Parishes continue to rally to support people of Ukraine

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Parishes continue to rally to support people of Ukraine

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago continue to raise needed financial support and collect items like medical supplies and baby items to aid Ukrainians fleeing for safety. St. Bernadette Parish in Evergreen Park loaded up 600 boxes to be shipped to Poland on March 31, 2022. The parish also raised over $50,000 that was sent to Catholic Charities in the pastor’s home diocese in southeastern Poland that is helping refugees. St. Juliana Parish in Edison Park held a Mass to pray for Ukraine on March 19, 2022. They also raised over $50,000 to benefit Catholic Relief Services efforts in Ukraine. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mateo Perez, a junior at Brother Rice High School, and his classmate carry boxes in from the gym. Volunteers from Brother Rice High School, Evergreen Park Fire Department and Rotary International District 6450 join parishioners at St Bernadette Parish in Edison Park load 600 boxes of donations that will head to the border of Poland and Ukraine on March 31, 2022. Members of St. Bernadette Parish spent the last few weeks collecting items locally and offering monetary donations to send as humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of their country. The parish has partnered with Rotary District 6450, which has a warehouse in Aurora that can receive, organize and transport all donations to the border of Poland and Ukraine. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Boxes are packed and labeled for shipping. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Evergreen Park firefighter/paramedic Jon Czerwien leads a trail of volunteers to the truck. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mark Bermele, a volunteer and parishioner at St Bernadette, loads boxes onto the truck. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Martin Wooley, 2, and his brother Patrick carry boxes to the truck. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers load the truck. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers load the truck. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nick Giordano checks out a T-shirt from Jenny Giordano. With her is Tracey Longo and Joanna Drzich. St. Juliana Parish and School in Edison Park hosted a “Pray for Ukraine Mass” on March 19, 2022. The parish’s children’s choir performed Ukrainian songs. Parishioners wore blue and yellow “Pray for Ukraine” T-shirts, designed by St. Juliana School families, which are part of a parish fundraiser to raise $50,000 to donate to Catholic Relief Services' efforts in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lucas Grabinski, Anthony Oswad and Apollo Oswald take part in Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father John Siemianowski, pastor, opens the Mass with prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Siemianowski accepts the gifts from students from the school. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students read the petitions. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Susan Mpistolarides holds her daughter during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Daniel Stankus and Vincent Nottolini pray during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sophia Doyle, Eleanor Lenihan, Adriana Giordano, Caroline Stankus and Bianca McAuliffe kneel in prayer. (Karen Callway/Chicago Catholic)
Right to left, Kurt Oswald, Austin Grabinski and Daniel Grabinski kneel in prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nikola Mpistolarides, Matthew Nelson and Cullen Murphy pray the Our Father. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners sing the final hymn. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Following Mass, a parishioner examines artwork students created. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Father Benedykt Pazdan sees footage of Ukrainian refugees arriving in southeastern Poland, he’s looking at his home.

Pazdan, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Evergreen Park, grew up and started his seminary studies in the Diocese of Rzeszow. One of his former classmates now serves as the director of Caritas, or the Catholic charities agency, there; another is Father Artur Sowa, now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Orland Park.

“We thought, why not help Catholic Charities of Rzeszow?” Pazdan said. “They’ve been heavily involved with helping with refugees. Everyone’s coming through that border, millions of refugees. We decided to give people an opportunity to donate to that cause.”

People have taken advantage of the opportunity. Pazdan said that his parish had raised more than $56,000 by March 23, with donations from not only St. Bernadette parishioners but also members of neighboring parishes.

The parish has also received about  600 boxes of goods, including everything from infant formula and diapers to toothbrushes and underwear. The goods will be transported with the help of Rotary International District 6450, which is sending material on a flight provided by United Airlines once a week.

Donations also came in from Evergreen Park residents after Pazdan spoke at a village board meeting and local media wrote about his appearance.

“It helps when people hear there’s this personal connection that the pastor has and it’s not going to get lost or stalled along the way,” Pazdan said. “I was hopeful that it was going to be 100 or 200 boxes or $10,000 or $15,000. I wasn’t expecting this much.”

Sowa said his parish received about $70,000 in cash donations, as well as lots of goods from a list provided by Catholic Charities in Poland.

“It changes from week to week,” he said. “In the beginning they needed coats and blankets, but they received so many of those, now they need other things.”

Those things include personal hygiene supplies and consumables, especially things like infant formula and even baby shampoo for children, since many of refugee families are mothers with children in tow.

The U.N. organization that works with refugees said more than 4 million Ukrainians had left the country by March 30, with more than half of them going to Poland. An even larger number if people are displaced from their homes inside Ukraine.

The money and goods donated at St. Bernadette and St. Francis of Assisi will be put to use immediately, Pazdan said, adding that his former classmate was thrilled to hear of the help headed to Poland. The goods are things that are in short supply as refugees stream across the border, Pazdan said, and also will be transported to western Ukraine.

“This is going to help right away the refugees and the people trapped in Ukraine,” Pazdan said. “They have channels of communication and logistical issues worked out because they’ve been working with people in Ukraine since before the war.”

Some territory in western Ukraine, including the city of Lviv, was part of Poland before World War II, Pazdan pointed out, and many people have friends and family across the border. The money and goods also will help Poles who want to open their homes to refugees, he said.

“Rzeszow is only 60 miles from the border,” he said. “Priests are asking parishioners if they would be willing to host a refugee family or two. They may have a room or two, but they may not be able to provide the food and everything else they need. People in Poland are so generous, opening not just their wallets, but their hearts and their homes. They are opening their hearts and doing those corporal works of mercy.”

The war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis it caused are touching the hearts of many Chicago-area Catholics because it reminds them of their own family histories, he said.

“So many are immigrants or maybe they are children of immigrants or grandchildren of immigrants from Poland and Ukraine, either between the wars or after World War II, running from so much violence,” he said. “It brings back those painful memories and it hits home.”

It hit a nerve among the families at St. Juliana Parish, 7201 N. Oketo Ave.

A group of school families started a fundraiser for Ukrainian refugees, with money going to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ agency for overseas relief and development.

St. Juliana school and parish sold T-shirts, and students who were wearing them got an out-of-uniform day. A “Pray for Ukraine” Mass on March 19 had a congregation of nearly 800, about four times the number of people who normally attend the Saturday vigil Mass, according to the pastor, Father John Siemianowski.

“Everyone’s looking for some way to help,” said parent Kim Morreale McAuliffe.

As of March 24, the parish had raised about $30,000 of its $50,000 goal, McAuliffe said.  Money came from both T-shirt sales and donations either at the parish or at neighborhood businesses through a partnership with the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been giving restaurants table tents with the QR code on them so people can donate directly, or they can donate through the restaurant,” McAuliffe said.

While the goal is $50,000, Siemianowski said the parish will keep going through Lent and into the Easter season, even after it passes the goal, and McAuliffe said that the parish will share its materials with other schools and parishes that want to run similar campaigns.

The parents and students who encouraged the parish to start the campaign are prophets, Siemianowski said.

“You are prophets because you are pushing us and saying, ‘We need to do more,’” he said.

At St. Clement Parish, 642 W. Deming Place, parishioners donated more than $60,000 in just a couple of weeks, said Nicole Zenner, director of parish strategy and planning.

“We really are a parish family that cares about others,” she said. “We have a long history of reaching outward to those who are struggling for whatever reason. Before this, we’ve worked with immigration ministry, we’ve helped support refugees who have come to Chicago. And when a country is at war, it breaks all of our hearts because we know that’s not what we are here for.”

Zenner said St. Clement will send its donations to Caritas in the Diocese of Lublin, which was the home diocese of St. Clement pastor Father Peter Wojcik.

“He’s been talking to people there every day,” Zenner said, “and our community really loves Father Peter, and because of him, they know exactly where the money is going.”

Zenner said that the parish raised $62,000 the first two Sundays of Lent. It also had a special Mass and prayer service on March 26. St. Clement will likely continue its efforts, although it will support other needs, too, Zenner said. The parish donates 10 percent of its collection each year to various causes and organizations including those for which the archdiocese holds special collections; in 2021, it gave about $200,000.

“We have a very, very giving parish,” Zenner said. “We’re very grateful that we can do that. Prayers are very much needed and help, but prayer won’t give someone a hot soup.”


  • ukraine
  • parishes

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