Hope and Dignity
by Dennis Sanders, Content Specialist
“Catholic social teaching is all based on the dignity and respect of the individual human person, and how we live that out in community.”
For Mary Higgins and the New Prague Area Catholic Community, this is what powers the congregation in working to shelter and find homes for families in Le Sueur, Scott, and Carver counties. At its heart, Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. “How we live that out in our social relationships, economic relationships, care of creation – that’s all incorporated in Catholic social teaching, but it’s based on the value and worth and dignity of every human person,” said Higgins, who is the Adult Formation Associate at the parish.
The dignity and worth of each person is a value taught to old and young alike. It’s lived out as they donate coats and boots during the winter. It’s also lived out by volunteering at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. Being a part of Beacon’s collaborative links their teaching with the vision that all people have a home.
New Prague Area Catholic Community consists of five former parishes in and around the Le Sueur county community that were merged by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Archdiocese in 2008 into one parish. Three of the original five remain active: St. Wenceslaus, St. John the Evangelist and St. Scholastica.
The congregation’s involvement with Beacon began with a meeting about homelessness in 2011. “We’ve been involved since the idea first took hold of finding shelter for homeless families in Scott County,” Mary said. “Some of us from our parish social action group went to the meeting on homelessness in Scott and Carver County where the issue of no facility for homeless families was first brought up.”
This meeting would result in the creation of Families Moving Forward Southwest. Once it was up and running, New Prague Area Catholic Community became part of a group of congregations that would host families jointly including Holy Trinity Lutheran, Faithpoint Lutheran, and New Day Church.
For a time, the group of churches had an actual house for guests. A house in town had been used by Benedictine Sisters who worked at the Mayo Health Systems hospital across the street. “When they (Benedictine Sisters) could no longer keep up that ministry, they sold it to Mayo health systems and used it for a few meetings. But it wasn’t really used for anything, it was just empty.” A member of the hospital board who went to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church asked if the New Prague churches could use it. “It was like a dream come true,” Higgins said.
For a number of years, Hope House became a place where the four congregations could host shelter guests. With donations from the community, they were able to furnish the five-bedroom house. “We really hosted more often than any other community, we were opening our space eight to 10 weeks a year,” she said. After several good years at Hope House, the building could no longer be used. In the wake of this change, Holy Trinity Lutheran will take up hosting people in the near future.
Believing in the dignity and worth of every human person means being aware of those who lack affordable housing or experience homelessness in your community. Higgins knows that rural places like New Prague are not immune from poverty or lack of housing. “It’s definitely different from what we would see in the inner city, we know that there is some homelessness after talking to school social workers,” Higgins said. “People in tough situations that come to our door asking for assistance, or looking for house payments, or utility payments housing is definitely an issue. So we have a lack of affordable housing in our community, as well as in the larger area of Scott and Carver counties.”
Through Beacon Academy, the congregation has been able to become better informed on housing issues as well as how to be a good host to families. “Beacon has provided wonderful training for volunteers, especially leadership in our local group on diversity, racial equity and housing,” Higgins said. “We’ve just been able to attend some really excellent trainings, as well as they’ve given us help with dealing with some of the details of actually doing the hosting.”
What message would Higgins give to a congregation looking to join the collaborative? She believes joining in common work through Beacon is a good way for any congregation to live out its values. “They would learn a way to put their faith into action, but also learn tolerance, understanding about diversity, about closing inequities,” Higgins said. “It’s just a good way to learn.”
Catholic social teaching is about focusing on the needs of the other. As the interview ended, Higgins wanted to be clear that New Prague Area Catholic Community did not get all the credit for sheltering guests. She insisted on thanking their partners in ministry. “I really would not want you to focus on St. Wenceslaus without mentioning the congregations that we work with and especially our gratitude for Holy Trinity stepping forward to help us determine where we will be in the next year.”
Just another example of living out your values for the common good.