It’s 1:58 a.m., Saturday — early early morning or late late night.
I just returned home from an emergency visit to a hospital. The family of a patient was concerned that their loved one might be dying in the next few days. And so they naturally called their priest.
I, of course, spent more time with the family — talking with them and counseling them and praying with them — than I did with the comatose patient. I have a hard time imagining the president of a national charity, or the management of some nonprofit cultural institution, or the chair of a political party visiting a hospital patient past midnight.
When there’s a problem within a marriage or with a troubled teen, when someone needs a reference for college, when a recovering alcoholic needs to do their Fifth Step, when extremely busy parents need someone to help pass on the faith to their kids, when someone burdened by guilt needs an ear to confess to, when someone wants to get married in the church, when someone is lonely and requires a visit or a social network, when a first-time volunteer needs someone to mentor them in a service project, when a Boy Scout needs an idea for his Eagle Scout project, when a family needs to grieve in a healing way, when a friend needs a fund raiser for mounting bills . . .
When a parent wants their kids educated in not just the three Rs, but to be immersed in the fourth R of religion through a parochial school, when new parents want to initiate their children in the way of God, when empty nesters want to really delve into Sacred Scripture, when some doubting young adults need to ask some tough questions, when a young child dies, when a soldier comes home handicapped, when disaster strikes…
Well, I could go on. But you know where I am going with this. You know the usual answer to the question, “Where do they go?” And it, of course, is “their parish.
Five things to remember
I bring up all of this because I just read a fantastic opinion piece by Ken Stern in the StarTribune: “Know how to make that year-end charity count.” (You can read it here at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/185110771.html.)
Stern lists five things to remember when deciding upon which charity or non-profit to support. 1) Charities principally serve the poor. 2) Donors should reward charities with low overhead. 3) Tax incentives are critical to charitable giving. 4) Nonprofits are not profitable. 5) It is easy to find a good charity to support.
You name the parish, and I can virtually guarantee you that a significant portion of its budget as well as funds from its special collections support local food shelves and aid agencies, as well as many international relief efforts. Members of parishes also provide innumerable volunteers for great organizations like Loaves and Fishes, Sharing and Caring Hands, Goodwill stores, Salvation Army centers, Dorothy Day centers, etc.
Trust me, there is no organization with a lower overhead than the typical parish. In the Catholic world, most of what is done within or through a parish is done by the active 7 percent of its membership. At St. Joseph’s in Rosemount, for example, that’s about 140 households. And then there are those one-third of any Catholic parish who are periodically helping out with volunteering at events and a growing number of ministries. That’s more than 600 households at St. Joe’s.
Though it is true that the American Red Cross president made in excess of a $1 million in total compensation in 2010, the typical Catholic priest in this region makes a salary not a lot more than $20,000 a year. Yep, their housing and health insurance are paid for. But remember this, they have no home equity at the end of their productive work lives — which is the typical American’s primary source of retirement savings. It’s also my experience that the typical priest works way past normal retirement age for Americans: 65. I know I plan to die with my priestly boots on.
Believe me, no one works in the church — whether as clergy or lay ministers — for the salary.
Too often unnoticed
As Stern suggests in his opinion piece, it is indeed very easy to find the most important charity in your life, throughout your life, and one that is there for you at the most important moments of your life. But it seems that this nonprofit is like the air we breathe.
There. But often unnoticed. Until it is gone.
In the past eight-plus years of my priesthood, I can think of just two deceased people who’ve remembered either their parish or their parochial school in their estate planning.
When I read the obituaries of faithful members, I read how various health research nonprofits are mentioned as preferred recipients of memorials, but rarely do I read someone remembering their parish or parochial school — even though millions nationally support worthy and much-needed organizations like cancer research nonprofits and cultural institutions, and even though individual parishes are really only supported by hundreds of households. If that.
If only the dollar equivalent of a single funeral flower arrangement were gifted as a memorial to the parish hosting the deceased’s funeral celebration, the church would be greatly helped.
Read the Star Tribune article. And if you are a member of a faith community, then I know for sure which is the best place to make your monthly contributions. And who to remember when planning your estate. Just follow Stern’s advice.
Father Paul Jarvis is pastor of St. Joseph Parish and School in Rosemount.