May 19, 2023

2023 Evangelization Supplement

Parishes use a variety of initiatives to share the Gospel

Kevin Brady, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, mans a booth for the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community at an ecumenical event in the town in northwestern Hancock County. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Brady, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, mans a booth for the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community at an ecumenical event in the town in northwestern Hancock County. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has 126 parishes spread across 39 counties reaching from the plains of central Indiana through the hills in the southern part of the state to the banks of the Ohio River.

All of those faith communities are outposts of the Church spread across cities, small towns, rural farmland and rolling hills.

It is from these parishes that the faithful go forth to carry out the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.

Four archdiocesan faith communities are taking a multi-pronged approach to the task of evangelization, seeking to strengthen the faith of its members, inviting back Catholics who have walked away from the faith and reaching out to people with no church home.

Members of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville and St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County are all making efforts online, through mail and person-to-person to share the Gospel.

‘The message is Jesus’

Little Flower Parish on Indianapolis’ east side isn’t located on a main thoroughfare, but is embedded in the middle of a neighborhood.

Members of the Indianapolis East Deanery faith community’s Invite Commission are working to build up the connection between the parish and its non-Catholic neighbors.

Cindy Woods, who helps lead the commission, grew up in the parish decades ago at a time when the divide between Catholics and non-Catholics seemed set in stone.

“We want to be a part of the community and let people know that it’s a good place for them to come to,” said Woods. “We want them to know about Jesus. The message is Jesus.”

This happens in many ways, Woods noted.

“We’ve been trying hard to put ourselves out there,” she said. “For three or four years, we’ve had food drives and get the neighborhood involved. We’re trying to [interact] with non-Catholics in the neighborhood to invite them to come to the parish and to its festival.”

At Little Flower’s annual summer festival, the commission has a table where they meet visitors, give them crucifix necklaces and ask if they have any prayer needs.

“Sometimes, people will just pray with us right there and talk with us about Jesus,” Woods said.

Despite the challenge Catholics face in the increasing secularization of contemporary culture, Woods has confidence in the future.

“It’s all going to work out,” she said. “Everything’s going to be OK because of Jesus. “That is contagious. All the members of the commission have that feeling.”

Helping the Holy Spirit touch hearts

For much of its 154-year history, St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville was a faith community in a small town in the midst of farmland in northwestern Hancock County.

In recent years, however, new housing developments have been constructed on many of those fields, attracting many people to Fortville who work in nearby Indianapolis and the quickly growing towns of Hamilton County.

That has led Kevin Sears and other St. Thomas parishioners to let newcomers to the area know about St. Thomas and the Gospel it offers.

One way they do that is through distributing yard signs he hopes “can get people connected with us and that send the basic message of where they can encounter Jesus.”

“To those that grew up in the faith but fell away, maybe the Holy Spirit can work through such a simple reminder,” Sears said.

He and other parishioners have also put up booths at community events to meet and interact with people from beyond the parish.

At the booths, they offer books and pamphlets about the faith, rosaries and other items. For those who stop to speak with the parishioners or take some of the material they offer, Sears says the parishioners there were “making it easier for the Holy Spirit to move in their hearts.”

“A woman stopped by, asking about who to contact to have her baby baptized,” he said. “If we weren’t out there, no one would even be reminded about their faith if they had fallen away.”

Thus far, St. Thomas has set up booths at events just in Fortville. But Sears takes seriously the mission of sharing the Gospel throughout the geographic boundaries of the parish, which stretch across the northern half of Hancock County.

He hopes to have booths from the parish at community events in all the area’s small towns.

“That’s a lot of rural ground to cover when we’re tucked away in the northwest corner of the county,” Sears said. “Not only do we have a small parish, but we are responsible for the souls within a large physical boundary.”

Indeed, he recognizes a duty to people beyond northern Hancock County, namely young adults from

St. Thomas who have gone away to college. So Sears and others have made an effort to send care packages to them.

“It’s important to make sure we find ways to stay connected to our parishioners that have headed to college,” Sears said. “They need to know that they will always have a parish family at St. Thomas. We want to encourage them to find a Catholic church and Newman Center, to get connected with fellow Catholics to help them stay grounded with Mass and the Eucharist.”

‘Organic evangelization’

St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and nearby St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County have taken similar approaches to evangelization as those used at Little Flower and St. Thomas.

In reaching out to inactive Catholics, though, they go out to meet them—at their homes.

Franciscan Sister Joan Miller, St. Vincent’s parish life coordinator, and members of St. Joseph Parish go to homes of registered parishioners who haven’t been to the faith communities for a time.

“I didn’t know how I would be received,” said Sister Joan. “But people have thanked me. … I got to learn more about people, what’s going on in their lives, especially if they’ve been sick.

“I’m glad to do that. It’s good to see the people. They’re not just names on paper.”

“People are grateful for a personal encounter,” said Father Michael Keucher, St. Joseph’s pastor. “The personal encounter, face-to-face, person-to-person, is how Christ encountered people.

“When people realize that they are missed, they’re loved, they’re wanted and that their Church cares enough to come visit them—that makes a big difference. They do come back.”

The two parishes also reached out to inactive Catholics by sending them postcards at the start of Lent. One featured an image of ashes, a Palm Sunday palm, an invitation to return to Christ and the parish, and the website address for both parishes.

Another offered a Lenten prayer, instructions on the lectio divina form of prayer, and a list of Scripture passages to mediate upon.

Father Keucher has also posted daily “Father Mike Minute” videos on St. Joseph’s YouTube channel that explain aspects of the Church’s beliefs and worship and offer spiritual reflections.

“The more people know, the more they will love,” said Father Keucher.

Whether it’s through mail, in person-to-person encounters or through online videos and social media, Father Keucher said the members of St. Joseph and St. Vincent are starting to get an “organic evangelization” mindset.

“Evangelization is becoming more a part of who are across both parishes,” he said.

Father Keucher spoke of how teenage St. Joseph parishioners recently took prom dates to the parish’s perpetual adoration chapel after the dance and prayed with them there.

“How beautiful is that?” Father Keucher said. “It’s not an official evangelization program or campaign. It’s just something that organically happened where people get the idea in their mind and heart that they’re supposed to make disciples of all nations and they’re going to start with their friends.

“Hopefully the parish-wide initiatives are not just fruitful in and of themselves, but will breed a change of culture and a change of heart inside each of our members, that they’ll want to evangelize.” †

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