by Moira Cullings
BASEHOR — The best characters are often the ones that surpass everyone’s expectations to accomplish something amazing.
At least that’s how it goes in the storybooks.
But the inspirational tale of an underdog isn’t just for fiction. Take Holy Angels Parish in Basehor, for example.
Some 850 households make up the parish, but that doesn’t stop this smaller community from making a lasting impact on those in need.
Holy Angels is home to nearly 40 ongoing charitable outreach programs.
The Legion of Mary, the Holy Angels Pro-life Committee, the Catholic Women’s Organization and the Knights of Columbus, along with several independent groups, are only a few of the organizations that fuel the parish’s engine of mercy.
“I think the parish has always been about that,” said Holy Angels pastor Father Richard McDonald, “about being compassionate toward those less fortunate and caring towards those in need.”
Above and beyond the standard holiday giving
The lonely are often forgotten during the holidays, but not by Holy Angels.
In 2007, the parish, guided by Father Al Rockers, created a Thanksgiving Outreach Meal, a program that invites people without families to meet in the parish hall for a Thanksgiving dinner two days before the holiday.
Joyce Bowlin, the program’s organizer, has noticed the effect the meal has had on participants.
“I know last year before we had even gotten the invitations sent out, people were calling and saying, ‘I haven’t gotten my invitation yet,’” said Bowlin. “They just really love to come.”
Volunteers sign up to bring food, which is served to the guests while the latter enjoy the company and conversation of the other guests around the table.
“I think a lot of them probably don’t have much contact with other people, and it’s really a chance for them to get around and visit with other people,” said Bowlin.
“If there are people that are homebound, we offer to bring them,” she added. “And if they can’t drive, maybe they have somebody that comes with them, and that person eats, too.”
But providing the lonely with a sense of community during the holidays is only one way Holy Angels takes personally its mission to spread the good news.
Reaching out across the world
Another outreach program that characterizes the charitable ways of Holy Angels is Operation St. Nicholas.
The program was founded by Tom Johnson, who served in Iraq from 2006-2007, near the end of his military career.
“While I was there, I had a team working up in northern Iraq. And one of my sergeants on my team, his sister worked in Texas at a steak place. At Christmastime, they sent us stockings and some other stuff. And so, I kept that idea,” said Johnson.
A member of the Knights of Columbus, Johnson presented the idea to his council, whose members were completely supportive.
The operation collects names of soldiers who are relatives of or known by Holy Angels parishioners. It then collects a variety of gifts, which are shipped overseas the first week of December.
Items they send include trail mix, hard candy, lip balm, rosaries and prayer books.
With shipping costs ranging from $400-$500, the group uses every monetary donation it receives.
“A lot of times what [the soldiers] will do is take a box and share it with other soldiers around them,” said Johnson, who received a thank-you letter from a lieutenant who found a way to spread the cheer even further.
“It was really heartwarming,” said Johnson. “He said one of his soldiers comes from kind of a tough side of town, and he didn’t get anything sent to him. . . . His family was kind of nonexistent. So, they took some of our packages and sent it to him personally, and he said it made his Christmas.
“So, you hear stories like that, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Charity has no age requirement
The adults at Holy Angels are not the only ones living out their faith through actions.
The seventh- and eighth-grade religious education class hosts a warm clothing drive each November, reaching out to the homeless just as the temperature starts to drop.
Rich Dixon started the program for confirmation students around 2002, as “a way during the period leading up to the winter to try to get the kids and families thinking about helping others and contributing to the community,” he said.
“We’ve tied in the works of mercy — spiritual and corporal — for the kids, so that in December, that’ll be the focus,” Dixon continued.
This year the clothes will be given to Catholic Charities in Leavenworth, as well as Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services.
“I think Rich sees it as a way to get these kids to realize we need to reach out to those less fortunate,” said Cathy Kern, director of religious education.
“He’s really big on trying to get these kids to be compassionate,” she said.
Incorporating the Year of Mercy
With the Year of Mercy quickly approaching, the parish already has a “jump-start,” said Father McDonald.
“We are intending to give as a gift to each of the parish families just before the year begins a prayer book for the entire year of mercy,” he said.
The parish will also incorporate three events into the upcoming year, each inspired by the three archangels. The point is “recognizing not just the human element of mercy, but the divine element of mercy in the name itself — Holy Angels,” said Father McDonald.
When it comes right down to it, said Father McDonald, “I’ve never seen anything on the scope of what we do consistently throughout the year.
“I think it shows that the people are really grateful in the parish of Holy Angels in Basehor.”