Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Secret of Success

The NonProfit Times, Aug. 1, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
If you ever want to mount a case against religion, don’t bother trying to solicit testimony from American non-profits. According to a June 2011 survey of U.S. adults by The NonProfit Times, those who give to religious organizations are the top supporters of secular ones, as well:
• Forty-seven percent of those interviewed contribute to religious groups.
• People who donate to religious causes are three times more likely to donate also to secular causes than are those who never support religious charities.
• Where age is a factor, the highest disparity between those who give to religion and those who do not is in the 18- to 34-year-old bracket: 23%. Eighty-two percent of these young adults who give to religion also support secular causes, compared with 59% of those who expressed no interest in giving to religion.
• Consistently, among all ages, educational backgrounds, and household incomes, religious donors support more than one other charity. Two of the most dramatic differences occur in the age and education categories: 11% of religious donors of all ages give to between six and ten organizations annually, compared with 4% among the non-religious; and 25% of those religious donors who never finished high school give to more than ten, compared with 4% among the non-religious.

In addition, basing itself on IRS estimates for giving, Giving USA Foundation reported that the cause which U.S. adults supported most in 2010, was religion: 35% of the nearly $300 billion that Americans donated, followed by education at 14%. 

If that isn’t enough to upend preconceived notions, here’s another. Giving USA also recently published a study entitled, “Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation,” 
that highlights giving patterns in “Millennial” donors—adults born since 1981. It states: “As with earlier generations, Millennials who give contribute the largest share of their dollars to religion. There has been a lot of information reported on the secularization of America, so this could be a countering trend” (Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research at the Center on Philanthropy).* Joanne Pong’s story, featured in the August 17 post of this blog, is a case in point.

Why this interest among our youngest adults? I spoke with Melanie McKitrick, one of the two researchers and authors of the study, who told me that while only 16% of Millennials preferred faith based giving in 2006, for example, it was a significant preference: three times more in contributions than to secular purposes. As with other demographics, Millennials who do give tend to have a steady income, are married, and have already graduated from college. Part of establishing themselves and raising a family is connecting with a faith community they can commit to, and a concrete part of that commitment consists of nearly $800 in donations annually.

In 2010, donors often gave to trusted umbrella groups that distribute funds among those they serve, for example the United Jewish Fund or Catholic Charities. Catholic Relief Services and other religious organizations ministered in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake last year—a key humanitarian cause for many donors in the U.S., religious and otherwise. Melanie acknowledged that it’s not yet possible to determine donors’ reasons for choosing charities, but she agreed that it’s very likely that not only Millennials, but other demographics made at least some of their religious contributions through this cause.

That said, it’s also true that people of faith tend to see God, not only in clearly religious settings, but also in what appears ordinary, even banal. As one man told me last week, “We should be able to hear the Word of God when we dig a hole in the garden and plant a flower.” From the Christian perspective, the Incarnation of God’s Son carries precisely this message. Nothing truly human is off limits for the divine.

So for these same people of faith, donating to charity, whether strictly religious or purely humanitarian, is an act of faith—whether they call it that or not. “It’s a good cause” means exactly that, since every good comes from God. Larry May at infogroup, which helped in carrying out The NonProfit Times survey, commented, “It might feel like our country is becoming more secular, but it’s not the case for these donors.”**

Against the current economic backdrop, that faith-in-action evidently moves such people to give even “until it hurts.” If my parents are any indication of the spirit behind this kind of giving, people of faith feel that God has been very good to them and will continue to care for them. In our house, you didn’t throw the scraps to God. I remember my father in particular saying, “We’re not rich, but we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Everything we have comes from God, and it’s on loan to us to use as he wills. It’s up to us to find someone to share God’s blessings with, because they came from him.” This attitude is what motivated both my parents to give their blessing to both their daughters—their only children—when we chose religious life.

Mosaic rendering of the emblem worn by every
Daughter of St. Paul
This is the spirit behind what has become known in the Pauline Family as the Pact or Secret of Success. This “Pact” was first made between Fr. James Alberione and Fr. Timothy Giaccardo as one party and—upon what they felt was God’s invitation—the Holy Trinity as the other. Alberione and Giaccardo took seriously Jesus’ words in Mt. 6:33 and literally drew up a “deal” with God: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness” (here they signed their names), “and all else will be given you besides” (here they wrote “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”). It was based both on their prophetic intuition regarding the responsibility they felt for evangelizing the world according to God’s call, as well as their trust in God’s liberality in giving these first members the help they needed to be saints and to carry out that mission.

That help certainly included material goods. In a talk, though, to the members on the feast of St. Paul’s Conversion in 1919, Fr. Alberione—“full of conviction and persuasion,” as Fr. Giaccardo recalls the founder that night—was quick to point out that their trust had to extend far beyond the material: “Our House lives on Providence. The greatest offense that God receives from our House is lack of trust in Him. He shows that it is he who does all things; we are stupid not to trust him….We must go before Jesus and tell him not to fail in his promises….Clear pacts and trust. The apostles were ignorant, but once they received the Holy Spirit, they amazed the world, confounded the learned, and enlightened everyone. This faith is essential to the spirit of the House; as the spirit is new, so it possesses new means. We must work for God and we need to know many things. So we work and the Lord takes care of providing our food, food not only for the body, but also for the mind and the heart….”

The Pact went through various revisions even during the founder’s lifetime. Here it is in its present form:
The Secret of Success     Jesus Master, accept the pact that we present to you through the hands of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and of our Father, St. Paul.
We must correspond to your sublime will, arrive at the degree of perfection and heavenly glory to which you have destined us, and perform the apostolate of social communication in a holy manner. But we see that we are very weak, ignorant, incapable and inadequate in every way: in spirit, in knowledge, in the apostolate and in poverty. You instead are the Way and the Truth and the Life, the Resurrection, our one and supreme Good. We trust in you alone who said: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, you will receive it.”
For our part, we promise and commit ourselves to seeking wholeheartedly in all things, in life and in the apostolate, only and always, your glory and peace to all peoples. We trust that on your part, you will give us a good spirit, grace, knowledge, and the means for doing good. According to your immense goodness and the needs of our special vocation, multiply the fruits of our spiritual work, of our study, of our apostolate, and of our poverty. We do not doubt you, but we fear our inconstancy and weakness.
Therefore, good Master, through the intercession of Mary, our Mother, extend to us the mercy you used with the Apostle Paul so that, faithful in imitating our father here on earth, we may be his companions in the glory in heaven. Amen.

Ed Robinson, president of NCCF, and
Paul Zambernardi, Raskob Foundation
One unique organization that facilitates this kind of giving is the National Catholic Community Foundation. NCCF believes that donors are looking to endow their favorite charities within the Catholic community, choosing long term growth over short term goals or projects. So it structured itself as “a pool of individual, perpetually created funds,” such as donor-advised or donor-designated funds, as well as field of interest funds, either in the name of specific Catholic non-profits or as vehicles for funding ministries according to donor intent. In this way, it hopes to assist Catholic non-profits in gathering “onto the bridge we provide between philanthropy and deserving Catholic ministries” (Richard J. Dowling, NCCF trustee). 

We learned of their services when an anonymous donor, a couple actually, decided to establish a small endowment of $400,000, called the “Daughters of St. Paul Fund” to support the life and works of our religious congregation. They wanted their contribution to begin doing good, and at the same time, continue to grow, both through investments made by the NCCF and through additional contributions from others who feel inspired to share in our mission in this way. So the fund was established to accomplish both goals, allowing our community to access a minimum percentage each year, while continuing to grow the principal. No contribution is too small. Click on the hypertext above or call the NCCF at 1-800-757-2998 to learn more.

“Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation,” by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Reprinted with permission.
“Religious Donors Give to Secular Groups Too.”
The NonProfit Times, Aug. 22, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Discover Hope

Even if you’ve never come up with one, you know what a tagline is. Recognize these? “Just Do It.” “That Was Easy.” “It’s All Inside.” Taglines synthesize values, express company commitment, and ensure brand recognition. Memorable ones resonate on a level deeper than commerce or sentiment and drive markets into their companies’ corner. For this reason corporations pour millions into clinching the mother of all catchphrases.

In crafting its new tagline, Pauline Books & Media meditated instead. As individuals and as small groups of sisters and co-workers, Pauline Cooperators and friends, we began a year ago to ask ourselves what makes us who we are: What are people looking for when they turn to us? What do we value and how do we communicate that? What message do we want to convey that says “Gospel” to the people of today?

Thus was born “Discover Hope.” We believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate reason for our hope, and our mission exists to bring people into conversation and relationship with him by entering into conversation with them, building community with them. It may be through one of our media products or services or through our own witness as his disciples. No small task, but that gives us reason to live in hope too! In fact, one of the first steps in deciding upon this tagline was the realization that “we are meant to be the first encounter with Christ that each person experiences when coming into contact with us; we are meant to be the communication of Christ" (Sr. Margaret Timothy Sato). We may stammer or blur the image in the process, as everyone does, but we can’t stop communicating. “When they see our logo, they will feel like they’ve just pulled up in the driveway of their best friend” (Sr. Leonora Wilson, superior of the US/ESC province).

Whom are we trying to reach in this way? Sr. Margaret Timothy, the provincial superior at the time of the internal launch, named them clearly: “a much wider audience than we presently reach—the broader, and for the most part, unchurched audience that is the vast majority of our population.”

How does the tagline do this? What are we saying by the process? Again Sr. Timothy points out: “we are revitalizing ‘Pauline’ as a name that identifies all of who we are and what we do in mission…. In reflecting on ‘Discover Hope,’ four key attributes emerged that articulate this well, elements that we have long recognized as characteristic of our mission, and therefore of Pauline.” They are elements that “describe our values [and] express how people have benefitted from us over the years. The four attributes of our branding statement—PASSIONATE, TRUSTED, JOYFUL, and SANCTUARY—are promises we can make to the people we are called to minister to…. what we are known for.  These qualities are found in our community’s Constitutions and they express what we strive to be for the people we serve.

Sr. Margaret Timothy plays and
directs at the Jubilee Mass last

“We are PASSIONATE – “We invest our whole lives to bring the Gospel of hope to people yearning for God’s love.” This is the gift and privilege of our total belonging to Christ! ‘We will use any form of technology to proclaim God’s message in the best way possible.’”

The second key element is that for generations we have been TRUSTED by others in the area of life they most wonder about or that is most precious to them—their faith. Fidelity to our mission, like fidelity to our consecration, means we can communicate to the people of our society, “You can trust us to be your authentic resource for books and media solidly rooted in our Catholic identity.”

Sr. Fay and Sr. Nazarene
A third element which describes us as Paulines, “We are JOYFUL—In whatever venue you find us, we will welcome you with joyful hearts.” Both our founder and co-foundress point out to us the joy that should characterize our lives, a joy that was often captured in photos of them. It was the joy of the sisters that drew many of us to our community and that still invites young women today.

Sr. Tracey and Sr. Anne Joan
cantor the responsorial psalm.
Sr. Margaret Timothy concluded, “The fourth element descriptive of our Pauline mission is that wherever we meet people, and in whatever context, we know that the encounter is sacred. We are a SANCTUARY. The communication—of our words, actions, gestures, and silences—because we are sincerely striving to live Christ, provides a sanctuary for others. We communicate to the people we meet, ‘in encountering me, you can ‘encounter God.’ And it is God ‘who gives [to all of] us wholeness and meaning.’

At first glance, it would seem we’re still addressing those we have addressed for years. To some extent we are; we don’t want to abandon them either! But if these, if you, can capture some of what we’re promising, if you can be “passionate, trusted, joyful and a sanctuary” for many we may not reach directly, Jesus Christ can be proclaimed to those many, as well. We are inviting you to be ambassadors of Christ like Paul. It can sound strange, but in a very real sense, together with you we need to “be” the brand—because by our Christian vocation we are all meant to be Christ who is our hope. So whether you access our new Web site, walk into a PBM Center, share your story of hope on the Discover Hope Facebook page, give a PBM media gift to someone, donate to a Pauline project (see the “Donate” button on the right sidebar), or pray for this mission, you can be a Pauline ambassador of hope!

But even directly, the unchurched can discover hope through Pauline media. These four characteristics are primarily our commitment to proclaim “peace to those far off [from faith] and peace to those nearby” (Eph. 2:17). “Today’s digital media give us the best opportunity we have ever had to give the Gospel to every person. As the number of cell phones in our nation approaches the number of teenagers & adults in our nation, we genuinely have the possibility of reaching our GOAL—to place the Gospel in everyone’s hands, and even more importantly, in their hearts” (Sr. Margaret Timothy).

We had our own internal tagline launch in the spring and planned the public launch to coincide with the anniversary date of our founding as a Pauline Family—August 20. It just so happens that the launch also coincides with the start of the triennium—or three years of preparation—leading up to the centenary of our founding in 2014. In addition it coincided with seven other anniversaries—those of four sister silver jubilarians, one golden, and two diamond. Sisters Marie James Hunt, Marie Bernard Tran, Jane Raphael Livingston, Sean Marie David, Mary Mark Wickenhiser, Mary Paula Kolar, and Mary Louise Oddi celebrated and reaffirmed their commitment to incarnate Christian hope and to be hope for the culture of communication.

It was a wonderful day! Of course families and friends joined the community in pulling out all the stops: Liturgy, flower arrangements, music, preaching, food, décor, and more tell something of our love for these sisters and of the sign they are for us all.

Decades of fidelity are impressive. So I asked some of them to share the “secret” of their fidelity. “I know,” I said, “the grace of God. So now that we’ve established that, what is it—an attitude, a practice, whatever—that is yours personally, that has made the grace of God fruitful in your perseverance?”

Sr. Jane responds, “God is full of surprises. Expect the unexpected. When the reality that ‘Nothing is impossible for God’ meets with our willingness to trust, the recipe for miracles is present, and the rest is history.”

Then I ask Sr. Mary Mark. Her laugh tells much…and has you guessing at the rest! Sincerely, though, she answers with a memory that stretches back to her earliest years of formation. “Since I was a postulant, I have prayed the Pact* every day of my life. You know, when you’re young, you’re not sure about [your vocation], and you go day by day trusting those who tell you what God’s will is. I reached a certain point, though, when I had a heartfelt conviction that this Pauline life—its consecration and apostolate—is God’s will for me.”

Sisters Louise, Mary Paula, and Mary Mark
 Sr. Louise understands that. She says, “I used to ask: Is it really God’s will [that I stay]? Yes. I had signs that it was. When I was a postulant, I went to Confession to the Founder, and he didn’t say I wasn’t meant for this life. So I took it as God’s will. Everything wasn’t very easy for me, but when things crossed me, I kept thinking, ‘Let go of it, don’t dwell on it. Five years from now it won’t matter. I won’t even remember what it was.’ So much of our life is like that.”

Each in her own way singled out peace, humor, and trust. They’ve been at it for years and show every indication of staying at it for as long as God gives them breath. None of them says that now they can coast along or stop altogether. Fidelity in love is ongoing and calls for a commitment renewed every day.

In her comments about the tagline, Sr. Leonora says the same: “St. Paul posed the question, ‘How are they to hear if no one preaches?’ We…need to insure that the Word is heard. If nobody calls the 800 line or goes to the website, if no one walks into our Pauline Book & Media Centers, if no one turns to the PCMS for media literacy, if nobody wants our evangelization teams to touch their parishioners …what then? Thus the importance of launching out again and again.” This ongoing fidelity becomes “a hallmark of our one, apostolic vocation of giving Jesus to the world.”

* The “Pact,” or “Secret of Success” is a prayer—a prescription for a way of life, really—given by the founder, Fr. Alberione, to the Pauline Family only a few years after it began. It will be the topic of next week’s blog. See you then!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When Faith Grows Young

At the end of this week, Pope Benedict will meet in Madrid with an anticipated 1.2 million people, the overwhelming majority of them young. John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, wrote a typically insightful article this week about World Youth Day, the triennial Catholic mega-church gathering that thrills believers and stymies naysayers. He focuses on the ramifications for society and the Church, rather than on the young participants themselves, and frames the event within the precarious socio-political-economic climate throughout Europe in general and Spain in particular. While he might have every reason to hope for the youth, he is cautiously optimistic about what the celebration portends on the social and ecclesial levels.

The theme for this year’s event is “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (Col 2:7). One of the cardinal messages that will be stressed is the at core of what Paul himself preached: Christian faith is not a set of beliefs; it’s something active within us, not something we statically have. It’s not centered on doctrines about God, but on God, revealed definitively in Jesus Christ. We don’t believe some thing, but Some One. Even more, faith is responsive. We don’t just sit around and believe; God “believes” enough in us to call us into being, and we respond by believing in God, trusting God with our lives, our selves. It’s all about relationship. No one, not even a theologian, can have a bona fide love affair with a teaching. What we authentically believe translates into how we live because of the One we live for.

Joanne (left) and her sister, Jolene
That’s life changing. It’s an experience that one young woman in Hong Kong describes in a letter she recently sent to family and friends. Seventeen-year-old Joanne Pong had skipped her senior year of high school and was back home in Hong Kong after her first year at Whittier College, just outside Los Angeles, where she is majoring in environmental science. Wondering what to do with her summer, she volunteered for the World Wildlife Fund. Good as it was for the energetic Joanne, it wasn’t enough. Prompted by a suggestion from her mother Cheryl, who became a Pauline Cooperator in June, she decided to raise funds for the quake stricken Daughters of St. Paul in Sendai, Japan, from among relatives and from Cheryl’s friends.

Joanne wrote to them:
“I got to know the Daughters of St Paul  in Hong Kong 2 summers ago in their book shop and their warehouse. During that summer, I helped to catalog books, shared lunches with them, and we spent a lot of time together. In that period, I learnt their way of life in their vocation of spreading the Gospel through the media. They have a small book shop in Mongkok, Hong Kong, and they visit churches on weekends to bring good books and AV to the people. They also hold Book Fairs in schools. I too participated in one of those Book Fairs, it was an unforgettable experience. I developed a bond with them and know that if they were in the same situation as the sisters in Japan are in right now, I would hope that there are people reaching out to them.”
Joanne and Cheryl sat down at the computer and sent out 150 emails, with that message included. They referred people to the Pauline Faithways post of March 16, “How To Help Japan.” (No doubt due to their publicity, that post is the second most read individual Pauline post to date. For a blog that gets only about 250 to 300 readers per week, that’s impressive.) Donors sent emails to the two women pledging their contributions, and then the contributions would follow—checks or bank drafts made out to the Daughters of St. Paul. The amount would then be given to the Pauline sisters there in Hong Kong, who coordinated the transfer of funds to Japan and issued receipts to donors for tax purposes.

Cheryl celebrates Christmas
with the Daughters of St. Paul

Sixty-four relatives and friends—almost half of those contacted—responded, so that in the space of only two months, the “Pong Team” raised $18,500 U.S.!

In true fundraising spirit, Joanne promised in her thank-you letters that donors would be prayed for and that she would keep them informed about the progress of the sisters, presumably even from her college dorm in Whittier.

The August 1 issue of The NonProfit Times ran an article entitled, “The Next Generation,”  which examines the phenomenon of volunteerism and fundraising by young people, some of them children. Susan J. Ellis, president of Energize, Inc., applauds an attitude toward young—and older—volunteers that looks at their capacity and creativity rather than their age or experience, as a gauge for involvement: “Volunteering allows people to rise to the level of their ability, not their resumé.” *

The Pongs: Jolene, Joanne, Cheryl, and Wai Leung

When the fire of faith is added to that drive, it becomes an evangelizing experience, both for those who are approached as well as for those who ask in the cause of the Gospel. What impresses me also is the way in which some of the young awaken to the experience of volunteerism and to a lived faith. That is, based on their association with people of faith, they either make an existing initiative their own or organize one themselves. In Joanne’s case, she discovered, met, God in a new and personal way through the sisters she worked with. Because of her upbringing, she already valued the Gospel and she recognized lives of faith when she encountered them, but her experience of the Church’s faith was now real to her and her choice of the Church’s values was her own.

When it comes to us, her witness causes us to ask ourselves if we couldn’t be doing more than we are. At the very least, could we add just a little more love and a little less griping to what we already do?

Whatever the immediate consequences of World Youth Day for society or the Church, the utter concreteness of rubbing shoulders with hundreds of thousands of young believers who struggle to make sense of their lives and their faith, plus the chance to share for a couple of hours the same turf as the Pastor of their universal Church, cannot but trigger within individual young people a desire to take something of that back into their utterly concrete lives. If they can plug into the sacramental life of the Church, the “source and summit of Christian life,” their faith-in-practice will connect them also with all believers in a grace-filled way. Their spiritual expression may not be the exact replica of their parents’ faith-life in all its particulars, but it will be authentically Catholic and transformative because they will be in a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I offer you this prayer of Blessed James Alberione, SSP, so that these days do make a world of difference to them and those they love:
“Faith is a gift of God and the root of every good. O Mary, obtain for them a lively, firm, and active faith, faith that saves and that produces saints, faith in the Church, in the Gospel, and in eternal life. Amen.”
* Reprinted with permission, The NonProfit Times, August 1, 2011.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Partying with St. Paul

I have a confession to make: I know I shouldn’t have worried, but I did. The Pauline Family’s first annual St. Paul Friends & Family Fest was scheduled for August 7 on the grounds of the Society of St. Paul in Staten Island, NY, but the weather was clearly not on our side. The forecast promised 100% chance of precipitation, with heavy showers in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon. In fact, it had rained all night, so that by 8:00 Sunday morning the ground was soaked, it was still drizzling, and skies to the west were not at all friendly. People from Manhattan, S. I., and New Jersey began to call, so we had to decide what to do.

After we considered several options, we made our leap of faith. I wasn’t as daring as Brother Peter Lyne, SSP, co-organizer of the event, but so many people, religious and lay, had worked so hard, that it would have been a shame to cancel or postpone. Besides, what would we have done with all that food?

Amazing—not one drop of rain all day long! It was hot as blazes and a lot muggier, but if anyone complained I sure didn’t hear it. Sr. Carmen, novice director and provincial secretary in Boston, texted me to say they were all praying for us. So did Sr. Helena Burns in Chicago. Of course, she had a vested interest in the day: The proceeds were going to support the documentary she is working on about Blessed James Alberione, SSP, our founder. Still, it was thoughtful of her to remember us, so she deserved a phone call with the good news at day’s end.

About 125 people attended the noon Mass presided over by Fr. Jeffrey Mickler, who gave an insightful homily, as usual. He pointed out that in case any of us thought that documentaries were passé, let it be known that August 7 marked the twentieth anniversary of Madonna’s Truth or Dare. As a matter of Pauline Family history, it also marked the sixtieth anniversary of the inauguration of work on a different “Madonna” movie, San Paolo Film’s Mater Dei, the first color film in all of Italy. The silver screen still captivates us.

All told, approximately 200 people ate, played, and visited with each other throughout the afternoon. Five of the eight branches of the Pauline Family present in the U.S.—Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, Daughters and Pauline priests and brothers, Holy Family Institute members, and Pauline Cooperators—were all represented. After Mass we showed the preview of the Alberione film to those who wanted to watch and gave a little background. We then ran it on a loop, so that it showed continuously throughout the afternoon. It was set up in the cool basement of the SSP’s main building. So were the bathrooms. Nobody counted how many people really saw the film as they waited, or how often, but I think Fr. Alberione got plenty of attention.

Barbecuing in the heat and humidity was a heroic labor of love. Rolling Thunder Chapter 2 NY Staten Island bikers were those heroes. They’re members of a humanitarian organization that mainly supports U.S. vets…and they like to ride. Sporting their signature leather, tattoos, and hardware, they directed parking in the glaring sun and grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, Italian sausage, and chicken to perfection—and in incredibly good spirits. Between courses, they would take five to rest and chat. During one break they called me over to explain to them the difference between “the sisters in blue” (us) and “the ones in white” (the Sister Disciples). Then they wanted to know the difference between nuns and sisters. We had a great conversation.

Two of them came down to watch the film preview. One said he hadn’t been to church in so long that he was afraid the roof would cave in if he walked in. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that lame excuse, so I told him that the film in the basement would be a test run: If he survived that, he’d survive church. Halfway through the three-and-a-half minute showing, he got up, walked over to me and started asking questions about the Bible. At one point in our brief exchange, when I told him how Jesus didn’t have to die, but laid down his life “for you and for me,” he exclaimed, “I’m getting goose bumps!” Such a simple proclamation of the Gospel, but what an effect it had! It confirmed what I have long believed: No one can appeal to a lack of education as an excuse for not evangelizing. How many, sometimes without realizing it, are longing to hear the simple, core message of Jesus spoken in faith. How many opportunities we have to serve like that. If we pray, we will recognize those moments and, as Jesus promised, “what you should say will be given you….It won’t be you speaking, but the Spirit of my Father speaking in you” (Mt. 10:19, 20).

Back to the fest. Kids’ races, crafts, water balloons, and face painting made it fun for the under-12 set. The NYPD came to offer tours of its communications truck. People enjoyed themselves and each other. They ate to their heart’s content, told us stories of their connections to Staten Island or to this or that Pauline, and took chances on the 17 raffle baskets or one of the games. Early on, Hibernian Jimmy Haynes had to go out and buy more food. Clearly we had underestimated this crowd’s potential! We won’t know the total proceeds from the event until next week, but the generosity of the area’s business people, especially in this economic climate, widened the margin.

 The team who planned everything and kept things moving—none better! Most of them were recruited by Brother Peter Lyne. You know, if there ever is an award given for Networker of the Year, I’m nominating Br. Peter. If it hadn’t been for his connections, diplomacy, and dogged determination, it would not have gotten past the first meeting. Hibernians, Ladies Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes, Catholic War Veterans, and the scores of people they knew made it a real community day. Police Sgt. Brian and Patricia Reilly, Jimmy Haynes, and James Haynes IV, together with his wife Maria, constituted the central planning committee. Pauline Cooperator Marie-Louise Handal coordinated the promotion, and because of her, New York One TV aired its report on the event.

What made it news? The film, for one. It’s unusual. Who but James Alberione conceived of bringing a family to birth just to enter the media culture with the Gospel? But behind that is the nature of the event itself. This is the first time, certainly in my nearly 40-year Pauline memory, that we as a Family in the U.S. collaborated on a common outreach project. The Daughters and the Society collaborate often in publishing and distribution, but person-to-person contact—this is new.

Lastly, it gives us an opportunity to look forward in yet another way. Brother Richard Brunner, the representative of Fr. Silvio Sassi, superior general of the Society of St. Paul, had welcomed us all at the Mass, announcing that within a few days, the Pauline Family would begin its three-year preparation “in joyful anticipation” of the centenary of its founding. “August 20, 1914, is a date to remember because the Pauline Family was officially born. May this Mass and this gathering be the official start in the United States of our preparation for the centenary of our Pauline Family in 2014.”

He ended his remarks with the words of Fr. Alberione to the first young Paulines, so poor, so challenged, yet full of faith and hope. We listened, aware of our limitations, yet equally aware of our calling and our mission to share all we have from Jesus:

Foreground: Sister Disciples of the Divine Master

“Raise your eyes and look at this mighty tree [of our Family]—a tree so tall that its top cannot be seen. This is our Institute, which is truly a giant tree. You stand at the foot of a huge mountain; climb it and study the view. Your horizons are the world.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In It Together

The weekend before last, I had the exciting task of attending the “triduum” or three-day retreat and conference of the Holy Family Institute in Canfield, Ohio and giving a presentation to this marvelous crowd. This organization is one of the foundations of Blessed James Alberione, SSP, founder of the Pauline Family. It consists of married people, often couples, who sense the Pauline charism within themselves and aspire to live the Christ-life as Paul the Apostle understood and lived it, while modeling their family life on that of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to their married state and raise their children in Gospel values, yeast in the dough of this media generated culture.

It’s always a treat to connect with “Family,” especially this bunch, with their enthusiasm, love, humor, and prayerful spirit. We had the added bonus of Fr. Mike Harrington’s leadership. He’s the first U.S. member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest (another institute of the Pauline Family—this one for diocesan clergy). It just so happens he’s also one of the chaplains to our FSP community in Boston. A young man exploring the Gabrielites—you guessed it, yet another  institute, this one for single men—dropped in for a visit. Of course, the presence of our brothers in the Society of St. Paul, especially the intrepid Fr. Tom Fogarty, who has accompanied the HFIs for years, was an indispensable gift. All these Family connections give a multi-faceted meaning to the word “mission.”

Fr. Fogarty, and
Fr. Ed Riley of Boston

We Daughters of St. Paul often refer to “our mission.” That’s what it is, but just as often we remind ourselves that it’s not ultimately “ours.” It’s really the Church’s mission of evangelization in which we participate, doing our part to sow seeds of the Gospel within the culture of communications, usually with the media themselves.

Actually, though, even the Church can’t claim this mission as her own. It’s been entrusted to her by her Lord; in fact, it’s his. Blessed Timothy Giaccardo, SSP, first vicar general of the Society of St. Paul, wrote this very thing decades ago, saying that it’s Jesus who preaches, Jesus who teaches, Jesus who carries out the mission in and through us. Yet even Jesus pointed to Another as the source of his mission: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (Jn. 7:16). Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is the ambassador, “the Apostle,” of the Father, the “one sent” (Heb. 3:1). Who we are and what we do go way beyond ourselves, and we are amazingly privileged to be part of it. It’s “an apostolate that the angels envy,” Alberione would say.

Teen sons and daughters of HFI members gather
around that all-important text message.
This is why none of us has a corner on mission and why we are meant to work together, regardless of what aspect of evangelization we individually or communally happen to be engaged in. One of the hardest challenges to overcome is self-sufficiency. It leads even communities to isolationism, the “Lone Ranger” syndrome. I’m not sure it ever worked, but in our social media generated world, such an approach to mission definitely gets us nowhere today. Instead, collaboration is boon to everyone, in spite of the challenges and difficulties it presents.

This was the principal message in the presentation I gave on the second day of the triduum. It was part two of a series on the “Apostolate of the Cinema in the History of the Pauline Family.” What a fascinating story! Do you want to know what Mussolini’s favorite Pauline film was? Do you know which SSP movie was the first color film in Italy? What textbook was made into not one, but fifty films? More amazing even than that were the miracles that God accomplished among and through the faith of such pioneers when they worked together to evangelize with this modern medium of communication. Click here for last year’s presentation. Click here for this year’s.

Sr. Helena Burns gave a one-hour PowerPoint presentation to help the parents and grandparents in the Holy Family Institute to harness media and the media culture to grow themselves and to share their values with their families. She made a great analogy between media literacy education and driver’s ed. Just as no parent there would ever toss the car keys to their teen and wish him or her well without preparation, so no parent should expose young people to the world of media without teaching them to navigate it. Nor would they try to prevent their teens from driving at all, knowing that someday they probably would get behind the wheel. Just so, parents and grandparents could do much better than throwing out the TV or shutting out the media world, aware that outside their home, those same young people are faced with a huge number of media messages that require considerable discernment skills. “Control is for the moment; communication is for a lifetime.” If you’d like a copy of Sr. Helena’s PowerPoint presentation, e-mail her at

Sr. Mary Peter Martin teamed up with Sr. Marie James Hunt (whose parents professed their vows perpetually that Sunday) to lead the Eucharistic visit on Friday and Saturday. Both were beautiful experiences. Fr. Mike was definitely in his element and seemed to be everywhere: preaching, presiding at Liturgy, celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation, receiving vows, and even joining Fr. Ed Riley, his classmate, in playing soccer with the kids and teens—in nearly 100 degree weather! Heroic.

You can see Fr. Jeff’s slide show of photos here. If you’d like more information about the Institute you can scroll down to my blog post of September 23, 2010. One of the members is beginning a blog for the Institute. Keep an eye on Pauline Faithways; once his blog is ready, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Photo credits: Fr. Jeffrey Mickler, SSP