deanery to cover other weeknights, is another example, he said. A regional youth ministry meets at St. Joseph Parish. Several opportunities help people to learn more about their Catholic faith. The weekly food pantry and St. Vincent de Paul Society also help people live their faith by serving their neighbor.
Belonging leads to believing, the parish pastor said. “It really is true in a time when we’re inundated with communication — texting, social media and all this stuff. We’re supposedly communicating so much, but our relational capacities are woefully inadequate. So we bring people into meaningful relationships at the parish and have the parish be the center of everything. That’s why we built the parish center.”
As recently as two years ago, the parish of 2,000 households had only one meeting room. “We’re trying to bring all the meetings on campus so the parish becomes the center of people’s lives,” Father Shaughnessy said. “We’ve built a new playground, a quarter-mile walking trail and picnic tables on the parish campus.”
Sister Carol Sansone, ASCJ, principal of the school, said it’s often said the church is the heart and the school is the anchor of a parish. St. Joseph School, which continues to grow in enrollment, provides “a moral compass for children that is so lacking in our world,” she said. A reliance on God and each other provides a direction, she added.
Angela Mueller, who has three children in the parish school, said “its’ such a welcoming community. I feel like it’s a second home.”
Longtime parishioner Carlo Damico cited faith-formation classes, youth group, young adult group and communication as part of the parish’s energetic outreach, all geared to connect people and their faith.
A parish Bible study group, founded 25 years ago and which still has two original members, begins each weekly session with a prayer and petitions for people they know facing health struggles or difficult situations. They then discuss the readings and relate them to their lives, sometimes adding humor.
The group of women — men aren’t excluded — enjoy the social aspect of coming together as well. “It’s friendship and faith that brings us together,” said Faye Weiland.
Lorraine Simms is one of the newest people to join the weekly gatherings. “They made me feel so welcome,” she said.
Weiland said that’s reflective of the parish in northeast Jefferson County in which people, no matter what age, quickly find a place to get involved because the parish is so vibrant and active.