July 31, 2015
Christ the King Parish was established in Rome on this day in 1927
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
“Gifts obtained through collections, through letters, or by other means will always be abundant with us,” Fr. Dehon explained to the members of his Congregation in 1891. “We shall always have recourse to charity. It is in the spirit of our Congregation to practice humility by begging for money, to depend on Divine Providence for a great part of our needs, and to ask the faithful to share in our activities.”
Even before the foundation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Dehon depended upon the financial assistance of individuals who willingly supported his ministry. Within the first year of his initial assignment after ordination, he established St. Joseph’s Youth Club, a center where boys could play, study, and pray. Leasing property on which he built a chapel and meeting rooms, he had to find a way to pay for the initial investment and daily operational costs.
Some women of St. Quentin helped through appeals and raffles, and his parents sent an annual contribution. In addition, some influential men of the city formed a Committee of Patrons, with founding members contributing 200 francs per year, benefactors pledging 50 francs per year, and honorary members offering 10 francs per year.
The Youth Club answered a great need. Within two years of its inauguration, Fr. Dehon reported to his parents, “It’s a regular anthill. The space is too crowded. Resources, though not abundant, trickle in a little at a time.”
In 1877, with only 500 francs at his disposal, Fr. Dehon rented, with the promise to purchase, a house which became St. John’s High School, the first ministry of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. With the purchase of additional land and the construction of a chapel and meeting rooms, he accumulated a debt of 25,000 francs. Realistically, he wrote, “I was pawning our future,” while firmly convinced that he was doing God’s will.
While others preferred to be practical, Dehon firmly relied on Divine Providence. By 1897, he intended to send missionaries to the Congo. Fr. Dehon’s counselors objected, saying, “We have neither men nor means.” He sent two men anyway. The situation was no different five years later when the treasurer for the missions told him that there was no money to send supplies and personnel to the Congo. Fr. Dehon responded to his treasurer’s panic, saying, “Trust in Providence and struggle on.”
Under Fr. Dehon’s leadership, mission work, along with expenses, expanded with establishments in Finland, Cameroon, South Africa, and Indonesia. The devastation of World War I also burdened the Congregation with much necessary rebuilding.
Toward the end of his life, Fr. Dehon instigated a plan to build in Rome a church to honor the reign of the Heart of Jesus in souls and society. In the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, he elicited financial support not only from benefactors, but also from each priest in the Congregation, whom he asked to pledge the equivalent of twenty-one Mass stipends per year. Fr. Dehon did not live to see the completion of the Church of Christ, the King, but he never stopped working toward the goal. Indeed, when he died, there lay on his desk begging letters that someone else would have to mail.
If Fr. Dehon asked the faithful to share in the activities of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, then he wanted to acknowledge their financial generosity through daily prayer. Every evening his community recited these words: “Let us pray for our benefactors. Lord, be pleased to reward with eternal life all who do good to us for your name’s sake. Amen.”
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian Spirituality
In my work at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, I have witnessed many changes on how our mission continues to reach out to the poor, just as Fr. Dehon did many years ago. One example is moving from dormitory-style living to our family living homes. In these campus homes, house parents build relationships with the children by sharing their love and teaching the Lakota youngsters how a family should work together in building each other up to fulfill their dreams of a better life.
In my position as the Direct Mail Project Manager, I strive to meet the ongoing needs of the Lakota children by sharing stories with our donors through our mailings and on our website about why students need to be at St. Joseph’s.
Knowing why families come to us for help makes me even more vigilant in being a good steward of the gifts we receive. This includes building a strong relationship with our vendors who assist us in the production of our mailings. With the rising costs of paper and freight it requires constant attention to make sure we are getting the best price for the product. Included in this is our considerable cost for postage. For the best postal savings we combine our mail and utilize postal promotions when possible. We are currently using a QR code [Quick Response code] where the donor scans a code to donate and we receive a 2% savings from the USPS.
Though my work doesn’t include direct contact with the students, I always enjoy watching them as they ride their bicycles around campus, enjoy time on the playground, and shoot a few hoops on the basketball court.
I truly believe we are never too old to learn from one another. Watching and listening to the children and staff we work with on a daily basis helps us better meet the needs of our students. These are the gifts I bring to serve this mission.
Sharing our blessings with others is the greatest gift we can give during our life!
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the ministries of the Priests of the Sacred Heart and the benefactors who support them.
gracious giver of all good gifts,
help us to recognize and to appreciate
the blessings that come from your hands.
we wish to share these blessings,
no matter how insignificant our offering seems,
so that we might actively participate
in proclaiming your love to a world in need.
Increase our capacity for gratitude
and increase to overflowing the harvest of our gifts.
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update.
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