‘You can change people with love’

Sister Barbara Joseph Wilson, principal, meets with Jaime Mencia, president of the SJW school board. — Credit: SISTER NANCY MUNRO, CSJ

Three decades ago Josefina Castellanos had no money, no job, no home and two small hungry children at her side when she came to the door of the rectory at St. Joseph the Worker Parish. She had remembered well the Vincentian priests in her hometown in Guatemala. They would frequently help those in need.

The young pastor, Father James Loughnane, answered the door that morning she came looking for help. He took her and the children inside out of the cold and listened as she explained her situation. He offered her a job and said, “I will try you out for a week.” Many months later, she asked him if she had gotten the job yet; they both just laughed remembering that first meeting.  

Today Josefina cooks at the rectory, assists the St. Vincent de Paul Society in their efforts with the poor, and oversees preparation of a hot meal program three times a week that feeds 40-80 homeless a day. She is very proud of the many St. Joseph the Worker parishioners who assist her and have gotten to know those less fortunate. 

“You can change people with love,” says Josefina. “Our parish is compassionate and cares for the poor. We try to make them feel like human beings. I can’t forget these people because that was me 34 years ago.”

Such generosity impresses Father Kevin Rettig, pastor. “In the spirit of Jesus, of Vatican II, of our Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and Pope Francis, we strive to be a reflection of the all-embracing love of God at our liturgies and in our parish life,” he says. “We are proud of our many outreach ministries and of our diversity.”

Each year a parish-wide outreach project enables parishioners to learn about and address a need somewhere globally, as well as to celebrate a culture within the parish community. This year, with some very active Egyptian Christians in this parish, the Coptic Christians of Egypt have been the focus of parishioner efforts, including assistance for orphaned children of the region.

“By learning to celebrate others, we celebrate ourselves,” says Father Kevin. “There is something for everyone here.”

Jaime Mencia, president of the Parish Council, has been an active member of St. Joseph the Worker for most of his life. He attended the parish school and was married to his wife Laura in the church; their children all attended the parish school (except for two-year old Gracie, whose turn will come), where Laura teaches second grade; and Jaime is on the school’s consultative board of business professionals.  

“The school benefits so much from the partnership that exists among school, parish and community,” he says proudly. “A vibrant, engaged parish will ultimately make for a better school and a better community.

“We are all ambassadors of the parish. It is not solely the job of the pastor. It is not about telling people, ‘You should be at Mass.’ It is about saying. ‘Thank you for coming’ and ‘You have made my experience better.’”

Blessed with many ministries, the parish is involved in outreach projects: Get on the Bus for Mother’s Day, food baskets for Thanksgiving, and a parish Corpus Christi procession in which other parishes participate.

“It is a phenomenal thing to see,” says Jaime. “Father Kevin is extremely charismatic. He has an ability to make a personal connection with everyone.”

Last year a CSJ sister sponsored a school in Peru. The parish also supports Sri Lankan orphanages, and parish Our Girl Scouts have made table settings for the homeless.

“Every task has value and it glorifies God,” says Jaime. “It makes a difference when everyone works together and supports the parish community as a whole. No act of goodness is too small, and it makes the parish inviting. Father Kevin has wanted to do that — to make people feel welcome, and to make the world a better place just one act of goodness at a time.”


Voices

Three kinds of spiritualities

Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI

All of us struggle, and we struggle in three ways. First, sometimes we struggle simply to maintain ourselves, to stay healthy and stable, to stay normal, to not fall apart, to not have our lives unravel into chaos and depression.

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