Catholics Come Home evangelization campaign brings people back to Church

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Madge Winch came home this year.

Prompted by the Catholics Come Home television commercials that aired throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis this winter, Winch returned to the Catholic Church through St. Joseph Parish in Farmington.

"I really came home, and I just love it," said Winch, who had been born and raised Catholic but left the Church before she was confirmed. "I returned because I saw those ads. It was like the ads were talking to me."

Winch is being joined by her husband, Allen Winch, a non-Catholic who is entering the Church. Winch said their three children were raised in the Church, but she herself stayed away from the sacraments for 33 years. When she took her children to church, "I always had to sit back in my seat and not receive communion. ... Now every time I do receive communion, I come back to the pew and tears just flow, I feel so good." She added, "It's like a burden has been lifted off me."

The Winches are going through the Rite of Christian Initiation at St. Joseph in Farmington, along with more than 30 other people joining or returning to the Church.

Father Rickey Valleroy, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, called Catholics Come Home "a wonderful campaign." He said, "It touched people's hearts, and it spoke of the true Church to come home to. It's been very successful for our parish."

Catholics Come Home was an archdiocesan-wide evangelization effort that involved more than 2,600 commercials, in English and Spanish, that aired between Dec. 16 and Jan. 22. For the campaign, the Archdiocese of St. Louis partnered with Catholics Come Home Inc., a Georgia-based nonprofit lay Catholic organization that uses a mass media outreach to evangelize fallen-away Catholics and others with an interest in learning more about the Catholic faith.

Funding for Catholics Come Home St. Louis came from several sources, including a second collection in parishes one weekend in October.

"For us it worked wonderfully," said Father Valleroy.

Also returning to the Church through St. Joseph in Farmington is Shirley Hill, who was raised a Catholic in St. Joseph Parish and attended elementary and high school there. She and her husband, Tom Hill, were married in the Church, but "as time went by, we got kind of lax (about going to Mass) and it became easier and easier" to stay away.

Shirley Hill saw the Catholics Come Home ads and "they caught my eye. I thought they were informative and encouraging to bring me back." Although a little hesitant at first to return to the Church, "I didn't need to worry. It's been great."

Tom Hill is joining the Church and is in the parish RCIA program. Shirley Hill added that recent attacks on the Church "politically and otherwise" also prompted their decision. "If we want to fix our country, we have to fix ourselves first. If we're not participating and talking to God through Mass and the sacraments, we are lax in our beliefs."

Father Valleroy said he had a dozen people contact him as a result of the Catholics Come Home commercials. "The parish hosted a dinner for them (and their spouses) ... and I matched each person who came to the dinner with a very active parishioner who helped get involved in the life of the parish. ... I think 100 percent of the people we invited from Catholics Come Home worked at our parish picnic this June because they already felt a part of the parish."

Father Jack Siefert of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood also reported positive results from Catholic Come Home. "We have seen an increase in Mass attendance at church. That's not just me saying that. Parishioners have told me they've seen a pretty good increase in Mass attendance. And there has been a significant increase in loose collections, that is up considerably.

"I know that Catholics Come Home is not about money, but that increase is an indicator," Father Siefert said. "We have seen an increase in Mass attendance and in stewardship numbers."

More on CCH

• To prepare for the Catholics Come Home campaign, Mass attendance was measured for three weekends at parishes throughout the St. Louis Archdiocese before the campaign began. It was also measured for three weekends after the campaign wrapped up. A third measure of Mass attendance is being planned.

• 75 percent of all parishes — urban, suburban and rural — experienced an increase in Mass attendance.

• There was an 8.3 percent increase in Sunday Mass attendance on average in archdiocesan parishes.

• The evangelizing effort is only beginning, said Msgr. Mark Rivituso, vicar general for the archdiocese and Catholic Come Home chairman. He said one of the successes of Catholics Come Home is “that individual Catholics realized their responsibility of being an evangelizer. Now they realize that Jesus has asked them to make the personal invitation and call people to the faith and to renew their love for the Lord.”

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