It all started with an off-hand comment about free haircuts.
The volunteers and parishioners of St. Margaret are hungry for new ideas and opportunities to undertake the mission that our Lord gives us in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you fed me; I was naked and you clothed me.” So, when a certain subject arose at a meeting of our local St. Vincent de Paul Society Chapter, the Full of Grace Cafe (a ministry initiative of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in St. Amant), interest was generated immediately.
The Full of Grace Cafe was a ministry that began under the leadership of Fr. Josh Johnson, who inherited Holy Rosary from the loving administrator-ship of Fr. Jamin after the 2016 flood. Fr. Josh’s vision was to reignite the struggling parish by uniting them in service to the poor and overburdened. Every one of us is called to radical discipleship; every one of us is called to be a saint. This flows from an intentional and deep-rooted prayer life, overflowing in love and service to our neighbor, especially those who cannot repay us (see Luke 6:33). That’s the vision. The Full of Grace Cafe was intended to be a comprehensive hub for all of the parish’s social outreach, as well as a means of building community and spiritual friendships across demographics.
Rani James, the director of the Cafe, graciously agreed to pay St. Margaret a visit and come speak at the July St. Vincent de Paul meeting (other interested parishioners were in attendance as well) about the Cafe, sharing her spiritual wisdom and telling us all about the many moving parts, the primarily volunteer-driven ministries that have brought their community together and given them something to be truly proud of. Their ministries include a food pantry open four days a week, hot meals served twice a week, a diaper bank, SNAP application assistance, complimentary haircuts (volunteer barbers/stylists come in once a month for a couple of hours), fertility counseling, box meals to be taken to the homebound…the list goes on!
But that wasn’t quite enough to satisfy our appetites. After hearing tales from this faraway swampland, where the Kingdom of God is alive and growing, a clear sentiment emerged – we have to go see this place for ourselves. Two small groups of St. Margaret parishioners traveled down to see the Cafe in action – one on Thursday during the lunch hour, when a hot lunch is regularly served, and another on Tuesday evening, when dinner is served after the 5:45 Mass. We enjoyed some good food, some good community building, and got to see with our own eyes these ministries in action. It was especially wonderful to see how generous the Holy Rosarians have been in dedicating their time and energy to keeping the Full of Grace Cafe up and running even after the departure of Fr. Josh to his next assignment.
St. Margaret is a unique community with its own unique needs; it wouldn’t be possible or advisable to simply copy and paste everything that was seen over to Albany and Springfield. But it was a valuable experience of sharing ideas and desires, hopes and dreams and prayers, seeing that an operation of this size and level of success can come to fruition in no more than five years at what had been a small, sleepy country parish.
St. Margaret has had her own successes in a similar amount of time; who knows what the future will hold for us?