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Cabrini Vision Narrative
St. Frances Cabrini ChurchGood morning. I am Kris DeTuypet on “Speaking of Church” for Twin Cities Community Radio, where we explore questions of meaning on the intellectual and spiritual levels of our lives. In our current series, we have been investigating why so many traditional churches and religions have failed to adapt to the needs of their members and how many adults, especially younger, have migrated toward the mega churches in the suburbs or quit participating altogether. But there are exceptions to these trends. Today, we will be visiting and analyzing a relatively small church in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul that has found a way to continue to grow and prosper.
“A Vision Narrative”
“A Vision Narrative”
St. Frances Cabrini has nearly doubled in size in the last five years. Today, Cabrini membership exceeds 500 households. Its fairly rapid growth may be a result of this one-time small neighborhood church having become an “affinity parish” that draws from more than 65 zip-codes across the metropolitan area. Twenty years after the church was founded in 1947, the construction of Interstate 94 changed the neighborhood. In the 1960s, the parish developed a strong focus on social justice that was deepened in the 1990s after the closure of the University’s Newman Center brought in scores of new members. Most importantly, Cabrini has found innovative ways to maintain a sense of friendliness and welcoming in meeting the needs of people from its ever-widening circle of surrounding communities.. As a result, Cabrini is recognized for its community support and outreach, especially to returning Catholics, while still having the respect and support of the Archdiocese for its adherence to liturgical and Catholic principles. As stated on the church’s website, “Come for liturgy, stay for community.” And, many have come and stayed, because “All are welcome at Cabrini.”
I am standing on the knoll on the east side of the church building that was constructed in 1947. The area is a natural grass-covered bowl that has been the site of parish as well as neighborhood concerts and forums for many years. A space has been made available for community gardening. Around the perimeter of the bowl, natural benches and sitting areas have been constructed. Today, chairs have been added to accommodate the entire congregation and many guests, dignitaries and former parishioners who have returned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of this faith community. The celebration will center around a music-filled liturgy, followed by the annual church picnic with food, song and games for the children.
Looking across the large gathering, one cannot but be struck by the diversity of ages, races, and apparent economic backgrounds. Warmth and welcoming exudes as a spirit of friendship hovers over the group beneath the old shading oak trees that have grown and survived along with Cabrini all these decades. In addition to the size and diversity of the gathering, one is also impressed by the former pastors sitting amongst the parishioners as they have chosen to join Cabrini in retirement for their personal place of worship.
To understand how Cabrini has grown and prospered, our time today will be spent analyzing the efforts that enable them to be successful as a church in the 21st. century.
Liturgy and Sacraments
Cabrini is dedicated to the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church as expressed in the teachings of Vatican II. Its liturgies are in accordance with the basics of Catholic teachings and are relevant and attractive to the worshipers of today. Mass schedules are tailored to meet the needs of members, such as the Sunday evening liturgy that accommodates working people and college and university students. Staff, pastor, and lay members bring considerable thought, study and expertise in theology, art, and music to create a physical and spiritual environment that enhances all liturgical activities of the parish. Members of Cabrini have their faith deepened and challenged by reflections shared both by lay and clergy. Activities include teaching, prayer groups, planning liturgies and preparing members for sacraments. In the spirit of supporting others in their search for meaning through faith, Cabrini engages in dialogue and discussion with members of other faiths and creates monthly opportunities for joint worship with several neighboring churches to create mutual understanding and respect. In this tradition, Cabrini and Prospect Park Methodist have joined for a Thanksgiving service and for Taize prayer over many years.
Cabrini is an activist church, one that supports its own members in their daily and spiritual lives, while also acting as a vibrant hub of service, support and development for the surrounding community. Nearly 70% of households in the Cabrini community are actively involved in volunteering and participating in events sponsored by the church. Cabrini has long-standing programs that focus its resources but members are also always looking for new opportunities to make a difference. Support is not only involvement but financial. Cabrini members are generous of time, talent and resources, in keeping with Catholic social teaching and the example of their patron saint, Frances Cabrini, the Italian missionary nun who ministered to poor immigrants in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Cabriniites are involved in community organizing, building and improving housing, voter registration, soup kitchens and transitional housing as well as teaching English to many in the nearby Hispanic and Somalian immigrant neighborhoods. Cabrini members travel outside of the US to help build schools, health care facilities and sanitary systems, as a critical part of living out their faith.
Cabrini is well known as a church that welcomes all who seek God and are hungry to live out their faith every day. Cabrini respects and accepts each individual as who they are, a Child of God. Catholics who have felt disenfranchised have come here to seek a continuation of the practice of their faith. There has been a longstanding outreach to the GLBT community. Couples of mixed faiths and divorced Catholics are welcomed. This is a community that endeavors to live out Jesus’s command in John’s Gospel to “love one another,” and to follow Paul’s many injunctions to leave judgment to God. Beneath the actions of welcoming there exists a foundational theology of friendship that encourages visitors to stay and become involved.
Intellectual and Spiritual Growth
While Cabrini is comforting, it is not a place to merely sit comfortably. There is a focus on personal growth, intellectually and spiritually. The community regularly engages in dialogue and reflection on the meaning of faith and the role of religion in the 21st. Century. Cabrini is in close proximity to the University of Minnesota and other institutions of higher learning; accordingly, the parish sponsors regular forums that challenge one’s thinking and search for meaning and relevancy in the modern world. Both secular and religious leaders are invited to participate. All participants are expected to engage thoughtfully and respectfully with a focus on listening to one another. In addition to scheduled forums, neighbors and members are encouraged to stop by for informal discussions in the attractive Fireplace Room. Regular meetings are also held in members’ homes in small groups to discuss upcoming scripture readings and engage in other dialogues such as what it means to be a 21st Century Catholic.
MHR1] Many families are drawn to the parish because of the vibrant and multi-faceted programs for children and teachers. Cabrini’s teachers are well-known for their expertise in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, based in Montessori methods. Cabrini has had a role in making the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd better known in the U.S. and worldwide. Young people in the parish are actively engaged in a range of programs and activities that involve education, service, ministry and fun.
Cabrini has always been known for its sense of community. Members feel supported regardless of where they are on their faith journey. The community feels connected in spite of the distances traveled by its members and recent growth. Members who have been at Cabrini for decades join with a continuing stream of newcomers, and are nurtured through Baptism, Communion and Confirmation, marriages and funerals of loved ones. Those who might be unable to be physically present at services are included through Web broadcasts of Mass and forums.Through personal Prayers of the Faithful, members are supported and lifted up in common acts of petitition and gratitude. Opportunities for fellowship before and after each Mass, create an opportunity for friendships to develop and to bind the community together. Cabrini has recently leased the nearby Shriners’ Hospital and is working with other organizations to help develop facilities supporting elders in the later stages of their lives. Support is also provided to younger families through onsite daycare and vibrant youth programs. Members’ stories are featured in multiple media, creating a feeling of family and familiarity. A range of dinners and events showcase culinary skills and other talents of the community and provide entertainment, such as spaghetti dinners, talent shows, Seder meals, as well as intimate gatherings held by parishioners in their own homes. Such “candlelight dinners” are attended by more than 75% of the community.
Every organization must depend upon a solid financial, physical and administrative infrastructure to survive. Cabrini is no different. As in other areas, Cabrini works hard to provide stability and to finance its operations and activism. The church depends upon the generosity of its members and requires no financial support from the archdiocese; indeed, Cabrini contributes to the works of the Archdiocese through assessments always paid on a timely basis. Everyone is asked to formally pledge in accordance with their own means. The 70-year-old church building has not only been well maintained, but improved over the years. The interior is welcoming with tasteful lighting, fresh carpeting and an effective sound system.. There are several rooms for study groups with the most attractive being the new Fireside Room. All rooms are wired for internet access and include video capabilities. Garvey Hall, named after a long term pastor, is the site of many fun filled gatherings and is supported by a modern kitchen. The parish is governed by a strong Council with the Pastor and uses a system of well defined and organized committees to carryout its many activities and responsibilities. Within the Archdiocese, Cabrini is noted for its commitment and ability to operate within a balanced budget, as well as having built-up reserves for contingencies. All staff members are highly skilled, professional, operate as a team and are committed to the mission and vision of Cabrini.
One cannot but be impressed with this Church affectionately called Cabrini. Sitting on the hillside I can observe the warmth and support of an obviously joyful community of people who know one another well. Acceptance is evident in the easy way in which individuals move from one knot of people to another—to chat, to tell a story, to ask a question, to welcome newcomers. Throughout the gathering there is evidence of energy and commitment to having this celebration together: there are tables full of delicious and finely prepared home-cooking, and dozens of men, women and children are flipping burgers, fetching beverages, serving one another with smiles and laughter. It’s clear that this parish knows how to work together—and is doing whatever is needed to survive, prosper and serve the needs of 21st. Century Catholicism.
I must admit to being surprised by what I found here today. I had heard much about Cabrini and what a vibrant, viable Catholic community it is. I had expected something much larger, less intimate—but no less committed. Perhaps this is the formula for success of religions in the 21st. Century; to remain true to the teachings of one’s faith, yet to also be in the world in which we live, unquestioningly welcoming all and being of support to one another throughout their lives.
In reviewing their materials, I was struck by the slogan, “There is a place for you at Cabrini to belong and grow.” I have no doubt there is. I only wish I lived in one of these 67 zip codes! And, I wish we would see more Cabrinis in the world.
I‘m Kris DeTuypet and this has been “Speaking of Church” for Twin Cities Community Radio. I’m glad we came and I look forward to returning to celebrate their 100th anniversary.