About ten years ago, a parish in the Baltimore area, Church of the Nativity, led by their pastor and a pastoral associate, transformed their dying faith-community into one that is thriving and life-giving. The two men, Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, chronicled the story of revival in a book entitled: Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter. The title expanded upon Pope Francis’ reference to his patron, Francis of Assisi, who was commissioned by Jesus to rebuild the church. Six years ago, when I arrived at Saint Charles Borromeo Parish, a community that was suffering similar demise, I gathered some interested parishioners and asked them to read the book and discuss the story with me.
They found our situation to be amazingly similar to Nativity’s: the parish was going in the wrong direction and we didn’t know how to fix it, but we were determined to do our best to turn it around. With guidance from White and Corcoran, we began our efforts by clearly stating the problem. At the heart was the realization that many Catholics had become consumers instead of disciples. Our greatest challenge was to create an environment where people saw themselves as givers more than takers and ministers of God more than victims of circumstance; paraphrasing JFK, we wanted to form a culture where parishioners asked not what the church could do for them but what we and they could do to revitalize the church.
Today I can say that it is working for us. A school that was on the verge of closing is now, in many ways, thriving. Buildings that had buckets in them to catch rainwater, structures crumbling at the foundation, are solid—some torn down and replaced, others renovated. Pews that were mostly empty on Sundays are now mostly filled. Mounting debt and inability to make payroll has been corrected. Instead of numerous parishioners continuously complaining, many are asking, “How can I help?” “What is my role in building up God’s church?” “In what ways can I contribute to her vitality?”
It is dangerous to name names, but I want to single out a few who are key to this rebuilding experience. Mark Tomes, lifelong member of Saint Charles, is clearly at the core. He rallied various groups with particular interests, e.g., the Knights of Columbus, Saint Joseph Table Committee, Boy Scouts, Food Pantry and Fish Fry Workers, to help them see that they are part of something greater, to work together for a common purpose, and to take pride in our united achievements. His wife, brother, sister, sister-in-law, and other long-time servant leaders here also recognized what they can do and how they can invite others. They even call themselves Team Rebuilt!
Dr. Karen Hopson has done a superb job as our school principal: hiring and training phenomenal teachers in the classical model, securing financial stability, and creating an atmosphere of enjoyable learning. Rebecca VanDyke, director of our Early Childhood Center, is overseeing its growth as the ECC has quadrupled in size during these years. Elaine Moore and volunteer mowing crews keep watch over our beautiful grounds. Jan Letkowski offers her magic touch to our liturgical environment. Mark Trujillo is a symbol of true welcome to all that enter our doors to worship. Chris Ross and Eileen Hutchison have offered innovative thought to our finances and priorities as advisors to me and our pastoral staff. Cynthia Tomes has accepted a central role every time there is a big project to undertake—like our seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations.
As Easter marks a significant event of our diamond jubilee (the first Mass of the Saint Charles community was celebrated on Easter morning 1947), I give thanks. In the midst of a world of chaos, confusion, war, and worry, we try to be who were created to be, improve what we touch, and rebuild the church as Christ asks of every age. And, of course, our parish owes a huge debt to all of you who follow and pray for us, contribute to our capital improvements, and help us awaken the faithful, reach the lost, and make church matter. This is a blessed time of year as we enter Holy Week and a perfect weekend to consider how we form and reform our surroundings, how we carry on and build up Christ’s ministry and mission in our modern world. Thank you for helping us rebuild!