Holy Family Parish donates $103,000 to violence-prevention programs

By Joyce Duriga | Editor and Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The population of Inverness doesn’t have much in common with the populations of the city’s Austin and Auburn-Gresham neighborhoods, but they are all part of the Chicago area and all brothers and sisters in the Lord.

It is that spirit, coupled with Cardinal Cupich’s anti-violence initiative, that inspired parishioners at Holy Family Parish in Inverness to raise $103,000 during the past Lent and Easter to donate to two programs that address the root causes of violence: Catholic Charities Peace Corner in Austin and St. Sabina’s Strong Future program in Auburn-Gresham.

Parishioners were so moved by the desire to help eradicate violence in the city that they have continued working with the programs long past the Easter season.

“Obviously violence has been on our mind as a parish. It’s not so much where we live in Inverness, but Chicago is close enough,” said Sue Geegan, human concerns director at Holy Family.

The parish had a history of holding missions during Lent to help ministries around the world. Five years ago they decided to make it a more focused commitment to social justice in the United States.

For the past six years, they’ve set a goal of raising $25,000 for organizations that help the poor. For three years, they raised funds for Catholic Extension, and one year for Journeys, a local organization that helps the homeless in the Inverness area.

“In each case we really weren’t sure how the parishioners would react. We know that this is a community that believes in outreach, but suddenly we were going on a broader scale,” said Jo Ann Bednar, business manager. “What we’ve learned each year is how to present it, what really speaks to the people and engaging the people we’re helping.”

They exceeded their goal each of the last five years, raising over $370,00. That doesn’t include this year’s donation.

This year they wanted to focus locally again.

“We all agreed that one of the most compelling issues was Cardinal Cupich’s initiative for anti-violence,” said Father Terry Keehan, Holy Family’s pastor.

Using an immersion model they learned from Catholic Extension, parish leaders visited Peace Corner and St. Sabina to meet the people and learn firsthand about their work.

Strong Futures works with “disconnected young adult males, between the ages of 18-28, who are justice-involved and/or have other barriers to stability, by connecting them with full-time employment,” according to the St. Sabina website.

The Peace Corner is a youth center in the Austin neighborhood that provides a safe haven from gang violence and drug activity, after school programs and job training and GED classes for young adults, according to its website.

Holy Family staff took a camera crew and recorded videos at each site to bring back to the parish and develop programing and material around that. They also recorded people from the Peace Corner and St. Sabina doing some of the Mass readings.

“We recorded that and actually projected it on our screens in the worship space during Mass. They were the proclaimers,” Geegan said. “Every single week, just for a few minutes, there was some kind of story, video or message that we incorporated into our liturgy.”

They also set up a display in the church vestibule using white wooden crosses with red hearts bearing the names of people killed by gun violence along with photos of those killed.

“I think it has really made people’s Lents more prayerful,” Keehan said. “We have a passionate parish. When we put out a call like this, they respond.”

Holy Family’s work with the two organizations is continuing, said Geegan.

Parishioners donated about 60 backpacks full of school supplies for children at the Peace Corner, she said.

The day she went to the Peace Corner to deliver them, a truck pulled up with new child-friendly furniture for the reception area — furniture purchased with some of the money Holy Family donated. The Peace Corner also will use some of the money for technology projects, including buying a smartboard that will be used in programming both with children and their parents.

Meanwhile, leaders at the parish and at the Peace Corner are working on finding a way to continue to build the relationship, perhaps by inviting some of the Peace Corner kids to participate in a basketball game or tournament at Holy Family Academy.

Parishioners are also planning to provide and deliver Christmas gifts for children at the Peace Corner.

Geegan said St. Sabina’s Strong Futures was able to expand its programming with the donation from Holy Family, and that Holy Family parishioners are working with Strong Futures to see if they can offer more connections to jobs.

“I don’t care where in Chicago you live. You can’t ignore that this is our city. Violence impacts all of us,” Bednar said.


  • parishes
  • anti-violence

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