Folks in Webster Springs, West Virginia, don’t have much. Jobs in coal and timber are scarce. Nearly a third of the 776 residents live below the poverty line. They need help.
That’s why Father Jay Donahue has led a group of young people the past two summers on mission trips to Webster Springs to help rebuild homes. As administrator of Saints Simon and Jude Parish in Scott Township, it’s one of his dreams—that we reach out to people in need and center our lives on Christ.
A mission to Mexico sent college and high school students from the parish into poor regions where priests normally can’t reach, adopting a community for a week and evangelizing.
Parishioners from Ss. Simon and Jude did something similar last year on Palm Sunday, knocking on doors and saying hello to church members they hadn’t seen in a while. They brought palms, asked for any prayer petitions and invited everyone to Easter Sunday Mass. Some doors were opened, along with a few hearts.
Why this path?
“Christ is our compass, our GPS. When we feel lost, we need to turn to Jesus, and also when we’re going in the right direction,” said Father Jay, who is getting ready to participate this spring in Our Campaign for The Church Alive! with the hope of turning dreams into reality.
“As Catholics, we haven’t done enough to reach out to those who have left the faith,” Father Jay said. “Do we want a parish that’s welcoming? Like the ‘Field of Dreams,’ if you build a Church of Welcoming, they will come. That’s the dream of Jesus.
“Think about the person who walks into your church the first time. He or she comes in, sits in ‘Sally’s pew’ without realizing it, and gets a stare. No one greets this person except to stick a collection basket in front of them or perhaps shake their hand at the Sign of Peace.”
Ray Vogliano, chair of the finance council at Ss. Simon and Jude, feels a new energy in his parish.
“Father Jay is on fire. He’s touching parishioners of all ages,” Vogliano said. “He sets the bar high for himself but also knows he can’t do it all on his own. I pray for him every day.”
Father Jay lists the five key responsibilities of a vital Catholic parish as described in “The Church Alive!,” Bishop David Zubik’s first pastoral letter to the Church of Pittsburgh. “We need to center ourselves on the Eucharist, Catechesis, Formation, Stewardship, and Evangelization,” he said.
In the campaign film, Bishop Zubik encourages each of us to create our own vision for the future.
“There’s one word I’d like everybody to think about, and it’s the word ‘dream.’ Let’s dream about what we can do, in fact, as a Church,” Bishop Zubik said. “The first way we do that is through our parishes.”
The campaign will help fulfill the dream to strengthen parishes, invigorate evangelization, revitalize sacramental life, support education and formation in the faith, train pastoral and lay leaders, and serve the poor and marginalized, among many other ministries and programs.
Connecting with parents whose children are learning the faith in religious education programs, Father Jay also reaches out to those who bring their babies to be baptized, and couples preparing for marriage. All are invited to share fully in the sacraments and the life of the parish.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed day-to-day in the parish with so much to do, but we need to look to the horizon,” Father Jay said. “Think of the dream of Saint Joseph. He was challenged as the foster father of Jesus, the first custodian of God. At the beginning, he had nothing.
“It’s a great time to be a priest. There is so much good work to be done.”
View a video of the Webster Springs mission trip: