By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor
The parish of St. John Vianney is one of the jewels of the Archdiocese of Louisville, and on Nov. 21 — a sunny, if cold, late autumn day — it was at its sparkling best.
Since it became managed by its predominately Vietnamese population, the people of St. John Vianney have paid off their debt and even built a $1.2 million “Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly Parish Center.” That building is also free of debt.
But what the parish does best it does humbly and almost entirely without attention. It helps feed its neighbors.
Every Friday since Father Anthony Chinh Ngo became its pastor nearly a decade ago, the parish has collected food from Dare to Care and other charitable agencies, even from some retail outlets, and handed it out at noon to people who show up at the rear of the church.
“When we began, there were just 30 families or so that we were helping,” Father Chinh explained. “Now we are helping about 300 families each and every Friday. It is my favorite day of the week. My happiest day of the week.”
On Nov. 21, the last Friday before Thanksgiving, hundreds of people surrounded the open area between the church and its former school building. On a day when the temperature flirted with the freezing mark — the day’s high was 34 degrees —
people waited patiently for the food giveaway to begin.
“It usually starts at noon,” the pastor noted, “but today we had a truck break down so the distribution of the food won’t start until 1 p.m.”
By the time the food was handed to those in need — Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, people from Africa, people from the neighborhood who haven’t visited a church in years — more than 10 tons of food items were delivered.
Children from South Oldham schools and St. Aloysius School in Pewee Valley, Ky., along with their mentors, Rebecca and Bob Downs, came to help distribute the boxes of food which lined the concrete open space.
In addition to the food giveaway, Linda Godsett, a Third Order Dominican, has taken over operation of the parish’s clothes closet, handing to the poor donations of clothing collected by the people of St. John Vianney.
“It used to be that we just had a pile of clothes in a room, and I’d tell people to go get what they needed,” Father Chinh explained.
“But Linda, she is the organizer — she has organized everything.”
Now St. John Vianney has registered 103 children who are in need of winter jackets, the priest said, adding that “we need about 300 blankets and 400 Christmas gifts for the children.”
Two of Father Chinh’s helpers come from Mary Queen of Peace Church — Ray and Anita Bischoff. He’s 85, she’s 84 and they’ve made it to every Friday giveaway in the past six or eight months, they said.
“We heard about it from our daughter, who was here earlier,” Ray Bischoff said last week. “It is just wonderful; we love coming here to help and Father Anthony is such a tremendous priest.”
His wife agreed. Anita Bischoff said that when she heard Father Chinh say how happy Fridays made him, “I thought it was the perfect comment; the perfect thing to say,” she said. “When you see him working with all the people and passing out the food, his joy is easy to spot.”
Father Chinh, the couple noted, is quick to tell those who help with the food bank that those receiving the food baskets aren’t the ones who should be grateful. “We’re the one’s being blessed,” he said last Friday. “Those people who come to get the food, they are the ones who are blessing us. They are giving us the gift, not the other way around.”
Outside in the cold November air, two people from the neighborhood — both non-Catholics — came to stand in the chilly line.
Golden Link, a full-bearded bear of a man with a gentle countenance, helped his friend and neighbor, Merlene Snawder, guide her walker into the line.
“This is a good thing they’re doing here, a really good thing,” Link said. “I always go by her house to bring her over here, because Miss Snawder couldn’t get here by herself. But the people of this church, and the priest here, they are the ones doing good. They are the ones who are a real gift to the people of this part of town.”