State of the Parish,
The enduring memory that I have of St. Joseph’s is the first memory I have of St. Joseph’s. And that’s of running into Susie Boschert on the sidewalk as I made my way over to the rectory to find out just what I was getting into from Fr. Kevin and Chris Block. Can you think of a better way to be welcomed to St. Joseph’s than being greeted by Susie Boschert? And what I found, was that she was a pretty good barometer of what I’ve come to expect from St. Joseph’s as a whole. Since this is the last official weekend that I’ll be here at St. Joseph’s, I thought it might be worthwhile to give a kind of State of the Parish homily: to review what we’ve achieved, and to consider some of the things that we still need to address going forward. So here goes…
Sacramentally, St. Joseph’s has done well. First, we’ve had more than double the number of baptisms than we’ve had funerals. Thirty-four baptisms to only fifteen funerals – while we honor our deceased loved ones, that’s a great ratio! A buddy of mine who’s also been assigned to Kenrick is leaving his parish that only had funerals – like one every other week – we’re blessed. Whenever anyone has asked me about St. Joseph’s (after I’ve had to explain exactly where it is…) I always tell them that it’s a vibrant parish with lots of young families and children. I don’t know why, but people always seem surprised when I tell them that. “Really” they say! I don’t know why that’s such a revelation, but it is. The noise our young children make (especially at the 10:00 a.m. Mass), is great! As I’ve said before, I always say a quick prayer of thanks for them and their parents because they’re new life for our community. And I hope that all of our young parents know just how welcome they and their children are at Mass each week – bring it on, what a great blessing you all are! Second, we’ve had forty-eight First Holy Communions and thirty-four Confirmations since the middle of 2016. The Sacraments are life and power for the soul. On this Pentecost Sunday we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the source of that life and power. Cooperating with that grace, the better we can model our love of the Sacraments [love, not just obligation], the more authentically we’ll hand on the faith to the next generation. Finally, we’ve witnessed ten weddings at St. Joseph’s over the past three years, and that’s fine too. Just as a reminder though, if there are any parishioners who’ve been married outside the Church, and would like to have their legal marriage Sacramentally validated, that’s easy to arrange. It will enable them to invite Jesus into their union and be strengthened by His grace as they live their lives together.
In terms of improvements, there have welcome additions to our church and buildings. The bell tower louvres and the hall have been repainted, the parking lot re-sealed, and the cemetery fence protected, the rectory porch completed, and the rectory office renovated – mostly. There’s new landscaping in front of the church and the rectory. The 4-H organization has ensured that the new dumpster fence gets re-sealed each year and they’ve kept the various items on the grounds re-painted as well. In church, our bells have been automated, sacred images have been added to our pillars and walls, we’ve gotten proper liturgical furniture, railings in the sanctuary, a media center in the vestibule, and new Christmas trees to celebrate the birth of the Savior. At the same time we’ve rescued articles of St. Joseph’s patrimony and incorporated them in our worship. So, our big candlesticks that were dying a dusty death in the bell tower, now add solemnity to our Christmas and Easter seasons. The antependiums that once covered the front of the old high altar have been resized to fit the front of our current altar and ambo. I’m not sure how many years of life they have left in them, but they sure do add to the beauty of the sanctuary. The banner of the Lamb of God now backs-up the sanctuary lamp, the old St. Joseph’s organ purchased in 1894 was re-gifted to us earlier this year, and the old ciboriums that were stashed in a cupboard now hold the Eucharist at Mass again. All good things, and much better than all that stuff moldering in a drawer somewhere.
Liturgically, our 8:00 a.m. Mass has improved with the addition of a dedicated cantor and from the continued generosity of our organists and music ministers. They deserve our appreciation. Efforts to add more Lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion have met with some success, but more people willing to serve in these ministries would be helpful. Server training has produced excellent servers – and I know there are more boys and girls interested in serving at Mass this coming fall, so I think we’re in good shape there.
In terms of spiritual growth and development, various faith-sharing and faith-study programs have been offered over the past three years with some success. The groups have been uniformly enjoyable, educational, and uplifting. More opportunities are in the works for the fall. In addition, St. Joseph’s now prays the Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotion every Tuesday morning after Mass, the Stations of the Cross are a fixture on all Fridays of Lent, and Eucharistic Adoration is offered at least once a month. There’s a weekly Saturday evening Rosary, Thursday evening devotional Masses during Advent and Lent, as well expanded Confession times. Any improvement in this area, I think, would simply involve greater participation in these devotions.
As far as governance goes, the main goal I had was to expand the parish council, to have its members elected by the parish each year, and to regularize their term of office. A similar plan was intended for the finance council, but that’ll have to be addressed by Fr. Tom when he gets here. In any case, I’ve appreciated the guidance of the parish council and the finance council, they’ve offered insightful thoughts and largely kept me from saying and doing stupid things, and I am grateful to them.
Finally, the last thing I want to say concerns the financial status of the parish. When Archbishop Carlson asked me to move to the seminary and he promised a full-time pastor, he also asked if I thought St. Joseph’s was financially capable of supporting a full-time pastor. I thought about it for a moment, and then I told him that I believed we were, but that some adjustments would have to be made – and they’ll need to be. On the positive side, our fundraisers, keep us in the black – not by much – but in the black. We have a bit of savings, and we’ve set some aside for the upcoming tuckpointing of the church, but it’s not a comfortable cushion. Where we’re challenged is that without the benefit of events like Homecoming, for example, we’re not completely meeting our financial responsibilities as a parish. Basically, it’s all Fr. Kevin’s fault! I’ve decided to blame him [heh heh hehJ]. Really though, having him here for free, and not having to pay his salary and expenses for nearly two decades, was a luxury that kinda lulled us into a false sense of normalcy – we saved about three quarters of a million dollars in those years – around $800,000 to be more accurate. And that’s allowed us to build really nice buildings, and they’re great, but things changed when he left – having a pastor became a real expense again. I’ve been on a 70-30 split between St. Joseph’s and Kenrick for the last three years, so that’s helped us a little, but Fr. Tom will be a 100% responsibility of St. Joseph’s. And that’s a concern. I’m not sure why (I’ve wondered these past years if it was me – if I’ve said or done something wrong to discourage support of the parish), but over the past decade the Sunday collection taken in less and less just about every year – and this year is following that same downward trend. While some might have believed that retiring the debt on the hall would leave plenty to run the parish with a new pastor, but what really happened was that the financial support that went into our new hall didn’t transfer to the running of the parish. Or it went into the proceeds of our major fundraisers which stay with those organizations and doesn’t go into the operating budget. So, that’s the situation. I don’t mean to be a nag. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been blessed by some really kind and generous folks who’ve made the bells, statues, landscaping, and tower louvres possible for us to enjoy. But more than individuals, what I’ve always been interested in fostering is a fuller parishioner buy-in for the support of our parish. To this point, then, we’ve been hanging in there, kinda limping along, but having a full-time pastor will be a big change for our parish, and I thought that before Fr. Tom gets here, it should be mentioned again.
In closing, let me say how much I’ve loved being here at St. Joseph’s and what a bitter thing it is for me to have to leave so soon. This is a fantastic parish and I’ll miss you all greatly. I don’t intend to be a stranger, you’ll see me around at the big events as I’m able. But as always, know that you’ll remain in my thoughts and especially my daily prayers and Mass intentions. Have a great Pentecost Sunday!