By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ST. JOSEPH — Although it had officially opened April 1, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker May 1, was a fitting day for the dedication of the third branch of Holy Rosary Credit Union. The credit union, founded in 1943 at Holy Rosary Parish in Kansas City, has for 70 years assisted working people and people working to start new lives in this country to better understand and practice saving, paying bills, establishing and building credit and more.
The St. Joseph Branch, located in St. Patrick’s Parish Center at 1813 South 12th Street, is geared toward providing a positive alternative to the 50 or so payday lenders in the city. When an individual or business joins a credit union and opens a saving account, they have “shares” in the credit union and share part ownership in the institution. As with the original Holy Rosary Credit Union office and the branch office in Raytown, the St. Joseph branch offers its member/owners free checking accounts, share (savings) accounts, low cost mortgage, auto, home-equity, personal and share secured loans as well as VISA debit and credit cards. Free educational seminars will teach and help members manage finances and build credit.
And its staff is bilingual, for the benefit of its Spanish-speaking members. Xochitl Romero, a Americorps VISTA Fellow from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., will run the branch office. She is also a St. Patrick’s parishioner, who knows and loves the people, Holy Rosary Credit Union President Carole Wight said. She will be assisted by Claudia Tapia De Dominquez. Don Good is frequently at the branch also.
Father Jorge Ramirez, administrator of St. Patrick’s Parish, Carole Wight, president of Holy Rosary Credit Union, Don Good, former president of United Catholic Credit Union, now merged with Holy Rosary Credit Union; Jude Huntz, chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph; Bill Francis, diocesan director of the Human Rights Office; Anthony Salucci, Chairman of the Board, Holy Rosary Credit Union, and Ryan Dold, vice president , Missouri Credit Union Association, were all part of the dedication of the St. Joseph branch.
Dold, according to Good, has assisted with many of the credit union’s projects, particularly the merger of Holy Rosary and United Catholic credit unions.
Dold told the audience that, “We have to keep Catholic credit unions growing strong for the people of this diocese.”
He said there are 131 credit unions in the state of Missouri, with assets ranging from $200,000 to $2 billion. As part of a statewide movement toward a value-based system and a cultural change to help communities, he added, Holy Rosary Credit Union opened the branch in St. Joseph “purely to help the people.”
Dold said he expects the success of the credit union in St. Joseph — members helping members — “will be beyond the imagination. I’m extremely excited to see this credit union in five years.”
He looked around at the credit union, diocesan and parish staff members present and at those who wanted to know more about the credit union, and prophesied: “You are going to change people’s lives!” Just then the lights in the room, which had been dim, suddenly brightened. “I planned this,” he said as his listeners laughed, “had it all worked out.”
Jude Huntz, who has been with the diocese for five years, said he got interested in helping a credit union get started in St. Joseph because of a workshop during a National Catholic Social Ministry Conference in Washington, D.C. He later said, “I was intrigued by the workshop title — something about credit unions as an engine for economic justice. I was fascinated, especially when I learned about Catholic credit unions in Cleveland offering alternatives to payday loans, small mortgage and auto loans. I could see them as a model for a financial institution that could provide alternatives to the poor. I came back to Kansas City on fire to get a credit union started here, picked up a Catholic Key and saw an ad for Catholic credit unions. Yes, I know, I was still new to the city!” he said.
Credit unions help the underserved and financially marginalized stay away from payday lenders, Huntz told the audience at the dedication. He also recounted how Holy Rosary Credit Union came to St. Joseph. “Kansas City was fairly well covered by Catholic credit unions, south of the river. North of the river was Catholic credit union poor. I spoke to Carole Wight of Holy Rosary and Don Goodman of United Catholic credit unions and, in part due to both institutions serving similar markets; they decided to begin a merger process.” The merged credit union, now known as “Holy Rosary, a united Catholic credit union,” serves parishes and other groups all across Kansas City.
Huntz continued, “Northland parishes began signing on as members of Holy Rosary, as did some southeast parishes. Then I got to thinking about St. Joseph, Savannah and Hirlingen and points toward Cameron and further north. When I suggested a credit union here in St. Joe, Father Jorge and John Nash, then-president of St. Patrick’s Parish Council, grabbed hold of the idea, and ran with it!”
He went on to explain that the Bank of Italy started in San Francisco in the late 1800s when newly arrived Italian immigrants found it nearly impossible to open accounts or get loans from the local banks.
“When the 1906 earthquake leveled much of the city, the only bank left standing,” Huntz said, “was the Bank of Italy. Not being vengeful, the bank wrote loans to help rebuild San Francisco. The Bank of Italy is now Bank of America. I don’t think Holy Rosary Credit Union (also founded by Italians) wants to be Bank of America, but I foresee it growing so much that it wants to be the bank in St. Joseph. St. Joseph has really needed Holy Rosary Credit Union. There are lots of pay day loan places. Now there’s a place for financial education, fair rate small loans; a place to help raise people up!”
Opening the branch of Holy Rosary Credit Union at St. Patrick’s was made possible by a multi-year economic development grant from the National Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Sean Wendlinder, of CCHD’s national office, said in a telephone interview that he’s very pleased with the success of the credit union so far.
The CCHD is a national domestic poverty and social justice program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Established in 1969, it is supported by an annual collection in U.S. Catholic parishes, and individual donations.
The mission of the national CCHD is to address the root causes of poverty in this country. CCHD promotes and supports community-run self-help organizations, social justice, education and solidarity between the poor and those more financially secure.
“This is stewardship,” Wendlinder said. “Funding for CCHD comes from parishioners, and the credit union offers banking products to help families build assets, products that are legitimate alternatives to payday lenders. Creation of assets is key to financial security. Helping families create assets and gain financial security is stewardship of dollars and cents.”
Through annual grants provided in collaboration with local dioceses and with approval by the local bishops, CCHD funds community-run organizations and schools, minority-owned cooperatives and credit unions, providing monies for business development and job training programs, and setting up rural cooperatives. More than 80,000 grants totaling $8 million have been awarded since CCHD was established more than 40 years ago, Wendlinder said. The 2013-14 annual grants will be awarded in June and July.
Holy Rosary Credit Union president Carole Wight said that she took the job as a ministry to help the underserved. It hasn’t been easy, but when it gets frustrating, she remembers driving through a snowstorm as a teenager. Pulling off the road to turn around and try to help a stranded motorist, she got stuck. “I prayed, ‘Please God, don’t let me get stuck now. I want to help that driver!’ Then I realized the foolishness of that prayer. Helping others in Christ’s name is never easy. But He will help and so will others. Everything in the office here was done by dedication and voluntary labor.”
She presented a plaque honoring all those, credit union staff members, parishioners and diocesan employees, who worked to open Holy Rosary Credit Union in St. Joseph. The plaque, “In honor of their vision, hard work and dedication,” will be hung in the office.
Father Jorge Ramirez said his grandmother prayed that her grandson would have a vocation to the priesthood.
“‘I want you to be a priest,’ she prayed that every day for 17 years, and the Lord answered her prayers.” Growing up in Colombia, he expected his life ministry would be there. Then he heard a call on EWTN for bi-lingual priests in America.
“I ended up in the Diocese of Boise, Idaho,” he said, “and then two years ago, I was sent here to St. Patrick’s Parish. I am called on everyday to be a good pastor, and I kneel before the Lord and ask for help.”
He said he embraces the Benedictine way of Ora et Labora. “You’re going to work and I’m going to pray,” he announced to laughter from his listeners. “Seriously, I work through the Lord for my people here at St. Patrick’s.”
Father Ramirez dedicated the new branch of the credit union to “St. Joseph the Worker, an example of a good man, a good husband and a good worker.”
The St. Joseph branch of Holy Rosary Credit Union is open 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays.
Currently parishioners, members, residents or employees of these institutions are eligible to join Holy Rosary Credit Union: Church of the Holy Martyrs; Church of the Santa Fe; Holy Cross; Holy Rosary; Holy Spirit; Nativity of Mary; Our Lady of Lourdes; Our Lady of Peace; Our Lady of Sorrows; Our Lady of the Presentation; St. Andrew the Apostle; St. Anthony; St. Ann; St. Bernadette; St. Charles Borromeo; St. Cyril; St. John Francis Regis; St. John LaLande; St. Joseph the Worker; St. Margaret of Scotland; St. Mark; St. Mary; St. Robert Bellarmine; St. Therese Little Flower; Cherith Brooks Catholic Workers; Don Bosco Senior Center; Little Sisters of the Poor, and Boy Scout Troop 80 (Holy Cross), all in the Kansas City area, Independence, Clay or eastern Jackson County; and now, St. Patrick in St. Joseph. Several parishes south of Kansas City have expressed interest in the credit union also, Huntz said, adding that the credit union hopes to eventually open its membership to all registered Catholics in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
With online banking, distance from the credit union wouldn’t be the problem it was in the past, Huntz added. A member could live anywhere in the diocese and bank with little or no driving time or expense.
Wight gives credit to God for his assistance in opening the branch in St. Joseph. She said, “Business in St. Joseph and in Kansas City is growing beautifully. We have good, fair interest rates on loans and good people to provide and service the loans. I am grateful to the Lord. He’s been a part of all this. We couldn’t have done it without the Lord and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.”
To learn more about Holy Rosary Credit Union, membership and products, visit www.HolyRosaryCU.org.