Parishes working together to make a difference

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Jen Honek believes that small things make a difference.

“For something to be done well, it takes prayer, love and time,” Honek said. “Nothing is done in a day and every day makes a difference. Every person makes a difference. God gave each person his or her own unique gifts and talents that can be used for the good of others.”

And she is seeing that difference taking shape in her home parish of Holy Cross in Onamia, part of the three-parish cluster that includes St. Therese in Vineland and Sacred Heart in Wahkon, because of her involvement with the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative. Honek and her husband, Tim, moved to Onamia four summers ago with their three young children. Both are educators at Nyquist Elementary in Isle — Jen teaches kindergarten and Tim teaches special education.

“Our first year in the Mille Lacs area, I stayed at home with my two youngest and we were welcomed into our church community,” Jen Honek said. “I love music and immediately became involved helping to lead worship during Mass. I was also blessed to have been able to lead religious education classes.”

These experiences, along with the prayerful encounters she had with new friendships, landed her a role as president of the tri-parish mission group.

“Our mission group is filled with active, joyful and loving people from our parish cluster,” Honek said. “Everyone yearned to serve God and the community but we needed guidance and direction.”

She contacted Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, just as the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative was getting off the ground. Langer and rural life coordinator Doug Scott attended one of the mission group meetings and discussed their vision.

“It was exactly what we needed,” Honek said. “After much prayer, we decided to make a commitment to meet with other rural parishes in the diocese to learn, discover and help each other better serve the needs of those around us.”
Besides their regular meetings, the group met monthly with social ministry groups from other parishes involved in the initiative

“We would pray together, eat together, learn together and help one another,” Honek said. “Doug and Kathy would lead a different session each month that would eventually cover all seven themes of Catholic social teaching.”
The cohort focused on four main areas: legislative advocacy, community organizing, direct service and global solidarity.

“Together, we created a vision for our own social ministry group with goals under each area,” Honek said. “We are now in our second year of implementing our goals. Some of our ministries provided by members of our group are home repair help, organizing monthly community dinners and collecting stamps to help missionaries overseas.”

Before both Valentine’s Day and Christmas, the tri-parish group encourages parishioners to get involved by having them sign Valentine and Christmas cards that are given away with gas and grocery vouchers in the months of February and December. Members of the tri-parish cluster also contribute financially if they feel moved to do so. Some of the cards are given away through the parish and some are given to the local food shelf.

“Each summer, we participate in a program called ‘Soles for Souls’ where we collect shoes that eventually get cleaned, repaired and distributed around the globe,” Honek said. “This summer we helped deliver food provided by Catholic Charities to homes in our rural area. One of our newest projects we are working on is finding a way to help provide reliable transportation for those who need it.”

In the fall, the tri-parish group encourages parishioners to bring their extra produce to church to share with others. They call this the “Table of Plenty.”

“The idea is to help build a sharing community within our church and to prevent the bounty of our gardens from being wasted,” Jen said.

The group also is excited about the possibility of working with others in the community to implement a backpack food program like they’ve seen in other communities around the state. Through grants and/or donations from community organizations, a weekend’s worth of healthy food is packaged in small bags and given to teachers in schools. On Fridays, the teacher discreetly places the bags in the backpacks of children in need of food for weekends and school breaks.

Membership in the group has doubled since they began the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative in 2013 and Honek hopes it will continue to grow as more people are called to serve God and others, she said.

“No one in our mission group can be replaced,” she said. “They are all unique individuals who bring their own experiences and ideas to the table. I would like to encourage any person or group who is interested in helping their rural community to get involved with this initiative. The training and education it provides has given our mission group the direction, guidance and structure we need to make a difference.”

Eastern phase Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative
2013-14 cohort

St. Louis Bertrand, Foreston
St. Mary, Milaca
St. Joseph, Morrill
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Brennyville
SS. Peter and Paul, Gilman
St. Mary, Mora
Holy Cross, Onamia
St. Therese, Vineland
Sacred Heart, Wahkon
Mary of the Visitation, Becker/Big Lake
St. Joseph, St. Joseph
2014-15 cohort
St. Joseph, Pierz
St. Michael, Buckman
St. John Nepomuk, Lastrup
Holy Cross, Harding
St. Mary, Little Falls
Our Lady of Lourdes, Little Falls
Holy Family, Belle Prairie