Friday, 04 January 2013 08:55
The Catholic Diocese of Wichita celebrates
August 2, 2012 - September 19, 2013
To help the faithful commemorate the diocesan year of celebration, the Catholic Advance will have a monthly section with articles about the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Diocese of Wichita, or about the Year of Faith.
“And the king will say to them, in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers to mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
By Joe Rodriguez
From feeding the hungry to providing shelter, from offering emergency assistance to providing health care, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita has always responded to the needs of the people within its boundaries.
These social service programs have evolved throughout the history of the diocese. Many early programs focused primarily on the needs as they were and the parish level. In more recent years, many of the social services have been established to address widespread needs.
Whether the programs and services were small, local efforts or large-scale initiatives, the mission of each has remained constant: with compassion and love, provide services and programs that help to strengthen the lives of individuals and families while helping them become more self-sufficient.
Catholic Charities of Wichita is among the oldest organized social service programs in the diocese. Its evolution mirrors the pattern of several other social service programs in that it began by focusing primarily on one need, then expanding and growing through the years to adapt with the changing community. Catholic Charities was established by then-Bishop C.H. Winkelmann in 1943 as Catholic Charities Bureau. Its focus, said Heather Welch, Media and Marketing Manager for Catholic Charities, was on the care of children with programs such as the placement of children for adoption.
Throughout its 70-year history, the agency has recognized the need to offer programs such as refugee services, Hispanic ministry (Hispanic Social Services), a family shelter (Anthony Family Shelter), and a domestic violence shelter (Harbor House).
“There was always that emphasis on stabilizing the family and strengthening them,” Welch said.
So much so, that Catholic Charities recently added an agency tagline with the message: “Stabilizing families in crisis. Strengthening families in life.”
In some instances, the programs and services of the diocese began with someone recognizing a need, and taking action to address those needs.
The Lord’s Diner
Consider The Lord’s Diner. Bishop Emeritus Eugene Gerber saw the faces of hunger many times outside the diocesan office in downtown Wichita. Bishop Gerber had a vision for such a diner after encountering them many times. As he shared his vision, volunteers came forward and architects, contractors and other business people provided services at little or no cost.
“It’s inspirational beyond words,” Bishop Gerber said of the collaborative effort during the ground-breaking ceremony and a blessing of The Lord’s Diner site in June 2001.
The diner opened in February 2002, and 11 years later, it opened its second location at 2825 S. Hillside. Combined, they serve a free dinner to several hundred people each evening with the help of numerous volunteers.
It is that same spirit that has enabled food and emergency assistance programs on a smaller scale. For example, some agencies and churches have established food pantries. And many churches throughout the diocese provide assistance through well-organized committees, including Society of St. Vincent de Paul committees.
Pat Burns, Diocesan President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the history of the society – on an international level – goes back 180 years. The society’s first “conference”, which is what local committees that operate out of parishes are called, was established in the U.S. in 1845 and nearly 20 years later in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.
“It’s mostly that call to serve, they want to give back,” Burns said of the organization’s volunteers, called Vincentians. “And some of our members have been in that situation before, so they’re sympathetic and empathetic. And some of us, we’ve been very blessed, and we just want to give back and serve those in need in the community, and this is a very tangible way.”
The Guadalupe Clinic
Historically, the desire to “give back” has been a driving factor in the reason so many people and organizations choose to offer their time, talent and treasure.
The Guadalupe Clinic is another example of how individuals within the diocese recognized how a changing environment created the need for programming. The clinic opened as Guadalupe Health Station in 1986 as the diocese and local health care leaders and benefactors interested in health care noticed that there was a lack of such services for the working poor. These individuals, it was recognized, lacked access to some basic health care needs. Assisted by a grant from the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mothers in Oklahoma, Guadalupe opened and focused on preventive medicine for the uninsured.
Pam Stanberry, executive director of the Guadalupe Clinic, said the “health station” quickly grew as the demand for services there increased. Local physicians began volunteering their time, hours expanded, and programming increased. According to the most recent statistics available, the clinic had nearly 18,400 visits in 2011-2012, more than double the number of visits just 12 years earlier. Stanberry said the clinic now offers much of the same services people would find at any family practice physician’s office.
Stanberry said the clinic operates through private donations, grants and from the benefits of two major fund-raising events. Driven by their desire to help, volunteers and donors make the clinic a success, she said.
“I’ve been amazed at all the miracles that happen here,” Stanberry said.
Indeed, the generosity of donors – some never knowing who they are helping – has helped social service programs continue to operate.
The Center of Hope
The Center of Hope, located in downtown Wichita, is yet another program whose beginnings can be traced to the recognition of a need for services, in this case, a shelter for women on the streets, and whose services evolved over time.
In 1983, in response to a request from Bishop Eugene Gerber of the Diocese of Wichita, the religious order the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ established an inner-city ministry in the former convent of St. Anthony Parish.
“They started noticing they could help more people if they could reach out to them,” said George Dinkel, executive director of the center.
Four years after it was founded, the shelter became part of Catholic Charities of Wichita and the focus of the Center of Hope turned to homeless prevention services. Programs were established such as rent and utility assistance, and the demand for such services quickly grew. The center now helps an average of more than 3,000 families each year.
In 2001, an endowment was established by the Sisters, Adorers of the Blood of Christ to provide for continued funding for operational costs. Still, like many other social service programs, the center depends on the generosity of the community so that it can meet the needs of the poor to prevent homelessness.
“You don’t see this in all communities,” Dinkel said. “The charitable giving in this community and in this diocese is very strong.”
Dear Neighbor Ministries
And so is the desire to serve. The Sisters of St. Joseph Dear Neighbor Ministries is another program that started with a vision – assess the needs of the poor in the Hilltop neighborhood in southeast Wichita. Pat McDonald, mission advancement director for Dear Neighbor Ministries, said sisters decided in 2001 that they wanted to do more to serve the poor. They went door-to-door to listen to residents, and a social worker was hired to assist the sisters.
“They started delivering food, answering the needs that they were finding as they went out,” McDonald said. “And these programs just grew from there.”
Today, Dear Neighbor Ministries has several programs, including StepStone, a transitional housing program for domestic violence survivors, and an outreach program, in which a sister, Sister Ann Catherine Burger, continues to make home visits.
“That’s really the heart of our ministry,” McDonald said of Sister Ann Catherine’s service and outreach.
As well as the programs have developed and operated, McDonald said that Sisters of St. Joseph Dear Neighbor Ministries continues to evolve and plan for the future. That is something that other social service programs leaders say they also are doing by re-examining their mission statements, establishing new goals, or forming new programs.
Historically, that is something that the diocesan social services programs have done, and that is what’s allowed them to continue to grow.
And – just as it has throughout the history of the Diocese of Wichita – serving others in the model of Christ’s actions will remain a constant.