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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

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.

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

Renovated priests retirement home opens

Father John Petrarulo sat down in the new dining room at St. John Vianney Manor retirement home and looked around, taking in the scope of the newly completed expansion project.

“I’m impressed. The whole complex astonished me,” he said. “Everything is fresh, brightened up. It’s very inspiring.”

Sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! from donors across the diocese helped support the first major renovation of the facility on the campus of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton, since a third floor was added 37 years ago.

St. John Vianney Manor was rededicated and blessed on Dec. 11 by Bishop David Zubik after 11 months of construction.

“This place is a reminder of how much our hearts show our love for our retired priests,” he said. “The renovations are the result of much research, planning and especially the financial contributions of the faithful.”

Msgr. Bill Ogrodowski was one of 16 priests who remained in residence while the renovations took place. He described the experience as “challenging but bearable. Our shoes were always muddy.”

“I’ve been on this property since the early ‘60s when I was in the high school seminary, and I have seen it change so much,” he said. “The building (entrance) now faces the campus. We’re, in a sense, more fully integrated.”

Four residential suites were added for a total of 35. A new wing includes the dining room, kitchen, two lounges, an exercise facility and nurse’s office. Suites were refurbished with walk-in showers, new windows, flooring and paint. The temperature of every suite can be controlled individually, thanks to an updated heating and air-conditioning system.

The new facility is “comfortable and certainly necessary,” according to Father Philip Przybyla, director of St. John Vianney Manor. “Practically everything in the building was original, and the bathtub-showers were an accident waiting to happen.”

Built in 1961 as the residence of the Conventual Franciscan friars who taught at neighboring Bishop Canevin High School, the building was dedicated as a diocesan retirement home in 1980.

The need for priest housing is growing. The diocese has 99 retired priests, with many more expected to join them in the next several years as large ordination classes of the 1960s and ‘70s approach retirement.

Father Mark Eckman, episcopal vicar for clergy personnel, said the average age of retirement for priests in the diocese is 73. Thirty-nine priests still in active ministry are older than 70, and five are in their 80s.

“I looked at the service to the church of the 30 men who will be living here next month, and it adds up to 1,447 years,” said Father Przybyla. “Their service continues, with many still helping out in parishes by celebrating Mass and hearing confessions.”

For their part, Father Petrarulo and Msgr. Ogrodowski are grateful to the donors who helped make the dream of their new home a reality.

“I’m very appreciative that people sacrificed,” Father Petrarulo said. “They had to give up something in order to help take care of us.”

Msgr. Ogrodowski helped to raise Church Alive! funds in two parishes.

“When you ask people for money, it’s never an easy thing,” he said. “For all the parishioners of the diocese who’ve given, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Bishop Zubik blesses the renovated building

Bishop Zubik blesses the renovated building.


Brynna Sherony is so enthusiastic about her senior year at California University of Pennsylvania that she almost wishes she was beginning college again.

One source of her excitement is Meghan Larsen-Reidy, the new director of campus ministry at Cal U, Washington & Jefferson College and Waynesburg University.

Megan Larsen-Reidy head shot

“Meghan can definitely make a difference,” said Sherony, who helps lead the campus Newman Club called Cal ROCKS (Reaching Out for Catholic Kinship). “She’s interested in the students’ lives. It makes us feel valued, and she has amazing ideas for service projects and mission trips.”

Supporting the efforts of three chaplains, start-up funding for the campus ministry program is provided through sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! from donors across the diocese.

“My hope is to be a companion to the students in their formation,” said Larsen-Reidy, who previously served as director of religious education and youth ministry at St. Anne Parish in Castle Shannon. “Just being present is important, as well as inviting students to get involved.”

The college years are critical to keeping younger Catholics connected to the church. A study from the Pew Research Center found that nearly 80 percent of those who leave the faith do so by age 23.

Heading off to college is like “going from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat,” according to Gary Roney, director for adolescence ministry in the diocese. “Meghan can help advance the values that students receive at home. She is an energetic, dynamic person who wants to connect with as many people as possible.”

Father Adam Potter, co-chaplain at Washington & Jefferson College, agrees that young adulthood is a key time of formation.

“Students are experiencing great freedom and independence,” Father Potter said. “They’re also seeking, and it’s important they get their identity right. In a world that emphasizes ‘doing,’ the Christian life emphasizes who you are in relation to God.”

At Cal U and Waynesburg, Larsen-Reidy works with Capuchin Father Al Carver in coordinating Masses, service projects and Festivals of Praise. Dividing her time between three colleges is a challenge that she welcomes.

“Young people are yearning for the faith but often don’t realize it,” Larsen-Reidy said. “They have a desire to be joyful and at peace, but there’s just so much noise.”

“Our culture tells us that being faith-filled isn’t cool, and a lot of people think of Catholicism as being strict in following rules,” said Marybeth Cocchi, a junior from Mt. Lebanon who is studying nursing at Waynesburg University. “But it’s really about relationship and intimacy with Christ.

“My Christian friends have challenged me to delve more into my faith,” she added. “It’s positive peer pressure. They encourage me, and ask if we can pray together.”

“When our faith is lived out in its vibrancy, it’s contagious,” said Father Dan Waruszewski, co-chaplain at Washington & Jefferson. “Students often are distracted by technology and materialism as our culture turns away from virtue.”

After graduation, Sherony wants to find a parish where other young adults are excited about their faith.

“We need opportunities to get involved and to be welcomed,” she said.


St. Alexis parishioners processed into their new church for a Dedication Mass on October 22, gazing around in wonderment, as if it were a dream.

It had been a dream, more than a half century in the making.

The church in Wexford is the fruit of sacrificial gifts given in three separate fundraising efforts, capped by Our Campaign for The Church Alive! It replaces a gymnasium building that was intended to be a temporary worship space when it opened in December 1962.

The campaigns, held over the course of 15 years, were led by St. Alexis’ longtime pastor, Father Paul Zywan.

“I wanted to challenge our people to think big for God,” Father Zywan said. “This new building is a testament to what we can do as church. It is the collaborative work of everyone.”

St. Alexis interior- Ded. Mass

The traditional design, 900-seat church includes sacred objects from area churches that have closed: stained-glass windows from St. Mary Magdalene in Homestead and St. Gabriel the Archangel on Pittsburgh’s North Side, bells from St. Josaphat on the South Side, Stations of the Cross from St. Stanislaus in Ambridge, and statues from St. Stephen in McKeesport and Holy Family of Nazareth Motherhouse in Bellevue.

Bishop David Zubik remembers those particular three dimensional Stations of the Cross, having grown up at St. Stanislaus Parish and school. In his homily he recalled the lessons of his first grade teacher.

“Sister Estelle helped me come to know who Jesus was, and to remember that you are a temple of God’s presence,” Bishop Zubik told the overflow congregation. “Make sure that Jesus Christ is the foundation of our lives.”

“Our new church hopefully means we can fulfill the promise of bringing Jesus Christ to others and being transformed,” said Rob Dougherty, member of the pastoral council. “We have embraced the idea that the church isn’t a building.”

Tim Johnson, who helped raise funds in all three campaigns, reflected on the spirituality of giving.

“This church is a lasting testament to the faithfulness of God, to what His people can accomplish with great faith, and when our works match that faith,” Johnson said. “Thank you to all the donors, from the bottom of my heart.”

“I’m hoping this will motivate more people to develop a personal relationship with the Lord, especially those who have left the church,” donor Phil Ignelzi said. “The building is important, but we want to be a welcoming parish and bring people back.”

“This Mass was a moving experience,” said parishioner Dan Veres, who supported the Church Alive! campaign. “Having so many people participate in the liturgy in such a beautiful church impressed upon me that, indeed, the church is alive.”

St. Alexis Parish was established by Bishop John Wright on the site of the Milbert Farm. Led by founding pastor, Father Francis Rodgers, Sunday Mass initially was celebrated in the Pine Valley Roller Rink at Route 19 and Pine Creek Road. Weekday Masses were held in an old chicken coop that was converted into a small chapel.

Today, St. Alexis Parish is the spiritual home of more than 2,100 families and the site of the new Blessed Francis Seelos Academy Early Childhood Center.

At the end of the Dedication Mass, Father Zywan thanked all in attendance, especially the nearly 1,000 donors who helped make the dream of a new church a reality.

“Thank you for your trust and sacrifices, and for joining me in dreaming big,” Father Zywan said.


While other students were out playing sports or hitting the books on a warm evening at Slippery Rock University, 14 young men and women gathered to pray, study sacred Scripture, and share their Catholic faith.

The new Bible study groups are supported by missionaries with the campus outreach organization FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), who spread the gospel message to young adults. Their goal is to get them engaged with their faith, so that they become disciples of Jesus and carry his love to others.

The evangelization effort at Slippery Rock, enhancing an active campus ministry program, is funded through sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! from donors across the diocese. The campaign is providing critical resources for On Mission for The Church Alive!, which has the goal of transforming parishes into centers of outreach to those who have not been active in the faith.

“People think the church is always saying ‘no’,” said Maria Petrarca, a senior from Madonna del Castello Parish in Swissvale. “They don’t realize our faith gives us so much freedom.”

Like Petrarca, classmate Kailyn Soros, of Fredonia, PA, grew up in a devout family but finds herself in a different culture. “Here at college I’ve taken my faith under my own belt and defended it,” Soros said. “I stand up for my beliefs.”

Kailyn Soros, left, shares insights with Maria Petrarca. Photo credit: Rebecca Feldkamp, FOCUS.

Kailyn Soros, left, shares insights with Maria Petrarca. Photo credit: Rebecca Feldkamp, FOCUS.

They are in the minority of young Catholics. A study from the Pew Research Center found that nearly 80 percent of those who leave the faith, do so by the age of 23.

FOCUS encourages young people to pursue truth and meaning in their lives, investing in relationships with Jesus Christ and their fellow students through Bible studies, mission trips, national conferences and further outreach.

“The FOCUS missionaries are showing the way,” said Gary Roney, director for adolescence and college ministry in the diocese. “Through the On Mission initiative, every parish should have a staff member who specializes in outreach to young adults.”

Ryan Ball, Ross Kerr and Spencer Vinroe could have been doing just about anything on a Tuesday night, but they wanted to be at the Newman Center on the edge of campus.

“We’re forming relationships based around Christ,” said Ball, a sophomore from Johnstown. “We’re growing in faith, knowledge and love.”

“It’s interesting to bounce ideas off each other,” said Kerr, a freshman who belongs to Christ the King Parish in Bessemer/Hillsville, Lawrence County. “This makes me a happier person, and keeps me centered and grounded.”

Jacob Grass, 24, is a third-year missionary with FOCUS, partnering with Thomas Mangan, 22, who just began his service.

“We build trust with the students,” Grass said. “We help them see what a real relationship looks like, so they can know what a relationship with God is like.”

“There is a spiritual hunger among the students,” Mangan said. “They have a craving, but they’ve never been invited to learn and share, and the culture holds them back.”

Rebecca Feldkamp, 24, is the FOCUS team director at Slippery Rock. She works closely with missionary Emily Ahlin, 22. Feldkamp agrees the key is relationships.

“Many young people don’t even know who they are,” Feldkamp said. “They have to first know that they are loved by God.”

Father Bob Seeman, director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Slippery Rock and administrator of St. Peter Parish, is grateful for the work of the FOCUS missionaries.

“It is my prayer that their witness and love for the Lord will guide students to a deeper level of discipleship and joyous relationship with Christ,” he said.

Diane Magliocca, the longtime campus minister at Slippery Rock, welcomes the FOCUS missionaries, who relate well to their fellow Millennials.

“Many students today aren’t as active in practicing the faith as the previous generation,” Magliocca said. “They lead busy lives, are affected by cultural pressures and are distracted by social media.

“But so far our students have responded well to the missionaries. There’s an authentic warmth.”

Founded in 1998, FOCUS missionaries serve on 137 university and college campuses, including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

George Schmotzer (left) with his student, Jose.


Jose is a devout, hard-working man, sending every available dollar from his landscaping job to support his wife and three children in Mexico. He has found a faithful friend in George Schmotzer.

Schmotzer volunteers as a tutor at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands, Washington County, helping Jose learn English. As a documented worker in the U.S., Jose will rejoin his family later this year and plans to return in 2018 for more seasonal work.

“Jose is quiet, but he gets emotional when we’re done with class,” Schmotzer said. “His eyes brighten and he’s very thankful for what he’s learned.”

Sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! will allow others to benefit from a grant expanding Hispanic and Latino ministry efforts in the diocese. The strategic assistance will help the Church not only survive but to grow stronger, according to the volunteer Church Alive! campaign board.

As the new coordinator of Hispanic ministry, Jorge Vela will help promote evangelization to the faithful who primarily speak Spanish, provide program support and coordinate social service outreach in Washington and Butler.

“The Hispanic-Latino population is growing in the Pittsburgh region,” Vela said. “I want to invite the entire community to participate in the life of the Church, fall in love with Christ and be formed in our Catholic identity.” He plans to establish a Latino Advisory Committee and build bridges between the Latino and American culture.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 35,730 Latinos in southwestern Pennsylvania as of 2015, with 22,537 living in Allegheny County. The largest population is concentrated in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, where a Spanish language Mass is held Sunday afternoons at St. Catherine of Siena Parish. Masses are also celebrated in Spanish at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Regis in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, St. Paul in Butler, and Our Lady of Joy in Plum.

Nearly seven out of 10 Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, according to statistics cited by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hispanics accounted for 56 percent of the U.S. population growth from 2000-12.

Vela, a native of Mexico, came to Pittsburgh from Milwaukee, where he was in charge of Hispanic ministry in a city parish, worked to integrate the Hispanic and Anglo communities, and served in administrative roles in the archdiocese. He’s also worked in Italy, Brazil and Mexico and is fluent in Spanish and English, and proficient in Portuguese and Italian.

Father Carmen D’Amico, pastor of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish, encourages parishioners to put out the welcome mat for their Hispanic and Latino neighbors.

“This is their parish. We’re here for them,” Father D’Amico said. “Religious education is also provided in Spanish, and some of our Hispanic youth just went on a parish mission trip to Kentucky.”

Dominick De Filippis, a retired college professor who taught languages and linguistics for 45 years, launched the parish’s English as a Second Language program in April. Three months later, he has 26 volunteer tutors.

“Along with listening, speaking, reading and writing English, we teach language structure, culture and critical thinking skills,” De Filippis said. “It’s a win-win for both students and tutors. Latinos improve their English and develop relationships, and our tutors find the experience rewarding.”

“I enjoy people and want to help them,” Schmotzer said. “I feel I’m doing what God wants me to do.”

Christine Patsch, St. Cecilia Parish - Photo by Jim Judkis


When Christine Patsch took over leadership of her parish’s faith formation program years ago, she never expected to pursue higher education in the field. Tuition was too costly.

But next May she will earn a degree in religious studies, benefiting the children of St. Cecilia Parish in Rochester.

Thanks to sacrificial gifts from donors to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, many other lay leaders will be able to receive similar assistance in the future.

The campaign’s volunteer board of directors has allocated $4 million to a new and expanded Fathers Farina Church Alive! Fund. An initial grant will help not only catechetical administrators, but also youth ministers, college campus ministers, Catholic school principals, religion teachers and parish catechists.

“Without support from the Fathers Farina Fund, I would not be pursuing my degree,” Patsch said. “Expanding the fund can only benefit the diocese and strengthen education.”

Founded by Father Edward Farina as a memorial to his four older brothers who preceded him in the priesthood, the Fathers Farina Fund helped dozens of parish catechetical administrators pursue their studies. More than 80 leaders currently direct about 4,500 volunteer catechists across the diocese.

“One of the most frequent concerns raised by pastors, parishioners and parents is the faith formation of our children and youth,” said Judene Indovina, diocese director of family ministry and faith formation. “Through this grant, effective forms and methods of catechesis will expand and our leaders will be further empowered with the knowledge, skills and credentials needed to create transformative programming.”

The first grant will support 40 masters-level scholarships, one course per student per semester, in theology, religious education or related fields. It also will help fund practical, ministry-specific training, including family models of catechesis, as well as purchasing books, manuals and DVDs. The balance will pay for other forms of professional development and help provide training for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

Sharon Smoller, coordinator of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, received a degree in religious studies five years ago.

“Professional development is important,” Smoller said. “We need to have constant training and renew ourselves to keep growing in the faith.

“I would never have been able to accomplish what I did without the Fathers Farina Fund,” she added.

Father Joseph Mele, episcopal vicar of the diocese secretariat for leadership development and evangelization, knew the Farinas. Father Edward Farina baptized him, and Father Will Farina was his pastor when he was growing up at Madonna del Castello Parish in Swissvale.

“All five brothers strongly supported parish religious education, knowing that many young families would not be able to send their children to Catholic schools,” Father Mele said. “They were visionaries, and I am delighted that their spirit remains in this fund.”

With fewer Catholic elementary schools and increasing numbers of young adults leaving the faith, the need is greater than ever for effective religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry. The Church Alive! campaign is helping to meet that need.

“Sometimes a gift is given and the recipient is unknown, a sign of true and selfless giving,” Patsch said. “To all donors, please know the depth of my gratitude as a beneficiary of the Fathers Farina Fund.”