Parishioners of Elma parish map their journey of faith

by PATRICK J. BUECHI
Mon, Jan 9th 2017 10:50 am
Staff Reporter
Mary Jo Ketchum, from the Church of the Annunciation in Elma, places a marker with a photo of St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo during a Mass where the church unveiled its diocesan map diorama. This is a growing project that involves parishioners tying strings from their childhood parish to Annunciation to show their faith trail. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)
Mary Jo Ketchum, from the Church of the Annunciation in Elma, places a marker with a photo of St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo during a Mass where the church unveiled its diocesan map diorama. This is a growing project that involves parishioners tying strings from their childhood parish to Annunciation to show their faith trail. (Dan Cappellazzo/Staff Photographer)

Mary Jo Ketchum can still recall the moment when she felt she belonged to the Catholic Church. She sat in a pew at St. Ann Parish on Broadway on Christmas Eve with her parents, listening to "Silent Night" in German. The church was full of light and full of candles. A Nativity set as big as the side altar, sat nearby. "That was my first vision of church," she said.

Over the years, she attended St. Gerard's with her parents, got married in St. Benedict's, and spent some time in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and South Buffalo, before settling down at the Church of the Annunciation in Elma, where she has called home for 50 years.

She considers all those parishes to be part of her faith journey.

When the Diocese of Buffalo began its Upon This Rock capital campaign, Ketchum wanted to share her faith journey and help her fellow parishioners tell theirs as well. To physically demonstrate the unity of diocesan parishes, she has created a map marking 337 parishes that have been part of the diocese in the past 80 years. Strings follow the path of each parishioner from parish to parish to Annunciation, then back to St. Joseph Cathedral, the seat of the Buffalo Diocese.

"The idea is to visualize how we all really are a piece of this rock, and we are all connected as a diocese and have to think as a connected diocese," explained Ketchum.

"The idea came after I was invited to assist Father Gene (Ulrich, Assumption's pastor) at the parish level. I tried to figure out how to approach Upon This Rock in a way that our parishioners can relate to," she continued. "At first, Upon This Rock was a stumbling block. How can you present it in a way people can relate to? It dawned on me what motivated me to give to the campaign was this trail of faith formation. Then I realized this trail of faith formation was really the veins in the rock. Then I started to imagine, how can we visualize our own personal veins in this rock? Mine tracing back into the city to various churches - St. Bernard's, St. Ann's, St. Gerard's and several others. I thought the way you do that is with a map."

Ketchum told her faith story at Assumption the first weekend in January, and invited her fellow parishioners to share their in two ways, either by speaking before the Masses or by hanging their written stories on the church windows. Parishioners were also asked to list what parishes they attended on index cards for the map project.

"I started out in St. Gerard's, but my parents started out at St. Bernard's and St. Ann's, and their parents started out in Germany and Poland," she told her fellow parishioners at the Saturday Mass on Jan. 7. "Why does that matter? The first time I remember going to church was Christmas Eve at St. Ann's, a German church, where I heard 'Stille Nacht' for the first time. The place was full of light and full of candles. The Nativity set was as big as the side altar. That was my first vision of church. The feeling of faith came to me before the knowledge of faith came to me."

Ketchum worked with a committee comprised of members of the parish council and others, including Father Ulrich and pastoral associate Deborah Keenan. The map was introduced at all Masses on the weekend of Jan. 7-8. Father Ulrich explored the subject of the rock in his bulletins messages a few weeks leading up to the unveiling of the map.

"When I was making a decision to give to the campaign, I realized that who I am was partly built on other aspects of membership in the diocese," said Ketchum. "I couldn't really separate myself from the diocese. The diocese and I are one. It was just located at various churches. The rest of us at Annunciation are really products of not just our church, but our diocese."

Upon This Rock is a capital and endowment campaign to reshape and strengthen the funding of key ministries and programs of the Church in Western New York, ensuring its ability to continue to effectively carry out the Lord's mission of service. The campaign kicked off Feb. 18, 2016, with Bishop Richard J. Malone's announcing, "As I've met with pastors and parishioners to discuss this effort, many have said, 'My parish needs me.' I agree, your parish does need you. We also need each other. This campaign jointly addresses our individual parish needs and establishes long term sustainable funding for our ministries."

Richard C. Suchan, executive director of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which oversees the Upon This Rock capital campaign, liked the diorama after seeing photos of it.

"I think it's an amazing idea," he said. "When you think about the history of the Catholic Church here in Western New York and knowing that many of us have a background that involves more than one parish faith community, but we're all part of a more larger, universal Church."

The Upon This Rock campaign follows a similar model of being a part of individual parishes as well as the diocese as a whole. A third of all the funds a parish collects will remain in the parish. The rest will be distributed via grants for projects involving evangelization, pastoral care, education and charitable works.

"Every parish receives 35 percent of the funds they raise up to their goal. Then 55 percent of what they raise beyond the goal. So, most of the parishes are using the funds for capital improvement projects, deferred maintenance projects - roofing, parking lot, handicap accessibility, modernizing some of the amenities on the campus, putting in hearing impaired capabilities. They're also envisioning some programs that would help fallen away Catholic come back to the Church," Suchan said.

The campaign has currently raised $80 million of its $100 million goal, with 60 parishes still to complete the campaign.

"We're on track to meet our goal, and we're pretty confident we're going to do it," Suchan said. "We should be wrapped up in August."  

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