Week in and week out, parishioners of all ages at SS. Peter and Paul Parish thoughtfully slip cash — and occasionally checks — into the church’s five poor boxes.
Last month, their charitable acts of kindness topped more than $1 million for the 18 years the poor box ministry has been in place there.
“I’ve been looking forward to that,” said Msgr. James J. Foley, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul. “My hope, in the beginning, was that we could raise $6,000 a year. We raised $10,000. Now, we’re raising almost $10,000 every two months,” and sometimes much more.
An observation made by a nun who was visiting the parish sums up the program’s success. “She said, ‘It’s the only church I’ve ever been in where people line up to put money in the poor box,’” Msgr. Foley recounted.
The poor boxes are emptied by the pastor after each of the four weekend Masses. Most of the money that is deposited into the box are in bills — $1, $5, $10 and $20. Most of the donors are anonymous, although some write checks.
Some deposit their money before Mass so they don’t have to wait in line afterward.
“It’s unbelievable,” Msgr. Foley said. “People walk into church and after they bless themselves, they put money in the poor box.
“People are living the Gospel message where Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless,” he added.
Misión Santa María, Madre de Dios in Avondale, Chester County is one of the recipients of the poor box donations.
Msgr. Francis J. Depman, mission chaplain of Misión Santa Maria, said the money the mission is allotted from the poor box is a blessing because it helps meets the needs and emergency expenses of many families in the community.
The needs vary, but may include an individual in dire financial straits who is in arrears on rent or on an electricity bill, someone who needs travel fare for a family emergency or someone who cannot afford the funeral expenses of a loved one.
Through the generosity of parishes such as SS. Peter and Paul, Misión Santa María is able to continue its work, Msgr. Depman said. “It’s always good to know that there’s a parish willing to extend a hand.”
In addition to the poor box, the parish remembers the mission throughout the year with clothing drives, donations of food at Thanksgiving and presents at Christmas, to name just a few.
“I’m always very grateful to Msgr. Foley, who was one of my professors in the seminary and has been someone who has always encouraged me in my priesthood and my ministry to the poor,” Msgr. Depman said.
Other organizations that receive money from SS. Peter and Paul’s poor box include Birthright, archdiocesan Catholic Social Services and Project H.OM.E. (Housing, Opportunities for Employment, Medical Care, Education).
“SS. Peter and Paul Parish has been a tremendous partner, helping Project H.O.M.E. strengthen and expand its work with homeless and low-income adults and children for years,” said Mercy Sister Mary Scullion, executive director and co-founder of Project H.O.M.E.
“Msgr. Foley’s leadership and compassion has made a huge difference,” she added.
Msgr. Foley admits that it was with some reluctance that he started the poor box nearly two decades ago when he was a parochial vicar at SS. Peter and Paul. A member of the parish pastoral council at the time had repeatedly asked if the parish could get one. Thanks to the councilman’s urging, the parish eventually installed two poor boxes.
In those early days, the poor box ministry netted $25 to $30 each week. With the permission of the pastor and pastoral council, Msgr. Foley began to vigorously promote the poor box from the pulpit. His goal was to give the poor box money to a different organization every two months.
Next, a committee was formed to further promote the cause. Eventually, representatives from the receiving organizations were placed on a schedule to speak about the cause to the parishioners after Masses or other special gatherings at the church.
Using that model, the parish’s poor box ministry quickly began netting more than $1,500 every two months.
Msgr. Foley, who became pastor in 1993, points out that the poor box has not negatively affected his parish’s regular collections. In fact, those collections have generally increased.
Good marketing, combined with personal testimonials about the positive impact the money has made on an individual and the organization the individual is representing, is what propel the poor box’s success, the pastor said.
“They tug not only at the purse strings, but at the heart strings,” Msgr. Foley added of the bond that is forged between the recipients and the donors. “Sometimes, you don’t have a dry eye in the church.”
For more information, visit the Web site www.sspeterandpaulrc.org.
Printed with permission from Catholic Standard and Times, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.