With love, from one St. James Parish to another.
Each year, the vacation Bible school program at St. James Parish in Sewickley takes on a mission or service project to help children understand the world beyond their community. Sometimes the aid goes to a foreign country, and other times it stays local.
This year’s project presented itself with the transfer of Father Tom Burke from the Sewickley parish to the parish grouping of St. James in Wilkinsburg and St. Bede and St. Charles Lwanga in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze and East End neighborhoods, respectively.
“We hear many parishes do mission trips to Appalachia and other areas,” he said. “It’s always nice to help those in our ‘own back yard’ sometimes.”
With Father Burke’s help, Karen Conroy, director of religious education at St. James in Sewickley, contacted Josie Bryant, social services minister at St. James in Wilkinsburg, to arrange a vacation Bible school service project.
“Josie and I determined that my vacation Bible school participants would fill backpacks for the children in the summer feeding programs in the Wilkinsburg area, many of whom are served by the food pantry and other services at St. James,” Conroy said. “The packs would help feed the children on the weekends when the feeding programs do not operate.”
With assistance from Sewickley parishioners who have connections with the Pirates, they received about 140 free backpacks. Conroy said each vacation Bible school participant was given a backpack to take home and fill, along with a list of possible items to include.
She also asked the teen volunteers and other parishioners to contribute items for the backpacks.
“A crew of VBS volunteers, headed by Emily Amato, organized the bags, making sure they all had a variety of items,” Conroy said. “We filled to the brim 130 backpacks. We also had a box of canned goods and larger items, and our St. Vincent de Paul Society gave us an additional nine boxes of food from their shelves.”
Along with nutrition bars and bags of granola donated by Tru-Foods, which is owned by a Sewickley parishioner, the backpacks were ready for delivery.
“More than a teachable moment, this is an opportunity for our young people to truly live their faith,” said Father James Farnan, the new administrator of St. James in Sewickley. “Faith is not a noun, it’s a verb, and opportunities like this help our kids and volunteers understand that.”
After being blessed by Father Farnan, the backpacks were transported to Wilkinsburg.
Conroy said she, along with youth minister John Wieland and his two sons, “got a tour of the Social Service Ministry building that houses not only the food pantry, but a health center and distribution areas for household items, children’s clothing, uniforms and toys, diapers and baby supplies, and got some ideas for future service projects.”
They also got a chance to meet Bryant, their new Wilkinsburg friend, see Father Burke and his new home, and visit St. James Church. The donation “is like Christmas has come early to the people of Wilkinsburg,” Father Burke said.
“I see this as neighbor helping neighbor,” he said. “There are so many wonderful youth and adult volunteer groups in many of our parishes currently doing wonderful outreach ministry.”
Father Burke said he is “optimistic that more of these types of programs will continue throughout the six-county diocese,” in the spirit of On Mission for The Church Alive!
Bryant said she is grateful to St. James in Sewickley “for reaching across many boundaries.” She said she looks forward to building many new parish relationships in the years ahead.
“We are always open to partnerships which enhance services,” Bryant said. “The partnerships help expand opportunities to the people we serve. It also an opportunity to educate.”