By Jay Nies
A man in the process of becoming Catholic commented on the beauty and busy-ness at St. Pius X parish in Moberly.
“He said he drives by here on the way to work and that our church is the most beautiful building in all of Moberly,” said Pat Bush, the parish’s longtime director of religious education and coordinator for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
“And he noticed all the cars parked out front all the time,” she said. “People come here. They belong here!”
They know they belong because of the welcome they receive.
“One thing I think sums up St. Pius X — sums up the Catholic Church — is that everybody is welcome,” said Father Philip Niekamp, pastor. “Everyone is welcome to come to church, whether they’re Catholic or not.”
The key is for the people of the parish to be ready when opportunities present themselves to connect and lead others to Christ.
That’s where a multitude of resources from the Diocese of Jefferson City, with support from the Catholic Stewardship Appeal (CSA), comes into play.
“All of the things we’re talking about require money to do,” said Fr. Niekamp. “And if we expected every individual parish to do it on their own or with their own money, it simply couldn’t be done.”
Educate and inspire
St. Pius X is one of 110 Catholic parishes and missions in the diocese and operates one of the diocese’s 37 Catholic grade schools. Melissa Renfro, principal of St. Pius X School, said it would be impossible to achieve all the objectives of Catholic education without the network of support that comes through the diocesan Catholic School Office.
“It’s about helping children grow into Christian adults,” she said. “Our teachers are here to inspire and educate, and when you walk into our school, you see that.”
She likes knowing that help and guidance from the School Office is simply a phone call away.
The School Office also helps with the hiring and certification of qualified teachers and with each school’s process of self-study and accreditation renewal.
St. Pius X School advisory board member Mike Skubic noted that school board members receive from the diocese advice and direction about their role — “what we need to do, what we don’t need to do … and what we shouldn’t do!”
Mrs. Renfro recently attended this year’s Catholic school principals’ retreat organized by the School Office.
“It was fantastic!” she said. “Our conversation was about family, love, community, being pastoral, being leaders. We spent time with God and were encouraged to grow in faith.”
St. Pius X parish also has a lively Parish Religious Education Program (PREP) for families whose children do not attend the school.
PREP volunteers work with parents to instill knowledge and love of God and the desire to serve Him through His Church in everyday life.
An important part of preparing the PREP volunteers — along with all new parish, school and early-childhood program employees and adult volunteers — is training in best practices for the protection of children.
Through “VIRTUS — Protecting God’s Children” training offered by Mike Berendzen in the diocesan Youth Protection Office, adults learn the proper protocols for working together to create a safe environment for children, how to help protect them from exploitation, and how to recognize and report signs of abuse.
“It helps make people aware of the dangers and keeps the focus on the safety of the child,” said Mrs. Bush.
Building a young community
Samantha Rowland is St. Pius X’ youth ministry coordinator.
Two years ago, she and Mrs. Bush started a youth group to get high school freshmen and sophomores active between when they graduate from St. Pius X School or PREP and when they start confirmation preparation their junior or senior year.
Mrs. Rowland didn’t have much to go on except her 10 years of experience on the parish RCIA team.
“We pulled together a lot of different resources, and we had a good first year,” she said.
Then John DeLaporte came on board as the diocesan coordinator of youth ministry.
“That’s when we really started putting together a network of youth-ministry leaders throughout the diocese, and it’s really taken off,” said Mrs. Rowland.
Mr. DeLaporte serves as a resource for youth ministry throughout the diocese. Paid or volunteer youth leaders turn to him for expertise and support.
He keeps them connected through meetings, e-mails, social media, diocesan workshops and an annual retreat for youth ministers.
Mr. DeLaporte has been adamant that it’s just as important for adult youth ministry leaders to focus on building relationships with young people as it is to give them good educational materials.
With the focus on relationship-building, youth ministry has blossomed at St. Pius X, with seventh- and eighth-graders being drawn into the program, and the young people creating and decorating their own room to hang out in at the parish life center.
“What’s awesome is to see how these kids have bonded with each other,” said Mrs. Rowland. “They’ve built a community, made up of kids who went through St. Pius X and kids who went through the public school.”
And now that the ones who started out as freshman are ready to start preparing for confirmation, “they’re really on fire with it,” she said.
They’re also much more open to taking active roles in the parish, at Mass and in St. Pius X’ outreach endeavors in the community.
“If we can keep integrating them in that way and they can keep feeling valued here, then when they do leave for college, they’ll want to stay active as adults,” said Mrs. Rowland.
In the meantime, the energy from the school and the youth group is overflowing into the rest of St. Pius X.
“A parish ranges in age from the very young to the very old,” Fr. Niekamp noted, “but it’s the youth that really give it its vitality. They’re the ones who bring the flavor to the church. They’re the ones who spice it up.”
Part of something larger
Mrs. Bush has been coordinating the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Pius X for many years.
The energy, openness and outreach tends to draw people into St. Pius X’ sphere of influence, and each year, a group decides that they want to be Catholic.
“Many of these converts become some of the most active people in our parish,” Mrs. Bush noted.
One of the highlights for those seeking full communion with the Church is the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, a ritual that takes place in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City on the First Sunday of Lent.
There, one by one, Bishop John R. Gaydos welcomes all of those seeking sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil and encourages them to make the most of their final weeks of preparation.
They also get to see how many others from all over these 38 counties are on the same path to communion.
“We always remind people, ‘You’re not going to be the only ones down there,’” said Mrs. Bush. “‘You’ll see people from all over the diocese who are doing what you’re doing, and they’re wanting to express their faith as Catholics now, just like you.’”
Bishop Gaydos represents the whole universal Church, welcoming people home.
“It’s an experience of what we are as the Catholic Church, not just our local parish,” said Mrs. Rowland.
For 40 years, St. Pius X parish has been blessed with committed and active permanent deacons.
The late Deacon Donald Orscheln was a member of the diocese’s first class of permanent deacons, ordained in 1977. The late Deacon David Ritter followed him in 2002.
Deacon John Hill, Deacon Gary Steffes and Deacon Burdett Wilson have been serving since 2013.
“These deacons are extraordinarily helpful to priests and the whole parish,” said Fr. Niekamp. “They go out and touch the lives of so many more people than the priest can because he is dealing with the everyday activity of the parish.”
Fr. Niekamp said all the deacons he’s worked with have been well formed in faith and knowledge.
“I can’t speak highly enough about the people in the Diaconate Office,” he said. “They really do a good job in instilling in new deacons what they’re called to be and called to do — what their role and their mission is in a parish.”
Likewise, Fr. Niekamp said he is grateful for the priestly formation he received with the help and guidance of the diocesan Vocation Office.
“Throughout your entire time in the seminary, you have that contact with the bishop and the diocesan seminary formation team. You have that support,” said Fr. Niekamp, who was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 2005.
Men spend time in seminary to discern whether God is actually calling them to be priests, and to learn how to understand and apply the essentials of Christ’s teachings toward serving people as a minister of the sacraments.
He noted that the Jefferson City diocese helps pay for each seminarian’s education and formation and gives each a small stipend.
“I don’t think people have any idea how much that means to a seminarian while they’re in school,” he said.
He added that following priestly ordination, the diocese offers priests abundant opportunities to gather, learn new things and share insights and support with one another.
Mrs. Renfro said the people at St. Pius X School aren’t doing anything new to bring about the energy and vitality they’ve come to enjoy.
“With the connections we have with the diocesan offices, with the parents and staffs of other schools, we don’t have to reinvent anything,” she said. “We’re just putting our faith where our mouth is.
She emphasized that St. Pius X parish and school still have a lot of work to do.
“We need to continue to be innovative and think of more things,” she said. “And we need the diocese and these people here in this parish to increase that and help us get the word out.”
Fr. Niekamp said it’s important for all Catholics to realize they’re part of a larger Church and do what they can to support the work of the diocese.
“So much more can be done when we’re generous in what we give — in our time, in our talent and of our treasure,” he said. “It’s only by coming together as a family, as one entity, and sharing our resources, whatever resource we’re talking about.”
He said being the Catholic Church means being part of one family.
“And as part of that family, we can challenge the parishes around us to live our faith a little more, to grow a little closer to God and to one another, to truly be, as St. Paul said, a people with ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Mrs. Bush likened it to a big pot of stew — with the entire diocese providing the kettle and the heat, and the individual parishes contributing a lot of flavors.
“The parishes may have a lot in common, but each has its own unique flavor,” she said. “And when you add them all together in the pot, we have a wonderful stew, and enough of it to feed everybody!”