Rural Catholics lend helping hand to Topeka parish

by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven

TOPEKA — When you think of parishes helping other parishes, big parishes helping smaller ones comes first to mind.

But those roles were reversed when the good folks of Father Barry Clayton’s parishes in Sabetha, Wetmore and Fidelity caught up on their own parish grounds work and decided to take their show on the road.

“As part of the Year of Mercy, the archbishop suggested we make a partnership with another parish,” explained Father Barry Clayton, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Sabetha, St. James Church in Wetmore and St. Augustine Church in Fidelity.

“He suggested one of the Kansas City parishes,” he said, “but we thought [Mater Dei Parish in Topeka] would be a good fit.”

“Father Barry contacted me and wanted to know if there was something they could do for us,” said Father John Pilcher, pastor of Mater Dei. “We’re a struggling parish, so it has been great getting to know these people and how they’ve given of themselves to do this.”

When Father Pilcher accepted the offer of help, Father Clayton got right to work.

“We have a lot of skilled workers,” he said. “We talked about a parish workday, and the parish council liked the idea.”

A second collection in each of the three parishes raised $1,000. And with a load of mulch thrown in, the workday was set for May 14.

From 8:30 a.m. to almost 5 p.m., the visiting crew was weeding, trimming, planting and mulching.

“Almost everything on the list was done,” reported Nancy Cina of Mater Dei, co-coordinator of the workday. “We wanted to do a little cleaning up at [the] Assumption [site] and a couple of yards on Clay [Street] belonging to the parish, but I think the day went great. I think the people really enjoyed it.”

“It was a mutually enriching experience,” said Father Clayton. “We got to know another parish and each other better. The three parishes work together already, so it was kind of natural to reach out to this parish.”

Why spend a day doing yard work at a parish more than 60 miles away?

“I like to work outdoors,” said Carol Nolte of Sabetha. “We do a lot of work around our parish in Sabetha, so this seemed the thing to do.”

Another Sabetha parishioner, Marsha Olberding, agreed. And she’s always curious to see what other people do.

“I could do that here and visit as well,” she said. “I’m retired and have all my own gardening done.”

“It seemed like a good mission,” said Greg Renyer, also of Sabetha. “I don’t really get a chance to go do much mission work, so this is a chance to do it physically instead of monetarily.”

His son Cameron, a junior at Sabetha High School, liked how it gave him the chance “to see what other parishes are like and to meet new people.”

“I feel it’s important to participate in parish activities — especially when another parish is coming,” said Mimi Gardner of Mater Dei, who spent some of the morning cooking for the group. “I enjoyed the interaction and visiting about how we got to where we are.”

“We have a very pretty church, so any chance to clean it up is good,” said Andrea Hillebert of Mater Dei. “I also learned so much about transplanting plants and foliage from the other groups.”

So is a reciprocal visit on the schedule?

“We asked if [the parishes up north] needed help,” said Cina, but were told that they didn’t at the time.

“We are thinking of something similar to this cleanup day on a regular basis though,” she said. “We have even talked about ‘paying it forward’ and helping another parish.”

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