Alexian Brothers providing much-needed help in parish life

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, November 10, 2013

At St. Edna Parish in Arlington Heights, veteran pastor Father Jerry Jacob is thrilled to have a true partner in Alexian Brothers Parish Services.

For more than a dozen years, Jacob and his pastoral colleagues at the Northwest suburban parish have enjoyed on-site counseling services as a satellite site for ABPS’ outreach efforts, a relationship that has dispensed assistance and hope to hundreds of St. Edna parishioners and other local residents seeking help with aging parents, grief, marriage and more.

“We simply do not have enough staff to administer to some of these precise needs, so having Alexian Brothers as a partner gives us quick access to qualified and reputable professionals who can provide these important services,” Jacob said.

The same goes for Holy Family Parish in Inverness, where director of pastoral care Jerry Stecker relishes the presence of ABPS professionals who lend counseling and social work services to the community.

“It’s a relief to know that I have professional guidance available for people in need and that I’m directing them to the best possible help we can provide,” Stecker said.

For ABPS director Rita Rippentrop, who started as an ABPS therapist 20 years ago, the confidence and satisfaction voiced by the likes of Jacob and Stecker means plenty, a nod that she and her staff are fulfilling their mission and making a positive difference in lives.

For more than two decades, ABPS has been responding to changing community health needs by partnering with parishes throughout the Chicago area to promote health and healing.

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, ABPS offers interfaith counseling services for children and adults at numerous parish sites, including Church of the Holy Spirit in Schaumburg, Queen of the Rosary in Elk Grove Village and, added just last year, Polish-language behavioral health counseling services at St. Constance, 5843 W. Strong St. The presence of ABPS in various parishes provides pastoral staff a direct line to referrals as well as more immediate and approachable access to professional help for parishioners.

ABPS also provides social work and special education services, such as resource teachers and school social workers, at local Catholic schools. Now in its 13th year, the Parochial School Support Services program has grown from serving three Catholic schools to 16 institutions and nearly 6,000 students across the Chicago archdiocese and the Joliet diocese.

“From social pressures to learning disabilities, this is a program in these school buildings that pays attention to students’ social and emotional well being,” Rippentrop said.

ABPS rounds out its outreach efforts with congregational health ministry and workshops ranging from suicide prevention training and staff retreats to grief response and therapeutic art groups.

“We function as a trusted partner in spaces where the parishes cannot fill specific needs,” Rippentrop said.

At Holy Family, ABPS’ presence has been building over recent years, Stecker said, a sign of the trust the outreach agency has gained and the important role they play in the parish community.

“As we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another and discovered new needs, our relationship has developed,” Stecker said.

The Inverness parish provides private space for ABPS personnel to run counseling sessions and directs parishioners to the support programs and services by publishing information in the parish bulletin.

“Now, we’re connecting those struggling with grief or divorce or loss to an immediate avenue for help and healing,” Stecker said.

At St. Edna, Jacob and other pastoral staff regularly refer parishioners to ABPS counselors for help that the parish staff cannot or is not equipped to provide. Jacob said the agency’s on-campus presence gives dignity to the counseling services and highlights St. Edna’s hope that parishioners enjoy healthy lives in body, mind and spirit.

“Knowing they are here gives me an invitation to direct people to the help they need,” Jacob said. “Their presence has become an important avenue for people to find insight and a path to work through their difficulties.”