Amanda Durbin is a perennial force in the Shelby and Macon County parishes’ efforts to radiate God’s charity and mercy.
She understands helping and being helped.
“I know what it means to struggle, and I know what a little bit of help can do for the lives of people in that situation,” said Mrs. Durbin.
She and her husband Dale, along with fellow members of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence, Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon and the Mission of Sacred Heart in Bevier, are converting the former Clarence rectory into a place called St. Patrick’s Haven.
It will serve as transitional housing for mothers and children in need in a community where affordable family housing is acutely scarce.
The ministry recently received a $5,000 Charity and Mercy Grant from Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.
It will help pay for modifications to the home to maximize its flexibility and usefulness.
“I love that so much, this idea of a parish having a property that’s being underutilized, and a group of parishioners saying, ‘Here’s a need in our community, and how can we use this space to meet that need?’” said Catholic Charities Executive Director Dan Lester.
“That is the definition of parishes as centers of charity and mercy,” he said, echoing the third priority from the diocesan pastoral plan.
Charity and Mercy Grants provide up to $5,000 to initiatives sponsored or co-sponsored by Catholic parishes anywhere in these 38 counties.
“We’re always looking to take the opportunity to engage in subsidiarity — local folks addressing local issues, making a difference close to home,” said Mr. Lester.
Catholic Charities has awarded over $99,000 in Charity and Mercy Grants, including:
The grant application includes assurance that the supported ministries uphold the Church’s moral and charitable teachings.
The Parish Social Ministry committee of the Catholic Charities board of directors reviews and approves all applications.
Strength in unity
“Slowly but surely, we’re helping to make a difference in the communities we serve,” said Mr. Lester. “The challenge, of course, is that there’s never enough to go around.”
He spoke of the principles of subsidiarity — “addressing need as closely to the source as possible” — and solidarity — “all of us working together to help one another.”
“No one service or entity is going to be able to be everything to everybody,” he noted. “But if we can live out ‘many parts, one body,’ we can figure out ways to make things better, together.”
He pointed to a recent Charity and Mercy Grant to the Open Table, a community nonprofit in Fulton that is working to reopen the local soup kitchen, which suspended services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is an interchurch effort, with several members of St. Peter Parish serving as officers, Mr. Lester noted.
“A good start”
A client of the Ray of Hope Pregnancy Help Center in Shelbina had lost her home and was temporarily quartered in a hotel room with her four middle and high school children and a newborn baby.
She qualified for public housing assistance, but no housing was available.
“She was about to get evicted from the hotel,” Mrs. Durbin noted. “She had no place to go, which meant the Department of Social Services was probably going to step in and split up the family.
“We were doing everything we could to find them a home and were hitting nothing but brick walls,” Mrs. Durbin recalled.
She spoke to Father William Peckman, pastor of the Macon, Shelbina and Clarence parishes and the mission in Bevier, about letting the mother stay in the vacant rectory in Clarence.
“He asked for permission from the bishop,” said Mrs. Durbin, “and within 10 days of the idea being presented, we had the mom and her children moved in.”
It wasn’t just a matter of moving.
“Parishioners from all four parishes provided all of the furnishings — from housewares to bedding to all the beds and all the furniture,” she noted.
The children are enrolled in local schools and are thriving.
Work continues on finding them a permanent place to live. Afterward, the former rectory will be divided into two, one-bedroom apartments in order to provide transitional housing to families in similar situations.
“We came up with an idea to make it versatile in order to accommodate whatever we need,” said Mrs. Durbin.
It will be part of a bridge to stability, something many children and their families lack.
“It’s a safe haven for shelter and support,” said Mrs. Durbin, “either for single women who are pregnant and have children, or who are in an abusive situation and are trying to start a new life.”
The waiting list already has three families.
Fr. Peckman met with parishioners and noted that back in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, “the Church was out in the streets, feeding the hungry and giving shelter to those without.”
“I think like a lot of priests now recognize that it’s time for us to get back out into the streets and be that Church of the poor again,” said Mrs. Durbin.
“This is as good a start,” she said.
Women of letters
The St. Patrick Rectory was once home to Monsignor John Mahoney, now deceased, whose last assignment was to be pastor of the Clarence and former Hager’s Grove parishes.
“For many years, he was known for his life of service and charity to the poor,” said Mrs. Durbin.
He brought in several typewriters and gave widows and single mothers the opportunity to earn money by typing for him over each summer.
“He wrote a lot, and it was a way for these women to earn something with dignity,” she recalled.
One of those women was Mrs. Durbin’s mother, who had been left alone with four young children.
“Msgr. Mahoney did a lot for my brothers and me and made sure we always had a way to get to Bible school, among other things,” said Mrs. Durbin.
She will always remember the St. Patrick Rectory as a place of warmth, acceptance and an authentic encounter with God’s kindness.
She’s convinced that Catholics working together across parish boundaries to assist people in need are making God and all of His goodness known.
As for Msgr. Mahoney, “I’m convinced that the seed he planted in that place 35 years ago will grow into something very beautiful,” she said.