Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Calling forth new leaders

Megan Basch never imagined she would lead a new kind of ministry that is helping younger Catholics like herself come alive in their faith.

But when she learned a few years ago that a young adult group was forming at St. Paul Cathedral, she says the Holy Spirit inspired her to get involved.

Today, Basch leads the core team for Oakland Young Adult Ministry, with more than 40 members taking part in Bible studies, prayer groups, retreats, liturgical ministries, Theology on Tap, service projects and social outings.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva speaks about his personal faith in 2017 at Theology on Tap in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva speaks about his personal faith in 2017 at Theology on Tap in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood.

“This ministry has helped me to grow tremendously in my own faith,” said Basch, 31, a cardiology research nurse. “It means friendship and love and community and peace.”

She credits Father Kris Stubna and Father Adam Verona with establishing the group and helping it to thrive.

To develop more lay leaders like Basch throughout the six-county region, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is launching a young adult ministry training program that is supported by sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

The collaborative program, called Cultivate, will provide leaders with the knowledge and skills to implement young adult ministry in their parishes or region, according to Jacob Williamson, diocesan director for young adult outreach.

There are more than 530,000 adults in their 20s and 30s in southwestern Pennsylvania and about 125,000 are Catholic, Williamson said.  Diocesan surveys of older parishioners showed their top concern is helping young people grow in the faith.

“We want to raise up leaders who will help make disciples,” Williamson said. “Young adults are looking for something deeper. A life of meaning—a life with Christ.”

The Cultivate program begins with a weekend retreat on January 4-6, 2019, followed by six monthly sessions that include ministry strategies, developmental growth of a disciple and social media outreach.

“It’s important to understand the needs of young people,” Williamson said. “They can be single or married. Some are parents. They work in white collar jobs, the trades or are in graduate school.

“This collaborative will give leaders important tools for ministry and the theology behind it to serve diverse groups,” he said.

In the past, many younger Catholics drifted away from the church during their high school and college years but returned to the faith when they married and started families. That is not always the case today.

A 2016 Gallup report entitled “How Millennials Want to Work and Live” found young adults are less attached to religious affiliations, but are optimistic and want a purpose in life.

Joni Mulvaney, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at Holy Sepulcher Parish in Glade Mills, Butler County, said she looks for ways to connect and build relationships through spiritual and social encounters like Mass & Apps, which includes an evening liturgy and appetizers at a local restaurant.

“You have to get to know them and walk with them as a friend,” she said.

“We’ve had some cool conversations about how they’ve encountered God and seen Him at work in their lives,” Mulvaney said. “This is a vital ministry.”

“We meet people where they’re at in their spiritual growth,” Basch said. “It’s an important community of support and friendship.”

To learn more about young adult ministry and Cultivate, visit

Joe Calloway is working to rebuild the Pittsburgh neighborhood where he grew up - Photo courtesy of RE 360 Real Estate

‘We can’t forget that the Church is the people’

Joe Calloway has been working for years to rebuild his old neighborhood. Now he’s excited to help rebuild lives through an inner city ministry that’s bringing young people to Jesus.

The real estate developer is helping Dirty Vagabond Ministries expand into Pittsburgh’s Allentown section next summer. In 2020, urban missionaries will begin outreach in the city’s Hill District.

Sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! help provide new start-up grants for the ministry, which embraces Pope Francis’ preference for “a church that is dirty because it’s been on the streets.” The “vagabond” reference is tied to Jesus, who lived as a wandering preacher during his public ministry, and to his followers who journey as vagabonds to their true home, heaven.

“I like their approach to becoming part of the community,” Calloway said. “The kids need someone to care about them and love them.”

The missionaries have been reaching out to youth exposed to violence and drugs in Pittsburgh’s Garfield, Bloomfield and Friendship neighborhoods, and in Sharpsburg.

The missionaries help embody Bishop David Zubik’s call to be On Mission for The Church Alive!, bringing Jesus to those who need Him most, especially the young.

At the heart of the effort is an outreach model based on Jesus’ ministry. Missionaries and trained volunteers meet kids where they are, whether on basketball courts, in housing projects or in schools that partner with the ministry.

Teens are mentored and taught the faith, attending worship nights, Bible studies, retreats and mission trips. Some are going to Mass regularly for the first time in their lives, and several have expressed interest in entering the church next Easter.

Expanding into Allentown and the Hill District is a “unique challenge and opportunity,” said Andy Lesnefsky, president of Dirty Vagabond Ministries. “Funding these new locations in the inner-city of Pittsburgh is a continued commitment to effectively evangelize and minister to the poor.”

Baptized at the former St. George church and growing up in the city’s Knoxville neighborhood, Calloway witnessed the steady decline of the Hilltop area. Allentown lost 70 percent of its population from 1940 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Gun violence and poverty are higher than the citywide average.

St. George merged with St. Joseph, St. Canice and St. Henry parishes in 1994 to become St. John Vianney Parish, which closed in 2016 after a 77 percent decline in membership in a decade. Allentown became part of St. Mary of the Mount Parish in Mount Washington, which holds the charter to the community food bank, run by a nonprofit organization.

“I have deep-seated memories of St. George, which was a beautiful church,” said Calloway, now a member of St. Alphonsus Parish in Wexford. “But that’s not what Jesus cared about. We need to be present in Allentown, on the streets.”

“We spend so much time focused on our buildings,” said Father Michael Stumpf, pastor of St. Mary of the Mount. “Important as they are, we can’t forget that the church is the people.”

“We need to care for those who are poor, the excluded, and those who don’t know the Lord,” he said.

“Building on previous success, our vision is to make Pittsburgh a model of how to reach multiple neighborhoods in an inner-city,” Lesnefsky said. “Other dioceses already have shown interest in this kind of evangelization.”

Lesnefsky also expressed appreciation for the support they have received.

“We are so thankful to donors and partners who are helping to transform lives and our neighborhoods,” he said.

Addiction recovery

Grant to support addiction ministry

Rocco Magnelli, Jr. knows about addiction. His 20-year old son died from an opioid overdose in 2015 and his youngest daughter is an addict. As a recovering alcoholic, Magnelli serves as a sponsor to those suffering from the disease of alcohol and substance abuse.

“I understand the addict’s mind, and the struggles,” Magnelli said. “The solution has nothing to do with willpower, but a higher power.”

With more families and individuals being overwhelmed by the epidemic of opioid abuse and alcoholism, the board of directors of Our Campaign for The Church Alive! approved an evangelization grant to help establish a diocesan-wide Addiction Recovery Ministry.

Developed by Father Michael Decewicz, pastor of St. Juan Diego Parish in Sharpsburg, the ministry will operate out of the parish’s John Paul I Center. There is space for 12-step recovery meetings, prayer and Bible study groups and educational forums, with referrals to community resources.  Special Masses and anointing of the sick also will be available.

“The emphasis is on Step Five, making a personal moral inventory,” said Magnelli, a member of the ministry team. “Addicts and alcoholics must admit the exact nature of their wrongs.”

Father Decewicz, who has been open about his own recovery from alcoholism, said the center will provide a one-on-one ministry for abusers and their family and friends, while also supporting clergy, school principals, directors of religious education and pastoral associates who are offering assistance. He feels an additional urgency because he is the recipient of a kidney transplant.

“I know I’m on borrowed time, and I see how the outbreak is growing,” Father Decewicz said. “This ministry is a good way to evangelize, preaching the gospel and giving back.”

Allegheny County recorded 735 overdose deaths in 2017, according to revised data, the third year in a row that it broke its own record. Fatal overdoses also have risen dramatically in Butler and Lawrence counties, falling slightly last year in Washington and Beaver counties after recent increases.

An estimated 23 million Americans suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol, and more than 610,000 died from opioid-related overdoses nationwide from 1999 to 2016.

Hospitals, rehabilitation centers and government agencies are collaborating with communities to combat the crisis, but this approach is pastoral, and includes leaders of other faith traditions.

“The paramount dynamic of our ministry is spiritual—how we manifest and respond to the love of God,” said psychologist and author William Kraft, who serves on the team. “It works well for the Church Alive. The time is ripe.”

Team member Julie Truver, whose family has been impacted by substance abuse, said that while some people are able to quit drugs, the statistics for full recovery are grim.

“This is a lifelong battle for addicts,” she said. “Education is a priority and needs to begin at the grade school level with parents and children.”

“Addiction disconnects people from themselves, from loved ones and from God,” said Jim Hanna, pastoral associate at St. Anne Parish in Castle Shannon, who helped to found the parish-based Substance Addiction Ministry in 2014. “This new diocesan center will make a difference and show the church is serious about responding.”

Christian Brother Mark Lowery, who has been in alcoholism recovery for nearly a quarter century, likes the idea of a place where people can come for meetings and get spiritual help.

“I work with younger ex-convicts who are in recovery and every month I bring Central Catholic students to tour the county jail,” Brother Mark said. “They understand this is reality. It makes a big impression on them.”

In the late 1990s and into the 2000s, prescribed pain relievers like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin were the main causes of opioid overdose deaths. However, these prescriptions have been declining since 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Today, the killers are heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times as potent as heroin. The substances are often mixed together.

“The medical profession contributed to the problem in treating pain, but I’ve seen a change in mindset,” said pharmacist Bill Ashton, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish who serves on the new addiction recovery team.

“Like most pastors, I have presided at many funerals of young people who have died from this epidemic,” Father Decewicz said. “I feel a passion for the church to be a visible sign and presence of love and healing for those in need.”

Local Latinos take part in a Eucharistic procession on June 3 at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Beechview.

Reaching out to Latino Catholics

As more Latinos move into southwestern Pennsylvania, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is providing pastoral support to keep their Catholic culture strong.

The volunteer board of directors of Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, Inc. has approved a grant expanding formation and outreach to Latino Catholics, supported by sacrificial gifts from donors to the campaign.

The U.S. Latino population reached nearly 58 million in 2016, accounting for half the nation’s population growth since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly seven out of 10 Latinos are Catholic. About 40,000 Latinos now live in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, according to Jorge Vela, diocesan coordinator of Latino ministry.

Campaign funds will support a part-time catechetical director who will develop and implement the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program in all Latino parishes, and promote spiritual formation programs such as Rediscover and Adore the Holy Eucharist. Latinos generally have a strong, family-centered faith that need support from the Church.

“This grant will help make a big difference in teaching the faith,” Vela said. “We hope to later expand our Spanish-speaking catechesis program to other parishes.”

Four rooms in the former convent at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood have been converted into two classrooms to accommodate students from St. Regis Parish in Oakland. Spanish-language Masses are celebrated at both parishes, as well as at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands, Our Lady of Joy in Plum and St. Paul in Butler.

“Our mission today certainly includes welcoming Latinos who come to our diocese bringing with them many gifts and talents, first of which is their vibrant Catholic faith and love for the Church,” said auxiliary Bishop William Waltersheid.

“At a time when family life seems to be suffering so much, our Latino brothers and sisters remind us of the sacredness of family life and the importance of the bond between parents and children.”

The grant also supports the attendance of five representatives from the local Latino community at the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (V Encuentro) to be held in September outside Dallas, Texas. Some 3,000 leaders are registered for the conference, which has been a catalyst for developing ministries among U.S. Latinos over the past 50 years.

More than 100 bishops are expected to lead diocesan delegations at V Encuentro.

The campaign funds also will provide training for volunteer catechists, young and adult leaders, promote religious vocations and improve communications.

Seminarians in the diocese now take part in a Latino immersion experience, learning about the languages, cultures and needs of their population through course work and by visiting the parishes and homes of Latino families.

“It is important to build relationships in the Latino community,” said Father Fernando Torres, parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “A lot of people really need our spiritual support.”

Chrissie (left) and Jackie warmly greet visitors and callers at McGuire Memorial Employment Option Center.

Helping those with special needs find their ‘niche’

First-time visitors to the McGuire Memorial Employment Option Center often come away with two lasting impressions—the happy, productive workplace atmosphere, and the infectious smiles of identical twin sisters.

Chrissie and Jackie have worked as co-receptionists at the licensed Adult Training Facility in Moon Township for the past four years, and have been a part of the program since it opened in 2002. The center offers day programs and school-to-work transitioning for adults with mild to moderate disabilities and/or autism.

“Chrissie and Jackie stick together, and they do a great job,” said Damon Krynicki, director of the Employment Option Center. “I like to say that everyone has a niche—you just need to find it.”

Established in 1963, McGuire Memorial offers comprehensive services to more than 300 children and adults with multiple, complex disabilities. They provide a school, intermediate care facility, a life enrichment program for adults, and community homes.

Sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! provided support to expand McGuire Memorial’s Community Solutions NOW program, helping those with special needs participate in work opportunities, volunteering and recreational outings.

The Employment Option Center offers vocational assessments and training, transitional work services, life skills, school-to-work programs and paid jobs. At the facility, clients label and stuff envelopes, shred documents and work in housekeeping.

Fifteen of the 84 adults work in local doctor’s offices, physical therapy centers, retailers and fast food restaurants. The Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce provides job leads and sends out an annual membership mailing through the center.

“They are wonderful to work with and really help us out,” said chamber executive director Michelle Kreutzer. “They’re a great asset to the community.”

The School at McGuire Memorial, also supported by the campaign, is licensed as an Approved Private School, providing individualized special education services for students ages 3 to 21 who have multiple intellectual and physical disabilities, or who are on the autism spectrum. The school offers a comprehensive education and a range of therapeutic services.

“Our goal is to always help these amazing children to be as independent as they can be,” said director Kim Scanlon Lieb. “We bring them into the community, teaching them how to use money, follow directions by going into the supermarket or mall, and to feel the grass under their feet in a park.”

Lieb, who volunteered at McGuire Memorial as a child and worked in the residential program during college, said they serve students with challenging needs. There are 11 different programs for those who can learn to read, five math programs, and three for handwriting. Speech, physical and occupational therapists work with students, along with behavior analysts.

A non-profit organization that serves people of all faiths and backgrounds, McGuire Memorial believes in the sacredness of life and the right of every individual to compassionate, holistic care.

“As a Felician-sponsored ministry, McGuire Memorial exemplifies the core values of the Felician Sisters and our Foundress, Blessed Mary Angela, whose charism is lived out each day through the selfless service of our employees,” said Sister Mary Thaddeus Markelewicz, CSSF, president and CEO.

Krynicki offered a thank you to donors.

“Their gifts are going to a good use,” Krynicki said. “They better peoples’ lives and help our community partners.

“Our clients are gifts to all of us.”

Luke Worgul (center) and his parents, Kristen and John, play a music game with Kaitlin Wade,                    speech language therapist, at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech.

‘DePaul School has meant so much to us’

The prenatal visits gave no sign of problems. But soon after Luke Worgul was born, doctors came back with the diagnosis: Luke had moderate hearing loss. At two months old, he was fitted with a hearing aid.

Today, thanks in part to a new early intervention effort at DePaul School for Hearing and Speech, Luke is a happy, well-adjusted two-year-old. His parents, John and Kristen Worgul of Squirrel Hill, couldn’t be happier.

“Luke is doing fantastic,” Kristen said. “DePaul School has meant so much to us and all the families going through this, giving kids the best outcomes possible.”

DePaul School, in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, was able to assist the Worguls and other parents thanks to a grant from Our Campaign for The Church Alive! The Baby and Parent Program at DePaul is supported by donors’ sacrificial gifts.

“We’re now able to help children as soon as they are diagnosed with hearing loss,” said Ruth Auld, executive director of DePaul School. “We started this group to get parents connected, and to know they’re not alone.”

“The goal is to have fun, socialize and learn,” said Michelle Parfitt, director of early intervention services. “It’s a key time to develop listening and spoken language skills.”

Audrey Craig was enrolled about three years ago in DePaul’s toddler program. Like 70 percent of their students, she had received a cochlear implant—a small electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.

Now, at age five, Audrey is ready to follow her sister Kelly, 9, from DePaul into the Mohawk Area School District in Lawrence County. Parents Justin and Tracy Craig, like the Worguls, are hopeful about the future.

“At first we were nervous, with the girls going to school at such a young age, but we’re very pleased,” Tracy said. “We know they will be able to do whatever they want in life, and we’re excited for this next step for Audrey.”

John Sopczynski, Jr. can provide parents with a glimpse what is possible. He received cochlear implants as a toddler and learned to listen and speak at DePaul until he was mainstreamed at St. Joan of Arc and St. Louise de Marillac schools in the South Hills.

He’s now earned an electrical engineering degree at Penn State University and is employed by Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. He’s also working toward a master’s of science in electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and a graduate certificate in nuclear engineering.

“The teachers at DePaul are like an extended family to me,” Sopczynski said. “They prepared me well for school and the workforce, and continue to play a big role in my life.”

Founded in 1908 by the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, DePaul is the only listening and spoken language school in the tri-state region for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The goal has remained the same—to prepare each child for success in the hearing and speaking world.

“The education and medical technology sectors are changing rapidly,” Auld said. “Cochlear surgery implants can now be performed at 12 months of age.

“Parents often walk through our doors feeling scared, many going through a grieving process. But they are leaving with smiles, knowing that nothing can hold their children back,” she said.

Kristen Worgul expressed her gratitude to supporters of the Church Alive! campaign.

“Thank you to the donors,” she said. “It means so much to us and all of the families going through these challenges to have the extra support.”

Mending broken heart

Welcome Home

“I returned to church last September after stepping away about five years ago,” April said. “My pastor reminded me how involved I used to be in my faith, and he said, ‘I can see you returning.’ He also told me that there’s no cost now for an annulment.

“It took me nine months to decide to come back,” she added. “But I know in my heart that my late parents would be happy. They are looking down and proud that I’m doing this.”

The number of marriage annulment inquiries and cases in the diocese have increased significantly since 2015 when fees were eliminated. Bishop David Zubik told the board of Our Campaign for The Church Alive! that cost was an obstacle for many petitioners, and the board approved a grant enabling the fees to be waived.

It took Cathleen several years to decide to seek an annulment. Raising her children in the faith was a major motivation.

“I knew I needed to do it, but it’s been a lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” Cathleen said. “It was hard to describe my life. I started to remember the things I didn’t want to recall.”

Divorced Catholics who wish to remarry in the church need an official finding by a church tribunal that their first marriage, although entered in good faith, was not spiritually binding. Some couples preparing for marriage in the church don’t understand the sacramental nature of matrimony and that God should be a part of their union.

An annulment opens the door to full participation in the sacramental life.

“There are Catholic marriages that don’t work, and a number of people who are converting to the faith need to go through the annulment process first,” said Jay Conzemius, moderator of the diocesan Office for the Tribunal. “Eliminating the fees and streamlining the process has brought more people forward.”

Pope Francis has made clear that marriage is indissoluble and should be seen as a gift. But he also stressed that not all failed marriages or remarriages are the same, and urged pastors to work with divorced parishioners to repair their relationship with the church. The Holy Father simplified annulment procedures so that decisions may be reached in a timely matter.

Conzemius has been presenting a series of well-attended annulment workshops across the diocese. Topics include why the church reviews marriages, the difference between a civil divorce and a church annulment, and changes to the process. The workshops conclude 7 p.m. Tues., March 13, at St. Ann Parish in Waynesburg.

“The annulment process has a huge impact on people,” Conzemius said. “They started their marriage as a lifetime commitment and for whatever reason it just didn’t succeed. Hopefully this helps them make some sense of what happened.”

“Getting an annulment was well worth it,” Cathleen said. “As a divorced person, I didn’t feel as welcome in the church.”

“I feel like a kid again,” April said, “being with people who make me feel good and welcome me into the church.”

For more information, contact the Tribunal Office at 412-456-3033 or email

Vicki Pavalko teaches Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at 
St. James the Apostle Parish.

New ways of serving God’s people

After returning from an innovative diocesan course about spiritual gifts and roles, a group of parish staff members decided to put into action what they had learned about leadership for effective ministry.

The staffers were assigned tasks to plan an upcoming parish talk. One who was good at organizing asked a co-worker to recruit a speaker.  Another leader was put in charge of food and drinks. A fourth staff member lined up greeters. Another handled publicity.

The presentation at St. James the Apostle Parish in Pulaski was well-attended and warmly received. And something clicked for those five leaders who are among 145 attendees of the first Lay Ecclesial Minister Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative, a state of the art effort designed to change how church leaders approach ministry.

Lay ecclesial ministers include catechetical administrators, pastoral associates, youth ministry leaders, college campus ministers, school principals, directors of music ministry, parish business managers, social ministers, and pastoral care ministers.

“Everyone has their unique, God-given abilities to help make the community work well,” said Vicki Pavalko, director of religious education at St. James. “Before, we used to volunteer for different tasks. This time we asked, ‘who is best in a particular role?’”

A Deacon Leadership & Evangelization Collaborative is also underway, with 69 participants, and a Priests Collaborative was held in 2017. The training is supported by sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

“This is what it means to be the body of Christ,” said Father Joe Mele, episcopal vicar for leadership development and evangelization in the diocese, “equipping each team member to do what she or he is called to do by Christ.”

Topics covered by the collaboratives include strength-based leadership, building bridges, leading in transition, making disciples, raising up new leaders, and the universal call to holiness.

“There’s a real openness to the ideas they’re learning,” said Dr. Michel Therrien, president of the diocesan Institute for Pastoral Leadership. “They’re seeing the vision and opportunity to lead in a different way.

“When people know what their own strengths are, they can help others step up with their God-given strengths,” Therrien said. “Every member of the body of Christ has an indispensable role to play.”

Deacon Bill Palamara of St. Athanasius Parish in West View said deacons are well-positioned to help build vibrant parishes as part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative.

“As our parishes come together, some people will feel left behind and we’ll be called upon to help lift them up,” Deacon Palamara said. “Deacons serving in parishes can be a stabilizing force.”

Deacons are ordained ministers with a special calling to do works of charity and service, proclaim the word of God, and assist in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church. Bishop Zubik assigns deacons to specific ministries in parishes or institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons.

Clergy and lay leaders will be forging teams in new parishes, providing pastoral care for people who are displaced, upset or confused by the changes, and reaching out to those who have drifted from the faith or never encountered the Lord in a meaningful way. Leaders will need integrated knowledge, skills and attitudes in a vibrant relationship with Christ, self and others.

“The change that’s ahead is a little scary, but it’s also exciting,” Pavalko said. “I have great hope that more people will really participate in the faith.”

Registrations are being accepted for a second lay ecclesial ministers collaborative that begins June 9. Call 412-456-3110 for more information.


Campaign Grants Make Positive Impact

Nearly four years after initial grants were awarded to help build the Church of Pittsburgh, the impact of a historic fundraising campaign is being felt across the diocese.

From 2014-17, charitable grants totaling $44.8 million have been approved by the volunteer board of directors of Our Campaign for The Church Alive, Inc.  The board is responsible for ensuring trust, accountability and transparency in granting funds that help fulfill the diocesan case statement.

Donors’ sacrificial gifts are helping to support evangelization, Catholic education, students with special needs, college campus ministry, training for priests and lay leaders, seminarian formation, retired and senior priests, parishes in need, Catholic communications, the poor and marginalized, and the mission in Chimbote, Peru.

Other campaign funds are returned to parishes to meet important needs including evangelization, faith formation and repair and maintenance of facilities.

The diocesan grants are delivering a measurable impact in several key areas:

Catholic education, Catechesis and Formation

  • The Bishop’s Education Fund permanent endowment has grown by 60 percent, enabling hundreds of additional students in need of financial assistance to benefit from a Catholic education.
  • All 12 Catholic high schools in the diocese have upgraded their technology infrastructure, including improvements to science labs, new SMART boards, wireless networks and cybersecurity and building security systems.
  • Campus ministers are bringing the Gospel message to more students at Slippery Rock University, Robert Morris University, Washington & Jefferson College, Waynesburg University and California University of Pennsylvania. New Bible study groups are being formed and discipleship training is underway.
  • Priestly vocation discernment programs, including retreats, are being tailored to three audiences—high schoolers, college students and post-college men. The redesigned web site and “vocation stations” in parishes are being well received.
  • Priests have completed the latest Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program designed to help them lead the new groupings of parishes beginning in October. Parish lay leaders and diocesan staff have received similar training through the Tending the Talents program.

“During the summer months Catholic high schools in the diocese were able to address digital security and infrastructure upgrades, physical plant technology–based security needs and general technology objectives,” said Anna Torrance, diocesan secretary for external affairs.  “Generous gifts to the campaign are having a tremendous impact and helping to position our Catholic high schools at the forefront in technology services and education.”

Evangelization and Stewardship

  • Dozens of teens are experiencing the love of Jesus at St. Maria Goretti and St. Juan Diego parishes through the work of street missionaries. Two young men plan to formally enter the church in April.
  • More Catholics are seeking to return to full sacramental participation in the church, encouraged to seek annulments due to the elimination of fees. New petitions nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016.
  • Catholic communications grants have funded new web sites, TV studio upgrades, mobile cameras, social media outreach and digital advertising that helps to spread the gospel message.

Our People Caring

  • Distributions from the Catholic Charities Mother Teresa Endowment Fund have provided emergency financial assistance to the working poor. A grant to the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center supports dental care. The New Roselia Program Endowment Fund helps expectant and new mothers who are often young, single, homeless and in distress.
  • As part of the diocese’s 50th anniversary Mission Milestone Investment in Chimbote, Peru, a new wellness clinic is being built.

“Bishop Zubik frequently says he is amazed but never surprised by the generosity of our people,” said Pat Joyce, director of the diocesan Office for Stewardship. “Four thousand miles to the south we have helped to construct for the poor of Chimbote a modern wellness clinic now serving more than 1,000 patients every day. What a magnificent example of our Gospel call to love our sisters and brothers in need!”

The campaign is founded on principles of Christian stewardship, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops describes as “generously sharing our time, talent and treasure. We receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”

For the complete summary report of the grants, click here.

Teens and missionaries from Pittsburgh and Sharpsburg on retreat. (Photo courtesy of Dirty Vagabond Ministries)

Dirty Vagabonds bringing teens into the faith

Hanging out on city streets can expose vulnerable young people to violence and drugs. Thanks to a growing street ministry, more teens are experiencing the saving love of Jesus.

As many as 40 teens attend weekly outreach nights led by Dirty Vagabond Ministries at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield, Garfield and Friendship neighborhoods. Up to a dozen youth join in worship nights and Bible studies, and two young men plan to formally enter the church next Easter.

Across the Allegheny River in Sharpsburg, Dirty Vagabond missionaries are in regular contact with about 20 teens. They met many of them at a local park, and just four months later they are gathering at the new Underground youth center at St. Juan Diego Parish.

Sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! helped provide start-up grants for the ministry, which embraces Pope Francis’ preference for “a church that is dirty because it’s been on the streets.” The “vagabond” reference is rooted in Jesus’ command for his disciples to go out by twos to meet and minister to those in need.

“There’s a lot of brokenness in these teens’ homes, including alcoholism and heroin use by adults,” missionary Ryan Ackerman said. “About 90 percent of them live with a single parent or grandparent.”

“There are a lot of fractured families with parents in rehab or in jail,” said Father Michael Decewicz, pastor of St. Juan Diego. “Sometimes, the least safe place for these kids is at home.”

“They’re yearning for a consistent presence of love,” said missionary Shannon Keating, who partners with Ackerman. “We try to show that we’re here to love them unconditionally.”

With strong support from other local pastors and civic leaders, the Sharpsburg missionaries began with barbeques, laser tag and trivia games. As they earned the trust of teens, they extended an invitation to go on a retreat. Soon they will offer “breakout nights” which include a faith message. Then there will be an opportunity to join discipleship groups and Bible studies.

Some young people are going to church regularly for the first time in their lives.

“Many of our teens went on evangelistic retreats last summer and fall,” said Christopher Kerfoot, who works with missionary Milan Chaump and adult volunteers at St. Maria Goretti. “Two teens even came with us on a mission trip to New Mexico to serve poor people living on a reservation.”

Members of both parishes have embraced the efforts. A core team of young adults and college students at St. Maria Goretti joins in the breakout nights, while another group assists with event planning, prayers and fundraising (see accompanying box).

“Praise God for the two young men who are going to be baptized and confirmed,” Kerfoot said. “It’s been a blessing to walk alongside them in our journey to heaven.”

The strong start in Sharpsburg “is really awesome and exciting,” Keating said. “To me, this isn’t just a job or a cool experience. I feel convicted by the call to action to go forth into the streets and make disciples.”

Runners Needed

Fundraising is an important component of Dirty Vagabond Ministries (DVM), the only official Catholic charity of the Pittsburgh Marathon. For the eighth straight year, they are seeking marathon participants.

“Each year about 100 runners of all ages and abilities join us,” according to Andy Lesnefsky, director of mission advancement for DVM. “About half are relay runners, and the rest participate in the 5K race, the half marathon or full marathon.

Participants receive:

  • Free registration with guarantee to raise a minimum amount of funds
  • Team dinner before the race
  • Tech running shirt
  • The knowledge that their involvement helps to change lives

Learn more and sign up at