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Jeff Schulenberg, Deacon Charles Snyder, Pat Snyder and Terri Schulenberg, all parishioners at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, organized supplies at First Congregational Church. After preparing the food and supplies, the group joined with PotBangerz to hand out food, blankets and gloves and offer rides to shelters for the night.
Jeff Schulenberg, Deacon Charles Snyder, Pat Snyder and Terri Schulenberg, all parishioners at Sacred Heart in Valley Park, organized supplies at First Congregational Church. After preparing the food and supplies, the group joined with PotBangerz to hand out food, blankets and gloves and offer rides to shelters for the night.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Sacred Heart Valley Park parishioners take to the streets with PotBangerz to live the Gospel message to care for the poor

Parishioners at Sacred Heart in Valley Park join with PotBangerz in an effort to seek peace, justice for the poor and marginalized living on the streets of St. Louis

Jennifer Brooks had wrapped herself in a multi-colored fleece blanket. She and her boyfriend stepped aboard one of two warming buses waiting along Chestnut Street in Downtown St. Louis as they tried to figure out where they were going to sleep that night.

Pat Snyder, a parishioner from Sacred Heart in Valley Park, volunteered with PotBangerz helping to feed a hot meal, and provide warm clothes and toiletries to homeless at Biddle House on Feb. 13.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The temperature that frigid February evening had dipped to 11 degrees. Members of Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park that night had joined a caravan of cars with PotBangerz, a nonprofit organization that feeds people living on the streets of St. Louis. The group of six cars made several stops Downtown as they handed out food, blankets and gloves and offered rides to shelters for the night.

Brooks, who was given a $20 bill by a volunteer, said she and her boyfriend were going to use the donation to get something warm to eat and hopefully find a hotel room that night. “I’ve been out on the streets for a long time,” said Brooks, who usually sleeps on the sidewalk near City Hall. “It goes by quick, too, especially when you’ve been waiting for somebody to help you get an apartment, and you keep getting bumped off the list because you’re not a priority.”

Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels talked with Antoine Smith at a table inside Biddle House. Smith and his brother have been without shelter and Daniels was talking with him about different programs that could help.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Sacred Heart parishioners began volunteering with PotBangerz about a year ago. They help feed and clothe their “unhoused brothers and sisters.” Guided by the corporal works of mercy, the group sees the work as an extension of supporting peace and justice awareness efforts within the parish and in the community. Jeff Schulenberg, who facilitates Sacred Heart’s Peace and Justice Commission, said the group is trying to create opportunities to have an encounter with others, as Pope Francis has preached.

“There’s an expression that prejudice doesn’t survive in proximity,” said Schulenberg. “We’re trying to create situations where people who live out in the bubble in West County have an opportunity to see and experience people other than those they normally interact with.”

Schulenberg stressed that the work of serving others in need is not about creating “feel-good” moments, but rather about building relationships and having a better understanding of the struggles of others. “We keep trying to emphasize the blessing that those we encounter are to us,” he said. “We don’t want this to be about, ‘those poor people, we have to go help them.’ We want to walk with them. We want them to know they are a blessing to us. When we make it clear to them that they are a blessing to us, we see the affirmation of their dignity and how they feel about themselves.”

Seeking peace and justice

Jennifer Brooks stood outside a Metro bus that was being used as a warming center as she and her boyfriend sought shelter in St. Louis Feb. 13.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Parishioners at Sacred Heart have experienced renewed energy around social justice in recent years. In 2015, the parish participated in the archdiocesan viability study, which revealed that there were “significant deficits” under the area of support for peace and justice efforts. From that, the Peace & Justice Commission was formed at the parish.

The response at the parish models a similar statement that Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles has said about the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the Church’s mission to evangelize.

Bishop Barron said, “We can talk about the teaching of the Church on God and Jesus and the Trinity and the Eucharist and so on, but it’s seeing the Church in action that often evangelizes people. And then go back to the early centuries — ‘how these Christians love one another’ — that’s what grabbed the attention of a lot of pagans. And then I think up and down the centuries, it’s people living the Christian life in its radical form that has a huge evangelical power.”

Other examples of parishioners in action have included volunteering at activities in the Hyde Park neighborhood of North St. Louis, such as a father-son fishing tournament and a Christmas party and toy giveaway coordinated by community organization LinkSTL.

Schulenberg recounted an encounter another Sacred Heart parishioner had with a young resident of Hyde Park. During a break, the little girl approached Schulenberg’s friend and raised her hands up toward him, obviously wanting to be held. He picked her up, and she laid her head on his shoulder and rested there for a few seconds.

“They were the perfect picture of Christmas, young and old, black and white, an encounter of peace and love in the midst of a very busy and bustling community event,” Schulenberg later wrote in a parish bulletin. “The child lifted her head and was put gently back on the floor, to scoot back to the Christmas adventure, probably oblivious to the gift that she had just given us.”

As word has spread around the parish of these encounters, people are coming to the group saying, “I want some of that,” Schulenberg said.

A Lenten speaker series at Sacred Heart scheduled in March will address various topics related to Catholic social teaching. Referencing Matthew 25 and the judgment of the nations, Schulenberg said the series was created to look at how the faith community has a duty to see the face of the Lord in others, especially in their time of need.

“Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” Jesus said.

Pam Gabris, a parishioner from Sacred Heart in Valley Park who volunteered with PotBangerz, carried supplies outside Biddle House.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

Feed the body, feed the spirit

Before they headed out in their caravan, Sacred Heart parishioners met at First Congregational Church in Clayton with Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels, founder of PotBangerz, and other regular volunteers to make soup and care packages for the homeless people they were to encounter that evening. The shared meal, as Mama Cat described it, was “breaking bread” with one another before going out to serve what she called “our unhoused family.”

Daniels, a retired Navy wife who once was homeless herself, began PotBangerz in 2014 on the front lines of the Ferguson protests. She frequently brought hot meals to protesters, and from there she began to meet people who lived on the streets.

The group has since grown, meeting every week at First Congregational Church to make meals and distribute them to homeless people. Daniels described the group’s diversity — “we have black, white, brown people; people with means, people with no means. We have believers and non-believers,” she said. “What we don’t want are people who don’t have empathy. We must love and support each other.”

In doing this service, Daniels said, she has seen the structural injustice and how the lives of the poor and those living on the margins are often disregarded. She added that the violence that destroys lives and plagues homeless people is integrally connected. Beyond bringing meals and other necessities, Daniels and the group have formed relationships with homeless individuals, helping to connect them with resources to helping them on a path to a better life. The group also has organized funeral repass services for those who have lost loved ones due to violence.

During a stop at Biddle House in Downtown, Daniels and other volunteers, including the Sacred Heart group, spread across the room, talking to the men who had taken shelter there that night and distributing cups of soup, hot chocolate and small care packages.

Michael, who had been staying at Biddle House since January, greeted Daniels and the volunteers as he played chess with a friend. He said he was working with St. Patrick Center to help get him back on track, including finding an apartment. He’d like to find a job working with medical equipment, and is working on a backup plan if that falls through. He was grateful for a warm meal and the camaraderie of the volunteers visiting that evening.

“Everything we are doing now is a reflection of who I am,” Daniels said. “We were homeless on the streets of San Diego. So this is what I live, not just what I do. When you lift up those who are the least among us, you’re fighting for justice. It’s more than a passion. I want to hold people accountable for my family. It’s not them versus us — it’s all of us.”


Lenten speaker series at Sacred Heart in Valley Park

Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park is hosting its third annual Lenten Speaker Series, “Lord, when did I see you?” The four-part speaker series is based on Catholic social justice teaching and focuses on seeing Jesus in “the least of these.” All sessions are Tuesday evenings, from 7:30-9 p.m. in the church or church hall, 17 Ann Ave. in Valley Park:

• March 3 – Former KSDK meteorologist Mike Roberts will present “Climate Change – From the Vatican to the Pentagon”; a short presentation from the parish’s Sustainability Ministry also will be highlighted.

• March 10 – Dr. Michael Meehan, executive director of Good Shepherd Children & Family Services, will present “Pro-Life: A Consistent Ethic of Life,” focused on the words of St. John Paul II, who said, “human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage.”

• March 24 – Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower MO, and Cyndi Miller, executive director of Circle of Concern, will address “Food Insecurity and Financial Struggles Close to Home.”

• March 31 – Joyce Jones, newly installed program director of racial harmony for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, will be presenting “Racial Harmony in the Practice of Our Faith,”

The series is free. To register, visit sacredheartvp.org.

The PotBangerz organization was began by Cathy ‘Mama Cat’ Daniels in 2014 on the front lines of the Ferguson protests. Beyond bringing meals and other necessities, Daniels and the group have formed relationships with homeless individuals, helping to connect them with resources to helping them on a path to a better life.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

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