“Mercy Works” educational service projects

by Chad Prososki | Catholic Charities

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Chad Prososki

Last month I wrote about the history and background of our programs at Catholic Charities. I explained that you may not always see us, but in fact, we are more active today than ever because there are still so many North Dakotans in need. This month, I want to provide a little glimpse into a new effort we have started.

This spring Catholic Charities began hosting a “pilot” series of educational service projects in Fargo, with the option to expand to other locations using video conferencing. I wanted to provide educational presentations for some time but it wasn’t until I admitted I couldn’t do it myself that the idea took off.

I asked the Lord for help if it was his will, and soon he sent two recent college graduates, Lauren Young and David Zach (smart engineering types, with people skills too), who helped make it happen. Remembering the Year of Mercy is just the beginning, we called these educational service projects “Mercy Works,” meaning both doing “works of mercy” and that “being merciful works.” The goal was to encourage others to learn about and help the suffering, even if they cannot commit to volunteering regularly. After all, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something!

The first project on Feb. 7 was about the elderly. Deacon Jim Eggl spoke briefly about his ministry as a chaplain at Villa Maria Nursing Home in Fargo. We decorated 100 cookies and made Valentine’s cards for the residents. When I delivered the cookies and cards to the nurse case managers at Villa Maria, our only request was to give them to people who would not receive other visitors or cards on St. Valentine’s Day.

The second project on March 14 was about the homeless. Father Troy Simonsen shared his experiences leading the Sheltering the Homeless project at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, which provides overflow housing during the cold winter months. We were blessed to have in attendance staff members and nuns from Spirit of Life Church in Mandan, a group of high school students and their mothers, and many of our Board of Directors, including Bishop Folda. We made several boxes full of care packages for the next sheltering church to give their homeless guests the following week.

The third project on May 2 was about the imprisoned. Deacon Stuart Longtin and Father Duane Pribula spoke about their years in jail ministry, and how those in jail are children of God just like the rest of us. They (and their families) need our care and support as much or more than others. Though few people attended, one young man was interested in becoming a jail volunteer, and we packaged more than 20 interview and activity kits for residents at Centre in Fargo, who are transitioning back into the workforce. It was also a timely event as Bishop Folda and Catholic Charities Director Dianne Nechiporenko have each attended recent meetings with the area Jail Chaplains Association to discuss more ways we can minister to those in jail.

Jail ministry is a particularly tough subject as those in jail have been convicted of some crime. They don’t have the same sympathy as a child or pet who suffered through no fault of their own. Yet it’s been said, “but for the grace of God there goeth I,” and many in jail have contributing addictions and mental health issues. We visit the sick and lonely in our families, parishes and nursing homes, but what do we do for the lonely in jail? This is one of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy, and little things to show we care can provide incredible hope and healing to people trying to turn their lives around.

If you are interested in bringing “Mercy Works” educational service projects to your own church or community, please let me know. It takes just a couple people to make it happen!

Chad Prososki is the Director of Development and Community Relations for Catholic Charities North Dakota. For more than 90 years, Catholic Charities North Dakota and its supporters have been putting their faith in action helping people, changing lives. You can reach Chad at info@catholiccharitiesnd.org or (701) 235-4457.