I. Volunteer Opportunities -- An Overview
St. Luke Parish continues a significant ministry to the North Lawndale area of Chicago. This relationship started in the turbulent 1960s and now supports several entities, many affiliated with St. Agatha Parish, which fulfills the spiritual needs of people in the area since the closing of Blessed Sacrament Parish in 2005. We now refer to these activities in general as the "St. Agatha Ministries."
Our monthly blue envelope collection generates much-needed support, most notably for The Learning Center - House of Connections. With support of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, the Learning Center provides essential educational opportunities for neighborhood adults wishing to elevate their status in life. Using the impressive environment of the former Blessed Sacrament rectory, students attend daytime and evening classes at no charge. The Center thrives on prayers, financial help, and the glorious St. Luke parishioners who provide individualized tutoring to students striving for their G.E.D. (high school equivalence) diploma. The main tutoring concentration is on reading, math, computers, and English as a second language (ESL). More tutors are always welcomed!
Additionally, the monthly blue envelope collection supports efforts of the Youth Center, which operates in the former church on the old Blessed Sacrament campus. After regular school hours, students gather to take advantage of the Youth Center's programs. This represents a safe, positive and educational environment for these young people.
St. Agatha Catholic Academy receives much-needed benefits from the monthly blue envelope collection. Located at St. Agatha Parish, the early childhood center offers a safe and solid educational footing for preschoolers.
The monthly blue envelope contributions are distributed according to needs. Although these figures may change from time-to-time, the distribution at the time of this writing was: Youth Center receives $300 each month; The Learning Center receives 72% of the remaining money collected, and St. Agatha Catholic Academy receives 28%.
The Tuition Assistance Program actively involves families and students while providing educational aid to high school students. Started in 1980, the Tuition Assistance Program offers scholarships to graduates of St. Agatha Catholic Academy who are continuing with Catholic high school education. Opportunities include making monetary contributions and establishing person to person contacts between student families and St. Luke families. Financial support for thie program is solicited from the parish once a year in the autumn. Families wishing to participate are most welcome at anytime.
The Feed the Hungry ministry was formed about 1980 for the sole purpose of providing a way for the parish to respond to the Gospel imperative to "feed the hungry." Any member of the parish can participate weekly by bringing non-perishable food and personal care items to church and placing them in the baskets provided near the Lake Street doors, and once a year by participating in the Turkey Sunday food collection on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. St. Luke's annual Coat Drive and Christmas Gifts collections also help the people in the area.
Cash donations can be given by writing a check to St. Luke Parish and writing "Feed the Hungry" in the note section of the check. The food and personal care items collected and any cash donations go to the Food Pantry, which serves the poor in North Lawndale, one of the poorest communities in Chicago.
The Feed the Hungry Committee also works on the systemic causes of hunger in this country and worldwide by sponsoring with the Peace and Justice Committee the annual Offering of Letters on hunger issues. This is performed in conjunction with Bread for the World, a Christian voice for ending hunger. The Offering of Letters is held every year in May or June and involves writing letters to our Congressmen and Senators on a bipartisan legislative initiative before Congress affecting the hungry here and around the world.
For more information, contact Bob Nickels at 771-1937, Annemarie Valenti at 771-3186, or Tony Graefe at 848-9753.
II. The History of the St. Luke's Sharing Relationship with the inner city
The relationship began between St. Luke and Blessed Sacrament parishes at the end of the turbulent 1960s. Through the years there have been many ways in which St. Luke parishioners have helped out. Today the program has evolved into a significant relationship with St. Agatha's Parish, but it is worthwhile to understand how these efforts have evolved through the years.
At the start, Fr. John Fahey was the pastor of St. Luke, and Fr. Edmund Burke, a former student of Fr. Fahey's, was the pastor of Blessed Sacrament. In the late '60s the problems of poverty and race were on everyone's minds. The two pastors had a faith-based response to the problems: the forging of a relationship between a poorer inner-city parish at Cermak and Central Park in the North Lawndale section of Chicago and a more affluent west suburban parish in River Forest.
As Monsignor Egan at Presentation Parish and Fr. Koenig at St. Joseph's of Libertyville had done before them, Fathers Fahey and Burke had a vision of a sharing relationship which could benefit both parishes. Blessed Sacrament would benefit because the parish could continue its ministry, especially the school, even though it no longer had the economic resources to do it alone. St. Luke would benefit because we would have a way of responding to the gospel imperative to share our abundant blessings with others. Both parishes would benefit by building a bridge between people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, and economic status. The relationship was referred to as "twinning" because both parishes were equal partners vitally interested in the well-being of their twin.
At first the relationship was much more financial than personal. The monthly blue envelope (see details above) collected funds that were sent to support the Blessed Sacrament Grade School. This played a large part in keeping the school open until 2002.
In the early 1980s St. Luke's involvement expanded to include adult education at The Learning Center, which also includes the Food Pantry. About the same time, the Youth Center was formed and we joined other parishes to provide further support.
Another significant increase in our activities in the inner city started in 1981 with the formation of the Tuition Assistance Program. St. Luke parishioners responded to the Blessed Sacrament pastor's request to help his graduating students continue their Catholic education in high school. Every year since then families from St. Luke have been joining the families of the high school students for Mass on two Sundays and fellowship afterwards. This program offers partial tuition aid, but its main benefit has been the interchange between families from River Forest and North Lawndale. Since Blessed Sacrament School closed in 2002, St. Luke has involved students from St. Agatha Catholic Academy as our latest partner.
This ministry to North Lawndale reflects a significant sharing of financial resources while developing a sense of community between members of the parishes involved. St. Luke parents and children have formed a faith community of which we all should be proud.
Since Blessed Sacrament Parish was closed in 2005 and parishioners were merged into St. Agatha Parish, we now refer to these activities in general as part of the "St. Agatha Ministries." We are proud to be affiliated with St. Agatha's and anticipate adding to the already distinguished history of our relationship with the North Lawndale community in the inner city of Chicago.
The relationship started so many years ago by Fathers Fahey and Burke has endured and grown over the years because it . . .
Provides a vehicle for Catholics to experience our unity and diversity as members of the Body of Christ;
Offers a concrete way to live out what Pope John Paul II called the "virtue of solidarity";
Opens the eyes of parishioners from both parishes to the beauty of our diversity and what we can learn from each other;
Demonstrates the Church's "preferential option for the poor" while upholding the dignity of all; and
Challenges each of us to follow Jesus in compassion, service and generosity in the gifts we have to share.
Please become involved in our relationship with our sharing parish,
St. Agatha. Through sharing, all of our lives are enriched.