Shining a Light on Catholic Social Teaching

Educating and Energizing Parishioners

Catholic social teaching is often called “the Church’s best-kept secret.” This year, the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF) helped to bring it into the light by awarding Impact Grants to 13 parishes eager to educate and energize their members around the subject.

Twelve of the grants were used by parishes to implement JustFaith, a program inspired by Catholic social teaching and developed to bring people together through prayer, study, and dialogue. Over 24 weeks, JustFaith guides participants as they explore critical realities in their lives and how they are called to respond.

Awareness Leads to Action

Ann Karner was eager to bring JustFaith to her parish, St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul. “Awareness moves us to act. That belief is at the core of JustFaith,” she explains. “The way we care for the poor, the homeless, the person in prison — the Church should be leading the way.”

Ann, who volunteered to facilitate the program, explained that to make the time commitment more manageable, the parish offered three eight-week sessions spread out over several months. During the first phase, participants focus on compassion and learn about economic justice and poverty. In phase two, they look at the criminal justice system and inequities faced by people of color. By phase three, through constant prayerful reflection, participants resolve to act.

“This is not a class,” Ann says. “It’s a process and a formation. Personally, it has propelled me to action that I might not have otherwise taken. It moved me beyond my comfort zone.”

Understanding What It Means to Be Catholic

When Father Spencer Howe, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, learned about the Impact Grants, he approached CCF about customizing a program for his multi-campus parish which stretches across Northeast Minneapolis to include Holy Cross, St. Clement, St. Hedwig, and St. Anthony of Padua. “We had already been talking about offering a course in Catholic social teaching,” Fr. Howe says. “I see it as very connected to parish vitality because so many of the people in our parish are seeking a deeper sense of what it means to be Catholic.”

Richard Aleman teaches the course at Holy Cross, which he believes brings people together through a more complete understanding of Church teaching. “The commentary on social teaching tends to be very tribal,” Richard says. “We want to get participants to think with the mind of the Church instead of political tribalism.” The interdisciplinary course covers history, philosophy, politics, economics, and culture all through the lens of Catholic social teaching.

Helping Parishes Serve Vulnerable Populations

CCF Program Officer Meg Payne Nelson says the Impact Grants are part of a multi-year plan intended to energize parishes around Church teaching. While the awards are modest, ranging from $1,500 – $3,000, the goal is to achieve oversized results by helping parishes take a more hands-on approach to serving vulnerable populations.

“The first step is to get engagement with Catholic social teaching in a way that opens people’s eyes and leads to action,” says Meg. “Next, we’ll follow up with parishes and let them know that if they’re inspired to act, we’ll help with the financial piece to get any action-oriented social justice initiative started.”

Ann and Richard were both forced to suspend classes during the statewide stay-at-home order, but they each expressed a renewed sense of urgency for their mission as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The social teachings need to be stressed now more than ever,” says Richard. “Especially the call to unite and serve all, and to shape the direction of a country that will never be the same.”

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