Parish leaders live out On Mission prayer

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Marita Hunchuck planned to teach at a university. Kathy Heino started out as a hospital lab technician. But God brought them together to help serve the faith community of St. Katharine Drexel, the diocese’s newest parish.

As director of faith formation, Hunchuck helped develop an intergenerational catechesis program for children, parents, grandparents and other parishioners.

Heino serves as pastoral associate and director of evangelization, implementing and directing the ChristLife series, organizing Communion calls, leading meetings and helping many ministries.

Father Ed Yuhas, parish administrator, said Hunchuck and Heino seek to live out the On Mission for The Church Alive! prayer that asks God to “Raise up selfless, energetic leaders to serve the church in fidelity and with care.”

“They both look for opportunities to serve, wherever there’s a need,” he said. “Marita is a wonderful teacher, and Kathy is able to provide leadership in so many areas of parish life because of her energetic style, talents and background in ministry.”

St. Katharine Drexel Parish was established in January 2017 through the merger of five Washington County parishes that include six churches. Hunchuck saw a chance to promote lifelong learning of the faith, “from womb to tomb.” The LIFT initiative, or Living in Faith Together, was born.

One Saturday evening a month, children gather with their parents at the Bentleyville main church (Ave Maria) to celebrate Mass. After the liturgy, they move over to Drexel Hall for food and fellowship. Then students attend class while the adults hear from guest speakers and talk about the faith. Families head home with lessons and activities. Recently they engaged in works of mercy by volunteering at a health care facility.

“At first, a few people were upset with the changes, but overall the response has been positive,” Hunchuck said. “Many parents tell us they enjoy knowing what their children are learning, and their own understanding of the faith has grown.”

Parishioner Sue Urcho is a LIFT volunteer and participant along with husband Shawn and sons Landon, Levi and Lucas. She supports the new program and Hunchuck’s vision.

“I’m learning things that I may not have remembered or didn’t know before, and the boys really like it,” Sue Urcho said. “Marita has an enormous knowledge of the faith and pulls it all together.”

Hunchuck earned a bachelor of arts degree in theology at Saint Vincent College and a master’s in systematic theology at Saint Vincent Seminary, and has completed doctoral course work at Duquesne University.

After initially studying medical technology, Heino graduated with a bachelor of arts in theology and pastoral ministry from Seton Hill University, and received a master’s in theology and religious education from Duquesne.

Heino sees both challenges and opportunities at their merged parish. With three churches used for regular worship, three churches for occasional use and 162 square miles of parish territory, Heino has been creative in building bridges between communities.

“The patronage of St. Katharine Drexel has helped bring us together,” Heino said. “Our parishioners have unified around her life and ministry.” Drexel used her family’s wealth to help Native Americans and African Americans, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Following the saint’s example, the parish started Drexel Charities, reaching out to those most in need.

“People know we have to be about change, but we also need to be there for each other as companions on the journey,” Father Yuhas said. “We are looking for new ways to return to who we are as missionary disciples.”

“When the beauty of the spirituality of those we serve is recognized, raising up transformational leaders is a natural and easier task,” Heino said. “The people are wonderful, just an inspiration to us.”

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