The "stewardship way of life" has produced a parish that provides both free education for its own and social outreach into Wichita's inner city, but something has happened in individual lives far beyond such material manifestations. Parishioners began to see a difference in their lives. I heard, over and over again, how the biblical promise of a hundredfold return has held true.
"It's not about business," says Paul Eck, "that if I give this much to God, he's going to give me that much in return. It's about a satisfaction deep inside that you are being generous with a God who has been generous to you."
At St. Francis the eventual target is the biblical tithe-10 percent, with 8 percent allotted to the parish and 2 percent to other charities. Most people start off with a much smaller proportion of their treasure but, like Paul Eck, they find that as they give more they do not miss the money and even enjoy the process. "You get ten times or a hundred times back in satisfaction, the good feeling that you are a part of something that educates kids, helps the poor, takes care of parishioners' needs and helps to increase a spiritual life. What better place to put your money than something like that?"
Although periodic eucharistic adoration services had always been a part of St. Francis, more and more people began coming to Monsignor McGread asking for something more. Out of this outpouring of desire came perpetual adoration of the blessed sacrament, which has continued for over eleven years. Dan Loughman, a self-acknowledged workaholic who admits he doesn't spend enough time on his spiritual life, has read St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Thomas a Kempis during his hours in the small chapel. Other hard-charging businessmen and women-as well as harried parents of young children-find their hour of silence the best hour of their week.
Catholic Education--and Free
At St. Francis of Assisi a Catholic education is a right not a privilege. All children of parishioners can attend grades K through 12 for free. The parish asks parents to give of their time, talents and treasure, both to the school and the parish at large. While parents-and all parishioners-are encouraged to tithe, no one applies any pressure to donate a certain amount. For instance, a single mother on welfare might donate only a few dollars to the parish during certain periods of her life.
Other parents and even those without children in the schools may give more. "I've offered, for those who choose not to live the stewardship way of life, to just pay the tuition, which is about $2500 a year right now," says Monsignor McGread. "I've never had a taker." Teachers in the school receive wages almost at public school levels and the faculty and staff are stable, indicating that St. Francis of Assisi School is a good place to teach.
Excerpts from "Excellent Catholic Parishes" by Paul Wilkes, copyright c 2001 by Paul Wilkes. Used with permission of Paulist Press (toll-free telephone: 800-218-1903; toll-free fax: 800-836-3161; www.paulistpress.com; firstname.lastname@example.org). "Excellent Catholic Parishes" (paper: 0-8091-3992-8, $16.95) is available at your local bookstore or from Paulist Press.