Recently I was asked a question that spurred more thought on my part than I had expected. With all my recent cutbacks regarding my general health they wanted to know what they, as parishioners could do to help me. At first I couldn’t really put my finger on what it might be, you are already an inviting community, and you always voice your desire that I do whatever I need to do in order to take care of myself. Over the last three years you have gone out of your way to tell me how much I am appreciated and how you wish you could keep me forever as your pastor. Overall, I would have to say that my general relationship with parishioners couldn’t be much better; you really are a great community. The more I thought about it the more I realized that what would be most helpful would be a shift in attitude on the parish’s part surrounding the Newman Center.
It’s not so much that the general feeling on the parish side is a bad one, in fact I would say most parishioners are excited to have the relationship we do with the college. However, I would also have to say that my general perception is that most parishioners don’t realize the depth of ministry this relationship entails. Until my recent cutbacks the Newman Center had three daily Masses a week, roughly three hours of Confession availability, Adoration, Benediction, daily rosary and much more. With my cutbacks they lost all but one daily Mass and an hour of Confession and Adoration on Wednesday. Since my arrival the feeling I have gotten is that the Newman Center is seen sort of like a parish side project; what would be most helpful is that we come to see it more like our second lung.
Over the last ten years the Newman Center of Western Washington has produced more priestly and religious vocations than any other parish in the Archdiocese. It has also accounted for more Archdiocesan employees than anywhere else so while it may be small in size it has had a huge impact ministerially. The Archbishop sent me to Bellingham with explicit orders to make sure that the Newman Center continues to thrive. I have done my best to do everything I can to make the Newman Center visible to Sacred Heart; I would say that the students are already acutely aware of their reliance on Sacred Heart for much of their support.
I will continue to do whatever I can to make the two communities function as one, but we have to remember that the Newman Center will never be a parish in the same sense that other parishes are. It will always do things a little differently and that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it is. Sacred Heart and the Newman Center have come to rely on one another in a much deeper way than I think most people realize. So in answer to the person’s question, what would be most helpful would be to recognize that when I do things for the Newman Center it’s not instead of doing things for Sacred Heart, it’s for the good of Sacred Heart. We are two lungs in one body.
Prayers Always, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen