These were the words to the song that students at St. Francis de Sales school sang to members of our team last week in a site-visit to the parish and school. St. Francis de Sales is a Next Generation Parish that serves a large and diverse community with a thriving school. The expression of gratitude from the children served as a theme not only them to us – but “from our hearts to their hearts.”

On that day, ten groups from Catholic Leadership Institute (80+ members of our team) visited Catholic sites in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to meet partner parishes, priests, clients, and friends in-person to witness the work and fruits of their unique missions. This was part of a greater “Team Days” event hosted annually to provide leadership skills growth and spiritual enrichment to the team. The theme of this week was “Witness.” Among the sites visited that day were St. Hubert Parish and School, the Retreat for Mothers of Children with Disabilities, Our Lady of Fatima Day Program, Penn Newman Center, St. Mary’s Residence, Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, and Mercy Hospice.

One group attended the Retreat for Mothers of Children with Disabilities nearby at the Malvern Retreat Center. While there, these six women had the privilege of participating in the retreat, attending the retreat, praying with and enjoying lunch with the mothers. Devon McDonald, People Development and Learning Manager, shared that the experience “was especially meaningful to me as a pregnant woman. I witnessed God in these women who faced great challenges and yet viewed them as a gift. Hearing the mothers at this retreat describe life with their ‘angels on earth’ (which is what they called their children with disabilities) was truly inspirational, and a reminder of God’s kingdom that is at the heart of our work at CLI.”

Mary Serafino, Communications Manager, was in the group that visited Our Lady of Fatima Day Program, a service designed to give adults with intellectual and physical disabilities the skills they need to live their greatest potential. While there, the group participated in activities, playing Bingo, coloring pictures for Mother’s Day, and enjoying sing-alongs. Mary shared that, “it was an uplifting experience that transformed the way I now go about my everyday activities. I saw Christ in the faces of everyone I met – both the clients and their caretakers – and it reaffirmed that relationship is really at the heart of what we do as Catholics and in my role at CLI.” The group enjoyed lunch with several of the supervisors and heard their witness stories, which Mary described as “inspiring – stories that remain in your heart and connect you to the mission.”

Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia was another site visit location, hosting several CLI staff members at their main office. The foundation shared how they just celebrated their 10th anniversary and are growing their team and work. Gina Pellicciotta, Operations Coordinator was part of the group that visited the foundation and shared that, “They work with donors to manage their charitable funds, helping them choose investment opportunities that meet their needs. They also help parishes and Catholic organizations grow and sustain their important work by providing them with various grants.” The CLI group met with several of the team members and a donor who provided their witness as to why they work for and donate to the foundation.

In the Mass he celebrated for the team on the following day, Ascension Thursday, Archbishop Nelson Perez shared the gratitude he and his fellow bishops have for Catholic Leadership Institute and each person’s contribution to the life of the Church through this work. “You enter the life of a local Church in a certain moment of their history. It’s really just a little slice of their history. You help, do, and guide… and you do it with great love and care, rooted in where that local Church finds itself now.”

Photo credit: Sarah Webb, Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Archbishop Perez challenged the team further in the spirit of the apostles at the Ascension to not only “go out” in our Great Commission, but to ascend with the Lord’s plan. “We are called to believe that God is really in charge… It’s not because of us, but it includes us. We continue to receive that call from the Lord to go, but also to ascend to a place of His mindset and his Heart.”

The site visit experience gave our team a treasury of witnesses that increase our hope, faith, and dedication to the work God is doing in the Church today. We will go and ascend with Him, surrounded by countless others.

by Jenn Fiduccia

May 15, 2024

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