The Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen made a great deal of money through his work on television and the talks and special media appearances he did besides. But one of the (surprising?) things we discover upon studying his life is that not only did he donate most of his earnings to the missions, but he also used some of his funds to build churches in poor areas — including in the South. There are churches in Alabama that were built by Archbishop Sheen! In spite of the celebrity he enjoyed, he lived rather frugally and was quite generous where it mattered the most.
I am not aware of a Fulton Sheen-like person who might help with this current project and great need, but it is similar in scope. In the small town of Russellville, Alabama (pop. approx. 10,000), there is the parish of the Good Shepherd. Or as many of its parishioners know it — “Buen Pastor”. The town has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom work in the area chicken processing plants (maybe in the past you’ve eaten some chicken that met its fate in Russellville!). In the past, the church was built with great support from Filipino immigrants. With some exceptions, the Catholic population in Russellville has long had a large immigrant component.
The current church seats 200. Each Sunday, Fr. Vincent Bresowar, its pastor, has to put out chairs wherever he can find the space. Under his good leadership the parish has grown. But he is only one priest: he could add more Masses to accommodate the growing community, but priests are only supposed to say so many Masses per day (basically, two Monday-Saturday and three on Sunday, max). Fr. Bresowar routinely has to go over the “legal limit” to accommodate his community. He generously does so — but celebrating so many Masses wears down a priest. I know this from experience.
What they need in Russellville is a new and larger church. Fr. Bresowar has purchased an adjacent property to ensure sufficient space for the new church and a real parking lot that begins to accommodate the crowds. He has had a local architect design a building that actually looks like a church and he has employed a great consultant to help with the interior decoration. Cutting every possible corner while also recognizing that a church building is built first of all for the glory of God, Fr. Bresowar has come up with a plan that will cost in the ballpark of $2.5 million.
Bishop Robert J. Baker, in consultation with the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Birmingham, has approved a Capital Campaign so that Fr. Bresowar and parishioners may begin in earnest to raise the needed funds. Remember: this is a primarily immigrant community. They are very resourceful people and will do their part. But they are not pulling in large salaries. They are open to life and have numerous families. They are often helping their families in their home countries, who live in destitution. Some of them will be able to give “in-kind”, helping with the construction and finishing. They will host many fundraisers. But in the end, we need to go outside this community to raise the money needed.
WILL YOU HELP? We are all asked to help with many things, and we can only do so much. Perhaps we cannot give a large amount to everyone but we can at least give something. I remember hearing how the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC — one of the most glorious churches in our land — was built thanks to Catholic schoolchildren around the country who collected pocket change and sent it in. Even small donations make a difference!
Fr. Bresowar has made a very nice video that explains what is happening. It includes images of his current church and testimony of some of its very enthusiastic and supportive members:
The new church that Fr. Bresowar proposes more than doubles the present seating capacity. It looks like a proper Catholic church. It is designed in two phases — so that transepts may eventually be added that make it cruciform in shape and also afford the possibility of a day chapel for daily Mass (saving energy on heating/cooling). If we can raise enough money up front, we can go directly through phase two!
WILL YOU HELP? Any donation you make is tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Fr. Bresowar has established a GoFundMe campaign for those who desire the convenience of online giving:
For those who may wish to mail a check, you may send it to:
Good Shepherd Church
Attn: Father Bresowar
1700 N. Jackson Ave.
Russellville, AL 35653
I made a sacrificial gift from my priest salary, and hope that you will do so also according to your means and state in life. Please be generous.
Please, also, say a prayer for Fr. Bresowar and his parishioners. As I said, he is doing good work. I have seen this firsthand. We need to support our priests who are doing the Lord’s work in more challenging environments. I have done (continue to do, really) Hispanic ministry, and as a “gringo”, I can say that it is not easy. But it is very fulfilling. And it is a very big part of our reality as the Catholic Church in the United States.
If there are any Fulton Sheens reading this, please send a big check to Fr. Bresowar. But assuming there are not, let’s all chip in and help according to our means and according to what the Lord puts on our hearts to do. The church building is the privileged place where, day-in and day-out, heaven unites with earth and Christ comes into our midst. It is a place of solace and refuge. It is a place of conversion and hope. It is a place where all are welcome and all are the royal children of God. We need more beautiful churches and we need to rise to the challenges of our generation. I hope you will help!