By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
SPRINGFIELD —Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri was founded by then-Bishop James V. Johnston in 2009, about a year after he was consecrated Bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese.
Before it was founded, parishes and organizations throughout the diocese provided social service ministries to people in need, but there was no organized Catholic social service agency covering the diocese’s 39 counties. The groundwork for a Catholic Charities agency had been laid earlier, but it was Bishop Johnston who approved it and paved its way.
He had embraced Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas 2005 encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est” “God is Love,” and still found it relative particularly in terms of establishing Catholic Charities: “… As a community, the Church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community.” With “organized love” as a mantra, Bishop Johnston assembled a board of directors and two employees to get Catholic Charities going, and in an amazingly short period of time, the volume of need in the diocesan area coupled with opportunities to serve, manage and donate, made the agency grow and become part of Catholic Charities USA, a network of 171 such agencies nationwide.
Then in May 2011, Joplin was devastated by an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado. Catholic Charities responded and became a vital source of assistance to those whose homes, businesses and lives were affected. Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, St. Louis and Jefferson City along with volunteers from dioceses, universities and communities reached out to help.
The Joplin tornado precipitated the fledgling agency into rapid action and growth, especially in its response to natural disasters and home repair services. Today, a mere five years later, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri has expanded from 2 employees to a staff of 41 in offices located in Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Joplin, Sikeston and Van Buren. And in the words of Maura Taylor, executive director of the central office in Springfield, “Bishop Johnston has been there: a sounding board; sharing his vision; a supporter and proponent; involved in everything — growth, volunteers, counseling and fundraising efforts.”
Taylor said the Bishop’s Walk, an all-parish fundraiser to support Catholic Charities, was his idea. And he walked, walked in Cape Girardeau where he happened to be on the day of the walk. The traveling trophies were presented to the parish raising the most funds and the parish with highest percentage of participants.
She said Bishop Johnston lives his Episcopal motto: the Love of Christ urges us on. “He models it. He is love in action, caritas, as he urges us to be, the hands and feet of Christ reaching out to the vulnerable.”
Taylor added that she feels he will give the same support to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and to the people in need.
Deacon Dan Powers, CEO of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph told the Catholic Key, “When I first was introduced to Bishop Johnston I told him that I heard from Maura Taylor he was ‘a Charities man.’ He replied ‘I am.’”
Deacon Powers continued, “In Pope Benedict’s motu proprio on charity he reminds us that the church has a 3-fold responsibility: proclaiming the word, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity. The acts of charity that are done at Catholic Charities are done in the name of the church and with the bishop’s consent and cooperation. I know that Bishop Johnston understands this and embraces Catholic Charities as his own. I look forward to working directly with him to serve the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless forgotten in the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph. Not only do the poor need us – we need the poor. When we serve the poor we encounter Christ. That encounter always leaves us better than we were and closer to Jesus.
“I look forward to serving the poor with our new shepherd – a Charities man!” he said.
The LifeHouse Maternity Home, which opened Dec. 27, 2013, is one of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri’s services. The agency’s central offices are housed in a former Carmelite convent, which Bishop Johnston helped the agency acquire. LifeHouse is located in the rear of the building.
Since it opened, LifeHouse has given a home to more than 50 women and 27 healthy babies. “We provide shelter, physical care, parenting skill training and assist the women with their education and job skills,” Taylor said. “And if we need a baby fix, there are babies we can hold and cuddle under their moms’ watchful eyes.”
There is a community garden, prepared by a group of Eagle Scouts, and worked by the moms at LifeHouse. The healthy foods it provides help with food costs and help the women become self-sustaining.
“He has truly been a blessing to our diocese,” she said. “May he be the same in yours. We’ll miss him!”
About 50 people from Catholic Charities, including Taylor, traveled from Springfield to attend and bless Bishop Johnston as he was installed as the 7th Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.