Good Shepherd Parish creates opportunities for seniors
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph
When John Fink retired after more than 40 years as an educator and school/district administrator, he found himself facing an unexpected challenge: how to fill his free time in a meaningful way.
“I was used to being constantly busy,” said Fink, and while he appreciated the flexibility to pursue interests such as playing golf and woodworking, he began to question where those activities were really making him happy.
“I realized I wasn’t really doing anything to serve the needs of other people,” he admitted.
He found the opportunity to be of service as the pastoral administrator for the 55 Plus Ministry at Good Shepherd Parish in Montgomery. The job was created, Fink explained, after the parish’s previous group for older adults, the Senior Shepherds, had disbanded, and Father Robert Schmitz, pastor, recognized the need for a staff position focused on ministry to this segment of the population.
While his original intent was to volunteer at Good Shepherd, Fink, firm in his belief in the church’s role in ministering to seniors, accepted the part-time position nearly a year ago, and since then, has been working to design and implement a variety of programs and services for older adults in the parish.
It’s an ongoing process, explained Fink, that began with focus groups to discus the needs and interests of senior parishioners and the responsibility of both the parish and church as a whole in meeting those needs. The result was 10 initiatives geared toward accomplishing three things: getting seniors out of isolation and into interaction with others; creating opportunities to build community; and providing stimulating educational opportunities. Current activities include monthly lunches and dinners, followed by a featured speaker; the Fine Arts Company, which includes museum visits and concert and play attendance; and the Bon Appétit dinner club, offering chances for an evening out to socialize.
One project, dubbed “A Significant Life,” offers seniors the chance to tell their life story through a recorded interview that is then made into a DVD for the individual to share with friends and family members. The idea is to “accentuate the notion that ordinary people, who may not normally achieve recognition, still lead significant lives by getting up every day, doing the best they can and being good Christians,” Fink said.
Parishioner Ed Kassner is a prime example, said Fink. For the past eight years, Kassner has taken a lead role in Good Shepherd’s outreach ministry to Whitley City, a small, impoverished town located some 220 miles from Cincinnati in southeast Kentucky. The parish began a relationship with Good Shepherd Mission in Whitley City in 1996, and has provided annual gifts of money and food, as well as donations of furniture, household items, clothing and toys, and has since expanded its efforts to include the McCreary County Clinic and food bank and Whitley City Elementary School. Kassner coordinates pick up of the donated goods and transport of the items to Whitley City, making four or five trips a year. Working with the national organization Joshua House Fund, Kassner has also joined with other Good Shepherd parishioners to build or remodel the homes of several Whitley City residents living in sub-standard housing.
While Kassner coordinates the outreach efforts, the entire faith community at Good Shepherd has been generous in its support over the years. Under the guidance of Sandy Rivet, children in the parish’s faith formation classes participate in Operation Shoebox to benefit their counterparts in Whitley City. On Dec. 13, hundreds of shoeboxes filled with hats, scarves, gloves, school supplies, socks, personal care items, and age appropriate books and toys were delivered to Whitley City’s young residents.
The trips are memorable for Kassner, who said, “You keep looking for signs or listening for words that what you’re doing is working. Things happen that make us know it’s worthwhile,” such as hug from one of the locals, the “thank you’s” from children, or their joyful young voices singing Christmas carols.
Regarding Kassner’s involvement in the Whitley City Project, Fink said, “Ed is a great role model for one of things our ministry hopes to do. There are a lot of people preparing to retire and facing emotional and social challenges. Ed has found his clear purpose, his mission. To hear him talk, you can tell how fulfilling his life is.”
One of his goals at Good Shepherd, said Fink, is to build the resources to help other retirees find that same sense of purpose, along with continuing to find ways to minister to them more effectively. “It’s about ensuring our seniors maintain a sense of dignity,” he explained. “This is our faith, our church, and what we should be all about is helping each as a community and supporting one another through the day to day issues that arise as we age.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.