Jesus commanded us to serve others, with a preference for the poor. How would Jesus view the progress in our diocese? The combined action of all of us represents enormous charitable action of the Church in Vermont. Let’s look at some specifics.

Most parishes provide food support to the hungry directly or through a collaborative effort with others in the area. One fascinating approach is in Holy Trinity Parish in Barton. The pastor, Father Curtis Miller, reports, “We have a group called ‘Helping Hands and Hearts,’ led by our parishioners Cathy Reinstein and Nancy Rodgers. They provide food vouchers, gas cards, and other necessities to people in need in our broader community. They have been doing this since 2003.”

Parishioners of the South Burlington’s St. John Vianney Church joined a collaborative effort to launch an impressive food-shelf serving the community.

Another community effort arose in St. Albans, where members of Immaculate Conception Parish joined with other churches and community members to launch and operate Martha’s Kitchen, a hot meals program serving up to 500 meals in a given day.

From Fair Haven, Deacon-aspirant Daniel Swinginton reports, “Our Lady of Seven Dolors continuously donates food, personal hygiene items, and cleaning supplies to Slate Valley Cares. With assistance from the St. Maximillian Franciscan Fraternity, the parish supplies 15 to 40 pounds of food items weekly.”

Fair Haven’s Knights of Columbus Council #810 has run a Tootsie Roll Drive to benefit the Special Olympics. And with winter approaching, the Knights are also working diligently to purchase coats alongside the Fair Haven Legion to assist local families. Parish priests provide ministry to the homebound, bringing communion, prayer, and presence to those confined to home.

Joseph’s House in Burlington provides material help to the homeless and impoverished of the area. Warm socks, personal hygiene items, clothing, food, etc., make a big difference to the people they serve.

The Prison Ministry program of Vermont Catholic Charities is led by Deacon Gerry Scilla. Five of the six Vermont corrections facilities have an active presence of the Catholic Church with five priests, three deacons, one religious and 12 lay persons regularly serving in the program. These are volunteers who go into the prisons on a pre-planned basis to minister to individuals or groups in the prisons. Inmates are provided bibles, pamphlets and other religious materials like rosaries. Some attend the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults while in prison.

Deacon RJ Dourney’s observations on the program at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield echo the experience of Deacon Scilla. “One of the most beautiful examples of our Catholic faith reaching out to the community … can be seen in the prison ministry taking place at Southern State Correctional Facility,” he said. “We have watched as the Holy Spirit moves men of all ages, growing the attendance at weekly communion service to 20-25 men with 10 or more men staying for the holy rosary afterward. As the Holy Spirit continues to move the men, we now have 12 going through RCIA to become Catholic.”

This ministry involves not only charitably attending to the physical and social needs of the prison population, it is also a powerful means of evangelization.

Deacon Scilla also advises that there are active programs to provide support to individuals after release.

Countless other charitable actions go on in parishes throughout the state.  The St. Vincent  de Paul Society in St. Johnsbury provides charitable assistance, networking to other local social service agencies, and evangelization efforts for the poor in the Caledonia County area. Numerous charitable actions by the Knights of Columbus councils, Secular Franciscans, and other groups shine throughout the state.

It is imperative that we all know that resources are out there. We never know when we, a family member or friend might need assistance.

Despite our combined efforts, so many are still in need.  I would recall the insight of St. Oscar Romero of San Salvador: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

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—Deacon Pete Gummere is a senior deacon; he previously served at Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury and as the director of the diaconate for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.