[This content has been sponsored by Together in Mission]
Five years ago, Father Jesse Montes, SDB, was named pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Boyle Heights, becoming part of a historic and predominately Latino community that is proud to call “the Ellis Island of the West Coast” home. But today, the working-class community is feeling greater financial strain as gentrification sends rental costs through the roof and undocumented workers struggle to support their families.
This financial strain is taking a toll on the parish, where the parishioners’ generous Sunday offerings can never properly defray the costs of running a parish, making the funding from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Together in Mission campaign so critical for the continued operation of the church.
Since 1993, Together in Mission, the annual appeal of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, provides parishes and schools with financial assistance to supplement their operational expenses. Currently, 63 schools and 80 parishes receive financial assistance from the appeal. Together in Mission support is used at St. Mary’s to keep the lights on, handle the gas bill and pay the health insurance of parish workers.
As a result of their operational expenses being covered by Together in Mission assistance, parishes and schools such as St. Mary’s can focus on the ministerial work of their parish, educating the young in the faith, guiding them through baptism, first Communion, reconciliation and confirmation. Marriage preparation courses are another important ministry, with many civilly married couples attending to learn about the sacrament before having their marriages blessed, says Father Montes.
“These funds allow our incredible pastors and principals to focus on their day-to-day responsibilities and to make a difference in their faith and learning environments,” says Deirdre Smith, the executive director of Together in Mission. Smith explains that the funds also provide support to schools, shelter to the impoverished and ensure that everyone in our archdiocese has a safe haven to exercise their faith in community.
Last year’s Together in Mission appeal, themed “Be the Light of Christ,” exceeded the archdiocese’s goal of $16.1 million, raising a total of $16.32 million. Nearly, 86,000 parishioners contributed to the 2017 appeal, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2016. Smith believes this rejuvenated interest in the work of Together in Mission will continue this year. 2018 marks the campaign’s 25th anniversary, with a goal to raise $16.6 million.
“We are hopeful both our past supporters and those who may never have given to Together in Mission before will recognize the importance of this 25th anniversary and will generously give to the annual appeal to those amongst us who are impoverished.” Smith says the 2018 campaign draws its important theme from the First Letter of John: “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Any good deed at St. Mary’s has life-changing consequences. Many parishioners looking for legal status in the U.S. have been swindled out of thousands of dollars by people posing as attorneys and promising to help. In response, St. Mary’s has provided office space for pro bono attorneys, who meet with parishioners each Saturday, where many members of the community enlist their help in winning back stolen money. (In one case, a parishioner won back $16,500 of swindled fees.)
Father Montes is kept busy spending time with parishioners trying to obtain legal status, spending hours each week on letters of recommendation. He is attempting to avoid an all too common situation: families torn apart by deportation, with youths separated from their parents and living with friends.
The gentrification process is threatening the community as once affordable apartments are being renovated, or completely rebuilt and rented to wealthier clients for a steep fee. Landlords aren’t stopping at using dishonest tactics to evict tenants, says Father Montes. Some landlords will promise to let a renter return to his apartment after renovations are complete, but quickly rent it out to someone willing to pay more.
Despite the hardships, Father Montes says his parishioners are generous with the less fortunate. The homeless and needy can always come by the parish center for a sandwich, fruit and a drink — items that the parishioners have largely donated.
Smith hopes Catholics in Los Angeles undertake the annual appeal’s challenge “to have a heightened culture of encounter with those in need within our archdiocese and help them as much as we can in this special year.”
To make a donation to the Together in Mission campaign, please visit ourmissionla.org.
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