Catholic Free Press

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St. John’s connects with its neighbors

Posted By August 2, 2012 | 1:26 pm | Lead Story #3
By Tanya Connor WORCESTER – “How emotional it was at the end – a lot of tears. We had to make sure the kids knew this wasn’t the end.” Kimberly Monaco was talking about “St. John’s at Ascension Summer Fun,” which reached out to neighborhood children. A religious studies and economics major entering her senior year at the College of the Holy Cross, she directed the program. St. John Parish held it July 9-27 at the former Ascension Church and hall at 40 Vernon Street. About 50 children ages 4 to 12 from St. John’s and the Union Hill neighborhood around Ascension were registered, Miss Monaco said.

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – “How emotional it was at the end – a lot of tears. We had to make sure the kids knew this wasn’t the end.”
Kimberly Monaco was talking about “St. John’s at Ascension Summer Fun,” which reached out to neighborhood children. A religious studies and economics major entering her senior year at the College of the Holy Cross, she directed the program.
St. John Parish held it July 9-27 at the former Ascension Church and hall at 40 Vernon Street. About 50 children ages 4 to 12 from St. John’s and the Union Hill neighborhood around Ascension were registered, Miss Monaco said.
Families paid $5 per child, St. John’s financed the rest, and Friendly House provided lunch, said Father John F. Madden, St. John’s pastor.
“The parish wanted to use the place in service to the community,” Father Madden said of Ascension’s facilities, which have been part of  St. John’s since 2008.
English as a Second Language classes have been and are to be held there, and Taizé prayer services are to start there Sept. 7, according to Father Madden and Mary J. Mullaney, who helped plan and operate the summer program. Neighborhood children will still be served too.
Miss Monaco talked about showing movies there later this summer, and she and Father Madden said an after-school program with homework help and games, for Union Hill children, is to be held there. The parents want the after-school program, Ms. Mullaney said.
She said some of the families are Catholic or attend other churches but she thought most are “pretty much unchurched.”
“I told them we’re a Catholic church; we’re not asking them to join,” she said. But the parents assured her they want their children to learn about the Bible and didn’t seem to expect St. John’s to apologize for being Catholic.
“I found that very encouraging,” she said. “How thankful they are that we’re trying to help their kids. … Somebody has to be up there being a beacon of Christian hope.”
Miss Monaco said helping children spiritually was “definitely an intention” of the summer program, but probably not first.
“We couldn’t just go in preaching,” she said. “We had to get ourselves established in the community.” That happened; “word definitely spread about who we are.”
They visited St. John’s, St. Paul Cathedral, the Worcester Library,City Hall and Mass. Audubon.
“We wanted them to … know Worcester better,” Ms. Mullaney said. “We wanted them to see the windows in St. Paul’s. We went to St. John’s because it’s the parent church of Ascension and we wanted them to know Father Madden. … The children should just know somebody who is working hard to help other people.”
Father Madden gave tours of St. John’s Church. A statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus told of Jesus’ love, a statue of St. Therese occasioned encouragement to be kind, and items from Ascension connected them to headquarters.
All this is about people and their interactions, Father Madden said, talking about following Jesus. One way they do that at St. John’s is through providing food for the poor, he said, and showed them the soup kitchen facilities.
A girl inquired about a poster of seminarians.
“It’s a great life,” Father Madden said. “I’ve been a priest for 28 years. … My mother and father would take us to church. … I came to see that God would give us the strength to overcome any problem.”
He asked who attends church, about 11 raised their hands, and he asked what they like best about it.
One spoke of “danceable” music.
“You guys are always welcome at St. John’s,” Father Madden said, acknowledging “the music isn’t always danceable.”
“I live there with 18 other men,” he said of the rectory. “They needed a place to stay.”
Asked what she learned, Jakyra Striver, 10, said she liked how Father Madden talked about helping people so they won’t be homeless.
Kelly Torres, 11, from St. Paul’s, said they learned “the names of the saints and that it’s all about people … and they give food to people who don’t have food.”
“I learned that God created this world,” said Cianni Rivera, 8, holding a book about creation. (At the rectory children got religious books and ice pops.)
“Instead of being at our house doing nothing, we can be here,” said Freddy Torres, 12, from St. Paul’s.
“We be doing games – football, soccer,” said Archie Garmekollie, 9.     Miss Monaco said the talk about good decision-making by Sgt. Stephen Roche, of the Worcester Police Department’s Gang Unit, was planned before a July 3 Grafton Street killing. She said Sgt. Roche grew up in a bad neighborhood and said “no” to drugs, alcohol and gangs.
Miss Monaco, who earlier helped with a St. John’s religious education program, said she’d been nervous about directing the summer program, not knowing the children or neighborhood and hearing about gangs there.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to relate to these kids,” she said.
“All they wanted was love,” she says now. “If I could give a kid a hug and make his day, it made my day too.”