BRIDGEPORT—The Call: In February of 2018 the St. John Paul II Fund was launched to seek applications from parishes and diocesan organizations to find innovative approaches to invigorating religious education and youth ministry. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano emphasized the importance of “thinking outside the box,” as we approach ways to reimagine lifelong faith formation. Recognizing that we are at a crossroads, it is essential that we as a faith community find new and creative ways to engage our youth and our faithful.
The St. John Paul II Fund has proven to be successful in meeting this challenge. The theme of Reimaging Faith Formation is worthy of building on and the momentum established is compelling!
The Response: The two words that best describe the response from our diocesan Catholic community—diverse and dedicated. Some parishes are thriving, some are struggling. The requests for funding focused on faith formation for the very young, the old and for the teens in between. No matter the age group, efforts prioritized welcoming in the whole family and underserved groups. A few parishes asked for the bare necessities: paint, technology and bookshelves for folks to use for meetings and prayer space. Other parishes dug deep with the challenge and created programs for single parents or for those who have given up on their Catholic faith altogether. All in all, because of the St. John Paul II Fund, parishioners of all ages are enthusiastically recommitting and those who felt marginalized or left the church are coming back. It seems that the St. John Paul II Fund has created a movement. Many people who were seemingly apathetic are now excited about their faith and involved in their church.
“The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with Him in the building of the civilization of love.” -Pope Saint John Paul II
The Numbers: 48 grants were submitted for funding in 2018. The total amount requested was $219,500. Upon careful review, 32 grants were approved and $115,000 was distributed. We are currently at the mid-year mark of the projects and the reports submitted from the funded projects indicate meaningful impact.
Board of Directors & Staff: The St. John Paul II Fund falls under the oversight of Foundations in Faith. The board is a strong, talented and committed group. In January 2019, three new board members joined to grow the total to twelve members. Additionally, Kelly Weldon was hired in January as a part-time employee to manage the grant process of the funds and assist with communications and marketing.
(Please visit www.foundationsinfaith.org for details on the funds and the Foundations in Faith board members.)
The Stories: Just a few highlights
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church in Shelton received $8000 and invested in training for their adult youth ministers working with the middle and high school youth. Training included a weekend retreat, weekly meetings utilizing the LifeTeen program, attendance at the fall LifeTeen’s Genesis Conference in Texas to name a few. Additionally, funding has provided opportunities to the teens to attend events that the group could not previously afford, such as the Steubenville East retreat and a local retreat with the theme “Worth” and with guest speaker Brian Mercier.
“The grant has injected a spark into the group that has been missing for some time. It’s rejuvenated the youth ministers’ passion for ministry; it’s reinvigorated the youth enthusiasm for Jesus and the community; it’s given the youth ministers’ space to dream about how to empower our future leaders with their faith”
“This has translated into a 50 percent increase in weekly meeting attendance”
“We have more kids coming and taking part… I can see a future for the youth – I haven’t been able to see that for a long time…this grant has changed the course of this group”
St. Andrew Church in Bridgeport received $2,000 and invested in serving single-parent families by waiving fees for religious education, creating monthly family workshops, providing children/adult books and bibles for free and opportunities to attend conferences including NCYC, Convivio and the middle-school conference, BRAVE and more. Numerous family service projects have created a community welcoming to our single-parent families.
“We have 21 students enrolled in the 7th-grade formation class and 11 of these students have not been to formation since they made their First Communion”
“We have begun to minister one by one to our single-parent families…. this community has unique challenges. We have listened and are responding”
“I am overwhelmed with learning and ministry to our single parent homes and partnering teens. This is not an understatement. I am both inspired and humbled by these families, who have more determination than most people I know. I have laughed with them, cried with them…I am witnessing transformations in the family unit…I have seen single parents come back to the Church”
“I felt like God turned away from me. I felt that I couldn’t turn to a place to help me with my beliefs, until I found St. Andrew’s. I was welcomed with open arms…I go to Mass on Sundays and I feel every word the priest says in my heart… God is listening…my belief is stronger than ever”
St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown received $1000 used to launch the Alpha program. The program was uniquely designed to reach those who do not attend church or who may not have an active faith with God. The Alpha program is an 11-week program that explores basic questions of the Christian faith. It consists of a shared meal, a 30-minute film series episode (solidly based on Scripture), followed by a 30-minute group discussion.
“Between 15-20 people have attended each week. Five of those attending did not previously attend church; of those, four have continued regular attendance at Alpha through the entire program”
“One guest who came with his wife was not a churchgoer or believer, prayed to ask the Lord into his life at the retreat and had begun to read the Bible daily…another man who did not attend church and mostly listened at the start of the program now regularly participates in the table conversations about faith”
St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull received $4,900 and a LifeTeen subscription. Their focus was to launch a new ministry designed to meet the needs of teens. They engaged youth by inviting them to lead with the youth ministers and co-design a program based on fellowship and community service. The projects started out simply with “Box of Joy,” which led to making blankets for the poor. Momentum grew when the youth established a group of 12 committed teens formally recognized by St. Theresa Church as STAY (St. Theresa Apostolate for Youth). They reached out to their families with fun ways to engage the community: “Talk and Tacos,” Teen Holy Hour with monthly Teen Adoration Night and more. Future plans include Rosary Reflection, Bible on the Beach, attending Fan the Fire and more.
“Teens have an innate desire to be radical in their thinking and actions. We want to channel that energy towards their faith, harness their creativity and apply it to service, all while nurturing their relationship with Christ”
“I would not have been able to fathom the impact of influence that it would have on me, our church and the community at large. I – along with the other kids my age…. have seen the profound impact that giving has on others. I look forward to the future of our youth group”
Future 2019: Reimaging Faith Formation 2.0 – Bishop Caggiano is excited to announce his commitment to build upon the momentum established with the JPII Fund grant awards in 2018 by raising the bar with a deeper focus on Reimaging Faith Formation. According to Bishop Caggiano, we will actively seek religious education and youth ministry programs that create “innovation so great we will be compelled to replicate it in other parishes.”
Criteria: Grants may be used for projects in parishes within the Diocese of Bridgeport that
Creatively energize faith formation
Engage individuals/groups that have been underserved
Enhance ministry to include extended family members
Reflect and embrace the tenants of An Invitation to Lifelong Formation published 9.19.17
(For more information visit the website at: foundationsinfaith.org.)