Pastor visits flock, block-by-block

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two years ago, when members of the St. Barnabas Parish stewardship committee wanted to find a way to get people more involved with the parish, they decided that one way to do that was to get the parish — especially the priests — out more in the community.

“Our goal as a parish was a full church and a full school, and we decided we couldn’t wait for people to come to us,” said Father Bill Malloy, the pastor.

That meant getting Malloy, out of the rectory and into parishioners’ living rooms, one in each of 52 geographical sections of the parish. That was the beginning of St. Barnabas’ “block-by-block” outreach. Now, with more than 20 done and about 30 to go, some lessons have become clear, he said.

“I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a parish, what it means to live in this neighborhood,” he told about a dozen parishioners gathered in the Beverly home of Judy and Jack Millerick on an October Sunday afternoon.

He also learned to reassure the group right at the beginning that the gathering wasn’t about asking for money. It’s only about having a conversation.

As the group went around the room to introduce themselves, one thing was clear: Malloy, who has been pastor at St. Barnabas, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, for six years, was by far the most recent newcomer, with several attendees talking about growing up in the parish and attending its school, before raising their own families there and sending their children to the school. The parish, or at least this section only a few blocks from the church, exudes stability.

Malloy told the parishioners that he grew up in a similarly close-knit community in LaGrange, but there was one difference: “You can leave LaGrange,” he said. “No one leaves Beverly.”

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t concerns. Jean Wright, a longtime parishioner, said she hasn’t gone back to church regularly since news of the clergy sex-abuse scandal dominated headlines in the early 2000s, and she has to plead with her adult children to get them to attend Mass with her on Christmas.

Judy Millerick said that she had a couple of people who were invited call to say they would not come because of dissatisfaction with how the church handled the sex-abuse scandal.

Malloy said the sex-abuse scandal has come up at a few of the meetings, as has the church’s teaching against same-sex marriage.

On a positive note, most participants are giving Pope Francis rave reviews.

“We love the new pope,” said Megan Parrilli.

“He says we’re focusing on the wrong things,” Judy Millerick said. “We should be focused on hope.”

Malloy said the block-by-block meetings have been valuable and positive, but they have included mostly people who are regular parishioners.

“One of the things I thought would happen, one of the things I hoped would happen, would be that people who were disaffected from the church would come, and by and large, that hasn’t happened,” Malloy said.

David Hibbs, chairman of the parish’s stewardship community, said the events have still been a success because they have cultivated connections not only between the priests and the laity but among parishioners themselves. And he has hopes that the effort will eventually bear fruit by drawing more people to church.

“The important thing is that its Father going out, not the people coming to the parish,” Hibbs said. “That makes all the difference.”

On a practical note, Jack Millerick suggested that the parish take a page from the local alderman and send out emails to parishioners maybe once a week or so, letting them know what’s going on at the parish.

“I look in the bulletin, and the school football or basketball schedules aren’t in there,” said Millerick, whose college- student son is a graduate of St. Barnabas. “If they put those in an email, I could see going to watch the kids play.”