St. Monica: Recent Past - Hopeful Future (Part 2, Serving Others)

There are three types of people: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen and those who wonder “What just happened?” I choose to belong to the first group.

I recently invited a diverse group of parishioners to prayerfully help discern the direction of St. Monica. To begin that conversation, let’s review what has happened at St. Monica over the past three years. This week we start with “Encountering Christ Through Reaching Out and Helping Others.”

Over six years ago, Michelle Manning and Bridget Cowell approached me. They asked whether I would be open to starting a “Walking With Purpose” chapter at St. Monica. After three years of successful leadership, they approached me again. This time they offered to take on the leadership of the third “Parish Pillar” – Reaching Out and Helping Others.” I’d like to examine what has been accomplished in this area. I will then offer some thoughts on what still needs to be done.

Notes from a recent “Outreach Ministry” meeting is telling. This month St. Monica held a second “Day of Service.” The inaugural one was earlier this year during Lent. Participation in that event had been underestimated. 35 people signed up. Over 75 people showed up. Materials and resources fell short. Volunteers quickly ran out to buy more items. Thus we had service projects and activities for all who attended. During our most recent “Day of Service,” our children made color pictures and prayer cards. They placed these in Thanksgiving bags for St. Gabriel Parish in South Philadelphia. They cut out ornaments for the Christmas Giving Tree. They helped collect and sort Thanksgiving bags for St. Gabriel parish as well.

On Veteran’s Day, parishioners participated in “Operation Gratitude” for our military. Deb Rojas’ daughter Katherine (or “Elly”) filled in at the last minute to sing Our National Anthem – and did it with panache!

On the administrative side, Joe Bondi, Gail Gordon, and Tom McGurk have volunteered to work with Fr. Zlock as an Outreach Ministry sub-committee. They will formulate criteria for vetting requests for financial assistance. They are currently examining the various “outreach” ministries at St. Monica. The hope is to enhance communication and coordination among the various ministries. They will make recommendations for circumstances where money is given or payment is needed. This will include services to individuals, families or organizations. They will help build transparency, clarify how funds come in, and how they are accounted for.

St. Monica sometimes encounters difficult outreach cases. This usually requires coordination between the parish and professionals. Eadeh Enterprises has cooperated with St. Monica to help find housing for people who are homeless. Diane Claffey has continued to spearhead meals for families. This spring the parish was providing 3 families with dinner several nights each week. Currently, we are providing meals for one family. A casserole program was started to provide dinners twice each week for the Blessed Sarnelli House in Kensington. Blessed Sarnelli House provides dinners twice each week to the poor in Kensington many of whom are struggling with addiction. They serve 100-150 people each evening. The Women from Walking With Purpose have been instrumental in this initiative.

The men of the parish have been active as well. The Holy Name Society has helped the Legacy of Life group with repairs to their women’s outreach houses. The men built a brand new playground and security fence at one of these homes in Bristol.

Recently JoAnn Pata stepped forward to begin a “Senior Outreach Ministry.” Over the summer a Senior Outreach Ministry Committee began gathering information for a launch of the program in late 2019.

The parish recently hosted a Red Cross Blood Drive (again). First Aid and CPR courses have been offered. At last count, we currently have over 125 food bags – and counting - for this year’s Thanksgiving Drive


Three years ago, “Outreach” was one of St. Monica’s two lowest scores in the “Disciple Maker Index” questionnaire. (See graphic below). After seeing that score, Michelle and Bridget stepped forward and stepped up. That was big. That was important. The list above is impressive. It is also not exhaustive. The parish has moved significantly in terms of “reaching out to the fringes” as Pope Francis has asked us to do.

So what are the challenges? The most pressing issue is that too much of this is being done by too few people. Another issue is that many of these initiatives, organizations, and programs have been around for many years. We might need to examine what we do, how it is done, and who does it. A pruning and reconfiguration might be in order.

New ideas have been proposed. We are exploring the possibility of joining “The Great Co-Mission.” This is a group of Main Line congregations engaged in evangelism and social action. We are trying to identify homebound/sick parishioners who may enjoy a visit from someone from the Senior Ministry. We have contacted Devon Senior Living and Trinity House to determine if those are good locations to visit. An Octogenarian Mass and Luncheon have been proposed. We have discussed the possibility of pastoral counselors to visit parishioners in the hospital, rehab and nursing homes. Is a parish nurse or a full- or part-time paid “Outreach Ministry Coordinator” an option?

Another suggestion was to start a Junior Holy Name program. This could encourage young men to engage in service – and bring their sons as well. Is a relationship with Habitat for Humanity possible? Joe Bondi and Joe Lydon are exploring starting a Handy Man Ministry. This could provide help with basic home repair and maintenance primarily for seniors. Can a similar program be initiated to help people in our immediate neighbor?

People love these ideas. People are very willing to provide “great ideas” that “someone” or “we” should do. In these cases, my key question is always, “Who is going to own it? Who is going to run it?” In too many cases, the answer is crickets. Let’s face it, we’re busy. Many families have young children with a cornucopia of activities. We do not need more activities. Catherine of Siena Institute founder, Sherry Weddell, recently told me that “’Busy’ parishes are not necessarily ‘healthy parishes.’” She would know. She has seen hundreds of each.

The list of what is being done in- and from our parish needs to be celebrated. I am not proposing any solutions to the challenges that I have also presented. I am trying to offer a perspective. I plan to add this to the discussion mix as we begin our discernment process at St. Monica in the month ahead.


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