What a year!
Sometimes, even in the midst of a rush of activities that make you feel like you cannot even catch a breath, it is important to take a step back. 2016 was such a major year for Saint John the Evangelist, with major new efforts kicking off, renovations of our current environment, and renewal of the entire focus of the church, we should all take that moment. It is due to all of you, our Parish Family, and all your dedication, devotion, and stewardship, that we have come so far, so fast, and have such a bright future ahead of us. I thank God every single day that He has given me this opportunity to serve you and be a part of renewing the Catholic Church in Naples for all ages and all people.
We are focused on our mission: To Know, To Love, and To Serve God, in His Church and Our Community. Here are just a few of those amazing events, programs, and activities from this past year that have made such a positive impact:
- Get on the Bus! First Catholic After School Program in Naples Begins – If you have not gotten a chance to see our new buses, you are in for a treat! We are blessed to have our Parish Family members, Hilary and Ryan Shore, deploying the first After School program at a Catholic Church in Naples, Full STEAM Ahead! Steam stands for Science, Technology, Arts, and Music, and we are now busing dozens of children from 5 different elementary schools to St. John on a daily basis. We give them a safe, enlivening environment and the best feedback we have gotten is from the parents that say their kids do not want to leave when they pick them up at 6:30.
- Adults Get Education Too – Have you ever been asked a religious question by your child, or grandchild, and you were not quite ready to answer it? I know I have been. We have the largest youth Faith Formation program at St. John in nearly a decade, with over 450 children attending weekly. There needs to be the same level of support for the rest of the parish. We have started Happy Hours and Coffee talks for the adults of our Parish Family at the same time as the youth Faith Formation, allowing us all to get some understanding of our faith and ask our own questions. Please join us on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings so you can maybe answer that question the next time it comes your way.
- Vacation Bible School – What a huge moment to engage the children of not only our Parish Family, but the larger community. We had youth from all denominations, and from around the area join us for our largest Vacation Bible School ever. The week was special and engaged the senses and faith of over 420 children, from preschool through high school. While we are sad that we will be taking a break this coming summer from VBS, with the new Life Center, we will be coming back in 2018 even bigger and better!
- Life Center Development – How could I forget that we have successfully completed the development of our new Life Center? This building, nestled in the back of our campus, will be the heart of activities for our Parish Family. All ages will have programs and activities to take care of their bodies, minds, spirits, and souls, all at once.
- Renovations Begin – Along with the new building, we are renovating our entire campus. From new Confessionals in the church to creating a real Library, we are renewing all the buildings and campus. We have re-engineered the front parking lot to include 40 new spaces as well as developed an interior design to enliven all the activities and events that take place here. The flat roof of the Parish Activity Center (the new name for the PLC) has been completed and the renovation of the old “Library” (name to be determined based on your feedback) is complete. Lots more to come!
- CYO – There are experienced members of our community that recall playing sports at their Catholic Youth Organization and even meeting their spouses forty years ago at a CYO Dance. Well, we have brought CYO back to the area after over 25 years, with sports, social, and artistic programs for the youth. We already had a successful season of soccer, with teams at every age group, and one of our players even won the Sportsmanship Award for the entire league. These programs will connect their lives with their faith, and show them that church is not just a Sunday activity, it is every moment of their being. This will create life-long Catholics and wonderful human beings
- Catholic Adult Organization – The kids do not get all the fun! The CAO concept kicked off this year, the first of its kind as far as we can find. The same foci of wellness, social, and artistic programs can impact adults just as much as children. We started our Movie Night for Adults this year, with The Mission, and we have some very powerful movies coming up. Get ready for an entirely new set of opportunities, including social dance classes, bingo, and Paint and Wine coming in 2017!
- NET Missionaries – In order get integrated with the youth of the area, it is not good enough to say “we have stuff here, come on over”. We have to go out to where they are. Meet them in the middle of their lives. Support and encourage them. We are so blessed have the first NET Missionaries, a group of Catholic young adults who have been trained to engage high schoolers and accompany them in their life’s journey. We will need more help with our Missionaries in the coming years, as they continue their efforts, including housing them, but they are already making an impact on our Parish Family.
- CRS Helping Hands Meal Packing Event – Could you believe that in less than 1 hour, we were able to make and pack over 20,000 meals, right in our Ballroom? We had over 325 volunteers from around the area all descend on our campus, all for the purpose of feeding refugees and those in need around the world. Through Catholic Relief Services, the thousands of meals we made were sent to Burkina Faso, Africa.
- Thanksgiving in the Park – St. John took the reins of Thanksgiving in the Park this year, a 35 year-old effort to provide a Thanksgiving meal to those in need in Immokalee. With a week of gathering food, pulling turkeys, prepping, serving, and finally cleaning up, we had over 150 volunteers here at St. John and another 80 in Immokalee, it was an amazing illustration of our faith in action. This year, we were able to feed over 1900 people and everyone left with a smile on their face and full stomach.
- Renovating Services for Immokalee – Through the work of some amazing members of our Parish Family, our church was able to renovate both the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen and Guadalupe Social Services Food Pantry and Immigration Support offices. We rebuilt the pantry, to include a brand new walk-in freezer and fridge to store meat and other perishable items. We redesigned the kitchen and put in a new dishwashing system for sanitation. We brought new office furniture to make the environment more welcoming those asking for assistance. We serve in the kitchen every single month. There is so much we do for Immokalee, and most of it is quietly done by us with no fanfare, just simply helping in any way we can.
- Simple Gesture Grows to Power Packs – Our persistent food pantry service, which began in 2015, was given a new mission. There are so many children in Naples that do not get food at home. They are fed at school, through the free and reduced lunch program. However, what happens to those kids on the weekend, when they have no school? Now, St. John provides food for the Power Pack Program, where individual servings are given for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for both Saturday and Sunday. This gives the child enough to eat so they can study and focus on their lives, rather than the hunger in their stomachs. This December, we had so much food, we were able to fill three separate food pantries at once. That is a blessing to this entire community, all due to you.
I could go on and on about 2016 and the renewal of our church. Every member of our Parish Family should be proud to be here, actively showcasing our faith in our actions to each other, the local community, and the entire world. And, what we have in store for 2017 will transform our campus, our lives, and Naples for decades to come. I hope you are as excited and enlivened as I am for all of it, and I look forward to continuing on this journey together with you!