Submitted by Jeffrey Schulenberg of Sacred Heart Parish, Valley Park, MO

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Valley Park, MO, has long had a reputation as an inviting and welcoming faith community. In an Archdiocesan survey in 2015, parishioners reported a significant deficit in the area of “parishioners support peace & justice efforts.” This put in motion a series of events that led us to creating a Peace & Justice Commission, and introducing JustFaith to our parish family. To-date we have taken nearly 30 people through the JustFaith Catholic program (3 classes), and will be sponsoring JustMatters “Hunger for Change” in January of 2020. The impact on our parish has been dramatic, as our encounters with the “other” have born much fruit! A sample of this includes:

  • Lenten Speaker Series – Inspired by the guest speakers that were part of our JustFaith journey, the Peace & Justice Commission is now planning for our 3rd straight year of hosting guest speakers on Tuesday evenings during Lent. We have tackled many of the issues that were introduced to us during JustFaith: sustainability, racism, human trafficking, hunger, housing, immigration, etc. This has become one of the more popular Lenten programs at our parish, and has drawn participants from the greater St. Louis area (including Illinois).
  • Bridge Bread – This is a non-profit that helps those who have experienced homelessness to get back on their feet. We coordinate sales of their baked goods the 3rd weekend of every month, with 100% of all proceeds going back to Bridge Bread (not a fundraiser for us). 20-25 volunteers per selling weekend have helped us move over $20,000 worth of product since we started selling in November of 2017. We are one of the largest selling parishes in the program.
  • PotBangerz – This organization cooks hot meals and feeds the homeless every Thursday evening, and we have sponsored 4 parish groups who joined this effort. We have gotten continued requests for more groups to get involved.
  • Sustainability Ministry (Green Team) – Again as an outgrowth of JustFaith, this sub-team of the P&J Commission has the following mission: “At Sacred Heart, VP, we will continuously improve our sustainability practices through prayer, education and action to ensure a healthier place to live now and in the future.” Key initiatives include setting up a school committee to engage students and teachers in taking the campus “green”, training parish organizations in sustainable activity, thorough review of energy usage and clean energy options, etc.
  • 3rd Ward Father-Son Fishing and Toys Giveaway Events – The 3rd Ward in north St. Louis City is an economically depressed and largely minority district. We sponsored 5 men from the parish who helped with a Saturday morning fishing event this summer, as well as sending a crew to help with a Christmas family event this December. The fishing event brought us a tragically close encounter, as one of the 7-year-old boys that we worked with was killed by a stray bullet on August 1. All 5 men are eager to get involved again.
  • ESL and High School Equivalency Classes – Several members of the parish were motivated by one of the JustFaith guest speakers to get involved with ESL classes at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Ferguson, MO. Another parishioner now works in a re-entry program for released prisoners who are working to pass their high school equivalency testing.
  • Faith & For the Sake Of All – Two JustFaith grads have become volunteer “Liaisons” for this organization, which educates faith communities about the disparities in health and other life outcomes in St. Louis, and engages them in theological reflection and action steps to address those disparities through the Mobilizing the Faithful workshop.

We are grateful for the many ways that JustFaith has facilitated a “culture of encounter” for our parishioners and others in the greater St. Louis area. We have grown in our vision of what it means to live the Gospel, and have experienced the joy and love of walking alongside brothers and sisters who we wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. We are excited about transitioning from a parish with a deficit in “parishioners support peace & justice efforts”, to a parish with a reputation for engaging in and promoting the social justice teachings of our Church!