Answer to Pope’s Call Shows How Faith Can Transform Poor Communities

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Boston College School of Ministry and Theology and Catholic Extension Host National Discussion on Topic

Panelists for "The Transformative Power of Faith: Responding to Pope Francis' Call"

"The Transformative Power of Faith: Responding to Pope Francis' Call"

One of the things that’s so exciting about the work at Catholic Extension is how it really brings the whole Catholic church in the United States together.

As the first in a series of events, Catholic Extension, along with the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM), hosted “The Transformative Power of Faith: Responding to Pope Francis’ Call,” a panel discussion featuring compelling examples of work being carried out in the margins of society which transformed the lives of its community members. Motivated by Pope Francis’ call for Catholics – and moreover all people – to be advocates for the poor and agents of change, the panelists shared stories of the work that led to their inclusion as either recipients or finalists for Catholic Extension’s Lumen Christi Award. The national honor recognizes those who have devoted their lives to serving the poor and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change, often in the country’s poorest areas. Their stories showcased powerful examples of how faith plays an important role in public life.

The panelists were accompanied by individuals who were either mentored or inspired by their leadership. A wealth of information was shared as Fr. Mark Massa, S.J., Dean of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, moderated the panel as part of his annual Dean’s Colloquium on Religion and Public Culture. Each year the Dean’s Colloquium provides an in-depth discussion of current events and important topics impacting Catholics and society.

Rev. John Hatcher, S.J., has served as head of the St. Francis Mission, a Jesuit ministry among the 20,000 Lakota (Sioux) people on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, for 10 years. He feels his life-changing efforts to promote sobriety and build community while maintaining the Lakota traditions are merely the result of fostering the strong beliefs already held by the people with whom he lives and serves.

“I feel the pope will, and I am hoping, issue some kind of a directive on the importance of the fact that God existed in these cultures before we showed up,” Father Hatcher said, resulting in an eruption of applause from the audience.

Sister Mary Susanne Dziedzic, CSSF, is a Felician Sister serving in Kingstree, S.C., a rural, impoverished town with an environment of both racial and religious prejudices. Dziedzic and two other Felician Sisters began their outreach more than 20 years ago with an after-school tutoring program for neighborhood children that eventually led to many other ministries including a food pantry, clothing closet, hot meal program, cooking classes, home repair program, legal advocacy and medical services. To carry out the work, the sisters brought together churches to create an army of volunteers from 11 different denominations.

“The sisters were like an extension of our family and our community,” said Kevin Copper, who grew up in Kingstree and was mentored by Sister Susanne. He later went on to graduate from college and now returns to volunteer his time to the sisters’ ministries. “They changed the perception of our community and I love them for that. Anything that I’m doing now is just a product of what they have done in our community.”

José and Digna Lopez, Director of Migrant Ministry and Director of Hispanic Ministry, respectively, in the Diocese of Stockton, Calif., are a lay couple serving a community that is home to migrant workers and a growing, youthful Latino population. Training and supporting more than 15,000 people annually, they also are deeply involved in programs that give young people alternatives to lives of drugs and violence.

When speaking about the events and ministries that he and his wife host for the community, Jose shared: “These events are a big reason for our community to show their faith and celebrate their faith outside in the streets like Pope Francis – Papa Pancho – invited us to make noise outside.”

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and Catholic Extension, a Papal Society with a mission to support and strengthen poor mission dioceses (Catholic dioceses that cannot financially sustain themselves) throughout the U.S. by providing funding and resources through programs and services investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. Since 1905, Catholic Extension has contributed more than $500 million to 91 poor mission dioceses and parishes.

The Boston event is the first planned in a series in conjunction with selected universities on the East and West Coasts. Catholic Extension hopes that by sharing best practices of the faithful responding to Pope Francis’ call to serve, more people outside of the mission dioceses may be exposed to the transformative power of faith in communities.

“One of the things that’s so exciting about the work at Catholic Extension is how it really brings the whole Catholic church in the United States together,” said Catholic Extension President Rev. John J. Wall. “To be able to take these powerful stories that we witness all the time when we go to these mission dioceses and bring them back into the community and let people experience what we experience is such a wonderful gift,” he added.

In an effort to share the valuable insights that came through in the panel, Catholic Extension is offering multiple assets, including video, photography and audio, to media outlets and educational institutions exclusively through the end of May, upon request. Photos and bios of the panelists also are available. Please contact Lisa Gunggoll at lisa(at)lg-pr(dot)com or for more information on Catholic Extension, visit

About Catholic Extension: Catholic Extension uniquely contributes to the growth and vibrancy of the Church in the United States by strategically investing in poor mission dioceses. Based in Chicago, this national organization provides funding to dioceses and parishes to support programs and services that invest in people, their ministries and their churches. Since 1905, Catholic Extension has distributed more than $500 million to communities across America. For more information visit

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