By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

MORTON – It’s got people in real estate, insurance, roofing, picture framing, carpet laying, heating and cooling – you name it.

It’s the Business Persons Network of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Morton, and there are about 50 active members, according to Lorraine Ranalli, the founding force behind the group that has been meeting monthly in the rectory basement for about a year and a half.

There are no formal officers, but everyone steps up to the plate and things do get done.

“The idea isn’t just to network as a means to drum up business, although there is nothing wrong with that. We are a Christian networking group, the focus is on God. And although you don’t have to be Catholic or Christian to join, we operate on Christian values,” Ranalli said.

Ranalli, a member of the parish finance council whose own business expertise is in radio, television and public relations, conceived the idea of a business network as a means of developing parish spirit and also as a way to bring the members’ entrepreneurial skills to bear in parish operation.

In this sense it’s become a marketing tool for the parish through its activities.

The group has put out a directory of parish ministries which was financed through paid listings of the various business services in the area.

It sponsored a “Meet and Greet” event which specifically targeted all families registered in the past as a chance to meet and talk to representatives of the many parish programs and committees. The group has also conducted a business expo and a business card exchange.

“I love it, it’s a great idea,” said John DeStefano, whose American Picture Framing, Inc. is located in University City, miles away from Morton. “You see people in church every Saturday or Sunday and have no idea who they are or what they do. You never know what services you may need – an auto mechanic or someone in refrigeration. We have people in many businesses and this puts a face to the business.”

Although DeStefano has picked up a few customers through group contacts, “it isn’t just about helping each other in a business sense,” he said. “We are doing a lot of things for the parish and this brings the parish closer together.”

Especially because DeStefano’s business location is out of parish, many who saw him in church were totally unaware of what he did for a living.

“I remember seeing him, I didn’t know what business he was in,” said Bob Squitieri, a realtor.

Through the network Squitieri has been introduced to others about whom he was equally unaware. “I met a person who does doors and windows. He seems to be a nice man and I intend to use him when I need them,” he said.

As with the others, for Squitieri, the aspect of assisting the parish and instilling Christian values is just as important as any personal service needs he may have.

“This has brought more connectedness to the parish,” said Msgr. John M. Savinski, pastor of 2,100-family OLPH. “We’ve been trying to build up a spirit of hospitality and welcome. It’s brought a number of business people together who didn’t know each other and it has been instrumental in getting more volunteers for parish activities.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.