By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
DOWNINGTOWN – Talk about a busman’s holiday. Nancy Sanchez, who is director of Religious Education at St. Hugh of Cluny Parish in Philadelphia, is part of a neighborhood visitation committee in her home parish, St. Joseph, Downingtown.
It started five or six years ago when Bishop Joseph McFadden was pastor and continued under Msgr. William Lynn.
At this point it’s done twice yearly, and is just one of the parish’s outreach programs. Since St. Joseph is a sprawling parish, it’s impossible to visit all homes in a single campaign. Perhaps 150 to 500 homes will be visited, depending on the number of volunteers – which can vary from six to 20 or 30, according to Sanchez.
A log is kept of the homes visited, to be certain different ones will be visited in future campaigns. It’s not just for known Catholics. Everyone is included.
“We don’t say it’s evangelization, we say it is just visiting neighbors,” Sanchez said, explaining people tend to be put off by the word evangelization. But that’s exactly what it is in a very Pauline sense.
Volunteers knock on every door. They don’t just leave reading materials; they try to speak to everyone, no matter their denomination. In a friendly way, they explain St. Joseph Parish, give out literature on Mass times and parish activities and bring along an assortment of other materials which might answer any questions householders might have about Catholicism. Generally, they are graciously received.
“We go as the Gospel says, two by two” said Sanchez, who chaired the committee this past year. “It’s not by our strength, it’s by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We ask others to pray for us while we are doing this.”
Sanchez, who was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is of Mexican and other Hispanic ancestry, an asset in her work at St. Hugh, which is heavily Hispanic – quite different than suburban St. Joseph Parish.
Next to the youngest in a family with seven living children, she said, “My mother is a strong Catholic woman. I wish I had a tenth of the faith she has.”
She originally came east – first to Florida, then a dozen years ago to the Downingtown area – because of her job working as an inventory planning analyst in the electronics field. After a time, through reading Scripture and through the example of St. Paul, she felt a strong calling to dedicate herself more fully to God’s work.
She walked away from corporate life and started working in a Catholic bookstore. Four years ago she took the DRE position in the city, which complements her parish volunteer work.
Mornings generally find her in a pew at either St. Joseph or St. Hugh, or perhaps another church along the way to work. Daily Eucharist is key to her, as is the Liturgy of the Hours. She is especially devoted to Jesus and His Sacred Heart, and also, in a nod to her heritage, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“My best devotion is talking to God; talking to Jesus and His mom. My vocation is the single life and I go to Him and His mom for everything,” she said. “I pray to Jesus to help me be the best I can be today. He is the presence in my life.”
Her advice to others as the Archdiocese prepares to kick off its upcoming “Make Every Person Count” Lenten parish outreach program is, “Do not be afraid to share your faith with others. It is a treasure meant to be shared with everybody.
“I really believe,” she added, “if everyone knew the truth about the Eucharist, everyone would be Catholic.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.