By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
The Francis Center — a new outreach ministry at St. Barnabas Church — seeks to serve all people, regardless of faith tradition, just as Pope Francis calls Catholics to do.
The center began serving the people of the Hikes Point and Buechel late last fall and already boasts a list of growing ministries — including a community garden.
Donna Kenney, who serves as the center’s executive director, said the center’s mission is to emulate Pope Francis by reaching out to all people, excluding no one.
“We are trying to get back to the fundamentals. There is a reason why parishes were formed in the first place,” Kenney noted. “It wasn’t (only) to take care of the people in the parish but to help people in the neighborhood.”
In fact the name of the center is a nod to the Holy Father and his much talked about apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” or “Joy of the Gospel.”
In the exhortation, which was issued in 2013, Pope Francis said the parish “is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”
The pontiff went on to write that the parish “is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach.”
The Francis Center, which is housed in St. Barnabas’ Gallagher Hall, is focused on three main areas of outreach — health, healing and fellowship, Kenney said. Its services include grief counseling, marital counseling, periodic health care services, exercise classes and socialization activities.
All services at the center are free.
The Francis Center also began a community garden on St. Barnabas property earlier this spring. Kenney noted that about two thirds of the 42 plots are tended by members of the refugee community who reside in the Hikes Point/Buechel area, including people from Bhutan and Nepal.
Once a gardener has provided food for his or her family, any extra produce will be donated to Southeast Area Ministries.
Kenney and her staff now are working hard to develop a free health care clinic, similar to the Family Community Clinic at
St. Joseph Church in Butchertown.
While there are no solid plans in place yet, Kenney said there is more than adequate space to house the clinic in Gallagher Hall.
Kathaleen Riggs, who organizes event planning and fundraising efforts for the center, said she sees the Francis Center as a “healing power.”
“Imagine the religious movement we as Catholics could start today in our modern times if we would go out and model Pope Francis … if we reached out to serve those sick, hurting and wanting to feel connected to the community,” said Riggs, a parishioner of St. Pius X Church.
Volunteers are still needed to serve in the center’s ministries. For more information, contact Kenney at 459-4251, ext. 203.
Kenney also noted that the future of the center is not in jeopardy with the upcoming merger of St. Barnabas and St. Pius X churches — set for November. (The Record will report on the merger of these parishes in the coming weeks.) The outreach ministry will continue to be located on the St. Barnabas campus, she said.