Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

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WEXFORD PARISH LIVES OUT DREAM

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.

The men’s Bible study group at Slippery Rock University prays at the start of their weekly meeting. 
Photo credit: Jacob Grass, FOCUS.

MISSIONARIES REACH ‘HUNGRY’ STUDENTS

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.

REACHING OUT TO NEW NEIGHBORS

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

GIFTS HELP EDUCATE FAITH FORMATION LEADERS

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.”

Digital-media

CAMPAIGN SUPPORTS DIGITAL MEDIA OUTREACH

Engaging younger generations of Catholics in new ways is vital to the Church. Doing so requires communicating more effectively through modern methods, especially the use of social media.

A communications grant made possible by sacrificial gifts through Our Campaign for The Church Alive! will help the diocese connect with younger adults as well as the elderly and shut-ins, according to Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director for communications.

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CHURCH RENOVATION ADDRESSES URGENT NEEDS

Parishioners of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish have even more reason to express gratitude this Thanksgiving weekend as they welcome the physical transformation of their church.

Sacrificial gifts committed in the pilot phase of Our Campaign for The Church Alive! allowed the Pleasant Hills parish to fully renovate the interior of the church building, which was built in 1952.

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St. Joseph High School Students work on experiments in the Robotics Lab at St. Joseph High School, Natrona Heights.

INVESTING IN OUR CHILDREN

Working on the cutting edge of new technology in the oil and natural gas industry, Madalyn Bergard thanks her Catholic high school for sparking her interest in science.

“From my time in the robotics lab, I knew I wanted to do something hands on,” Bergard said.

Bergard used college credits earned at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights and graduated in three years from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Today she’s an environmental health and safety manager, traveling to well sites around the country.

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Auxiliary Bishop William Winter and Father Philip Przybyla review architectural plans for the renovation and expansion of St. John Vianney Manor. Photo Credit : Bob Dewitt

GIVING BACK TO OUR SHEPHERDS

The retired priests of the diocese have taken care of God’s people for decades. Now the faithful are giving back to them through a much-needed expansion of St. John Vianney Manor retirement home.

Sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive! are helping to support the first major renovation of the facility since it was built on the campus of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton in 1961 and later became a home for retired priests.

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NEW WAYS TO SPREAD THE WORD

With more people responding to images on a screen rather than words on paper, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is finding new ways of taking the gospel to the Millennial generation while staying connected to older audiences.

A grant made possible by sacrificial gifts through Our Campaign for The Church Alive! will provide mobile video production equipment, a new editing suite, and remote-control HD video cameras to televise Masses from St. Paul Cathedral.

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