I was delighted to see that just before the great celebration of Easter, the Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), a business group, had unveiled a plan and program to lift 30,000 low wages workers in the Austin area to the level where they would enjoy higher income and greater flexibility in seeking job opportunities.
Much has been written of late about the declining middle class, declining not in numbers but in income. While we have seen record profits in most areas of industrial life and despite the inflation that has occurred after 1990, most middle income people have suffered a real drop in real income. This has been especially difficult for unskilled minority workers.
AARO is working with the University of Texas Center for the Study of Human Resources and they are about to release a strategy for the Workforce Potential Project. Their goal is to help 30,000 of Austin’s lower wage workers to complete certificate or degree programs and land jobs that pay at least $18 an hour. What a blessing to so many of our citizens who are really struggling just to get by. The study says that, “With the right programs and support services, those workers could quickly earn the credentials needed for a set of 17 high paying target occupations. The study looked across a range of occupations in four primary fields: health and life sciences, information technology, trades and administrative jobs.”
Let’s wish them well. The recipients of this program are in real need and will benefit tremendously from it.
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There are two extraordinarily important agencies operating in Austin that are desperately needed in our city and deserve the support of the entire community. I am referring to the Austin Children’s Shelter and “SafePlace.” Both are extremely important and, regretfully, sorely needed. SafePlace provides shelter to women and children who have suffered through domestic violence. Austin was one of the first cities in the United States to develop such a program, and we can be very proud of it but we must support it ever more effectively. Austin Children’s Shelter is just that. It is a program that welcomes children who for one reason or another are vulnerable and in difficult straits. Sometimes it is due to violence. Sometimes their vulnerability is caused by sickness, death or even incarceration of the parents.
These two wonderful groups are now coming together to develop an alliance that will allow them to offer new programs to clients, combine their voices to advocate for change and share costs. Their first joint effort will be entitled LIFT. Their first project is the charter school located on the SafePlace campus. It has been operating for years as a K-8 school and is now adding 9-12. This is truly wonderful.
The existence of these two agencies is based agonizingly on need. That need flows from the tragic presence in our culture of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Last year 102 women and 246 children were murdered in Texas by family members. As ghastly as these figures are, they do not begin to measure the misery, the suffering, the psychological imprisonment that goes on in tens of thousands of Texas homes where women are trapped in abusive situations, but are too traumatized and terrified to try and escape.
Congratulations and thanks to Karen Bartoletti who chairs the Board of Directors of SafePlace and Jack Worsten who leads the LIFT Board.
If your family is peaceful, loving and secure, give thanks to God but occasionally give some thought and concern to those families that do not have those blessings. The address for the Austin Children’s Shelter is 4800 Manor Road, Austin, Texas 78723, (512) 499-0090. SafePlace is different. For obvious reasons, they don’t give out their address but they can receive correspondence and donations at P. O. Box 19454, Austin, Texas 78760.
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Sister Teresa George, D.C.
No one wants to go to the hospital unnecessarily but if you find yourself in Austin, Texas, and you want to see something really both wonderful and awesome, find your way to the campus of the Dell Children’s Medical Center. It has been constructed on the site of the old Austin airport by the Daughters of Charity and their many supporters in Central Texas. It is truly a wonderful place.
I have always been intimidated by medical issues. I am not very adept at even putting a bandaid on. When I visit this wonderful hospital, I am amazed at how it changes the lives of thousands of infants and children. I cannot imagine any one person knowing how to keep that thing running.
Well, this great hospital has an excellent leader at the helm. Sister Teresa George, D.C. , a native of Austin, is the president of the Dell Children’s Medical Center and with her leadership, her magnificent staff, together with the support of the whole Seton Family of Hospitals, Dell Children’s is a justifiable source of pride for Central Texas. Sister Teresa, or “Sister T” as she is known by her co-workers, is yet another example of that endless list of gifts that vowed religious women bring both to the internal and external life of the Church across the world. What a blessing they are, a gift to the rest of us and how thankful we should be for their generous service to the Church and the larger community.
The Daughters have been in Central Texas for well over a century and their extraordinary work continues to expand and enrich our common life. God bless the Sisters.
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How I love the wonderful churches of Central Texas. As the bishop, I had the pleasure and the honor of celebrating Mass and the other Sacraments many times in each and every one of them, and I was always fascinated both by their diversity and their unity.
When you go into a Catholic church, there is never any doubt about what you are going to find in there. There will always be an altar, a tabernacle, a baptismal font and a pulpit. After that, there is no telling. Our churches, of course, are where we gather as a community to celebrate Mass and the Sacraments but each one of these buildings has a voice. It speaks to us with its architecture, its décor and its history. As far as ecclesiology is concerned, the most important church in the Diocese is St. Mary’s Cathedral in the center of Austin. There the shepherd of the Diocese presides from his episcopal chair. His leadership reaches out from there to the 130 churches scattered about the 22,000 square miles of Central Texas.
On the opposite end is the wonderful church of Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel, located near Old Washington on the Brazos, that is the location of the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the Republic of Texas was born. Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel is the oldest, smallest and, financially speaking, the poorest parish in the Diocese. It has only 30 families who are for the most part African Americans. Most of them are actually descendents of slaves who worked a plantation in that area. They have held to the faith under heroic circumstances since 1849. God continues to bless them for their faithfulness.
Now something in-between. On Christmas Eve, I concelebrated Mass at St. John Neumann Parish. Though the parish is 25 year’s old, this is their first permanent church and oh, what a church it is! This new church is awesome, awesome both in its size and its beauty, and everyone will have to go see for themselves what these parishioners have accomplished. I know many of the people in St. John Neumann Parish and I know they are fervent and committed Catholics. I am happy that their celebration gives glory to God. However, I also know that the heroic members of Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel, their commitment to God and their worship takes second place to no other parish.
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St. Louis, King of France
There are many wonderful Catholic parishes in the City of Austin and one of the most important is St. Louis, King of France, on Burnet Road. The parish is well known for excellent liturgy, exceptional pastoral care of the people and a very strong social concerns ministry. With all of these things, St. Louis is living up to the faith and strength of its patron, St. Louis, King of France.
The king lived from 1214 to 1270 and had an extremely interesting reign, although I think the most interesting part of it is that he was both a king and a saint. We have not had too many of those in the last 2,000 years. On the other hand, we haven’t had a president canonized as yet, although, in my opinion, Abraham Lincoln merits the title.
Given the toughness of the age, Louis was an exceptional king. He was vitally concerned about justice, care of the poor, the elimination of internal strife among the people of France and, in every other way, showed himself to be a holy and just person. As a product of his age, he was very much committed to the Crusades and his desire to bring the land made holy by Jesus’ life back under the control of the Christians. He was the leader of the 9th Crusade, which was not all that successful, and he would be captured and imprisoned during that episode in his life.
At any rate, he is a great name in Church history and gives the title, once again, to an extraordinary Austin parish.
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A few weeks back, San Juan Diego Catholic High School graduated its largest class of 42 “Saints.” This remarkable school marks yet another success story. The valedictorian is off to Cornell University while the salutatorian will begin classes at Bernard College in New York City in the fall. They are followed by 40 other graduates who have been offered $1.3 million in college scholarships. Virtually all of these young students have been raised in limited financial circumstances but by attending San Juan Diego, the School that Works, they certainly had a leg up in striving for college scholarships. When these young people graduate from the school they not only have four years of first-rate high school education under their belts, but they also have four years of meaningful work in various offices, businesses, banks, etc.
When Juan Diego started about ten years ago, it was part of the national effort by the Society of Jesus to bring first-rate education and potential scholarships into poorer areas of our cities. I don’t know how many schools there are but I think there are at least 15 or 20, and they are all doing what Juan Diego has accomplished. For reasons I do not understand, Juan Diego dropped out of the Jesuit network. I am proud of the fact that they continue to do so well but I do wish they would come back in and be part of the national program.
Juan Diego has very excellent teachers and a number of them are Holy Cross Brothers. What I like about the program is that not only do they get excellent academic formation in their regular classrooms, but they are given the opportunity to polish up their social skills as well – how to do interviews for jobs, which fork to use at a formal dinner and the importance of excellent English. Certainly those qualities make for better job opportunities and also helps to enhance their zest for living.
May God bless all those who work hard to make San Juan Diego a success. We can really be proud of their work.
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Yesterday, I mentioned the importance of the great work done by retreat houses throughout this country. In some limited ways, they are a substitute for the enormous school system that was such a great source of strength to the Church over the last 150 years. That system is still very much with us but not as large as it used to be. When a child is born, or when an adult enters the Church training or formation, education has to take place. Retreat houses, scattered as they are all over the country, are a great resource in accomplishing this end. Today, I want to talk about the wonderful reality of Eagle’s Wings retreat center located in the ranch country a few miles west of Burnet.
A wonderful couple owned some beautiful ranch country and became conscious of the fact that there was no facility within a 100 or 150 miles that would provide programs for Catholic youth of that broad area. They approached the Diocese of Austin and were willing to give a large amount of land to the Diocese, but would expect the Diocese to make a commitment to building a retreat facility for youth. Diocesan leadership did not feel that it could assume this responsibility at that time and turned the generous offer down. What to do?
Mr. and Mrs. Haffner talked to a few men and women about their dream and soon perceived a solid mood of support for that dream. Talking to people with good backgrounds in finance, engineering and construction, they soon had a solid support group they had developed by themselves and without diocesan commitment and support. Jump ahead five years and guess where we are? Mr. and Mrs. Haffner, with that support team from the beginning, and later the enlistment of help from many others, have brought about what for me is the most beautiful retreat house that I have ever seen. Made of solid stone construction, they now have five beautiful buildings and are on their way to building two more. Young people come in groups from the Dioceses of San Angelo and San Antonio and, of course, Austin. The facility, with a continued fine leadership, has become an extraordinary source of faith and enhancement of Catholic living in that area.
I am extremely proud of Eagle’s Wings youth retreat facility but I am even happier about what it represents for me – that lay people are more and more advancing to leadership in every position of the Church and although they would like to have ecclesiastical support, they have proven time after time that they can get great things done without it.
Onward through the fog.
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Have you ever heard of Eagle’s Wings, a beautiful facility in the hills west of Burnet? Eagle’s Wings is a retreat house that has come into being solely on the basis of the vision and hard work of an extraordinary group of lay people.
First a word about retreat houses. Although we still struggle heroically to maintain the parochial schools that we developed over the last 150 years, the truth of the matter is that in most parishes the cost is prohibitive. In my opinion, the retreat house movement has come to be a partial substitute to the shrinking of our school system. When we are baptized into the faith that is a birth, a beginning and that new life and faith has to be nurtured. The prime source of religious education in the Church has always been the family but in modern times, the schools have stepped in and became a great help to the family. Now we have retreat houses springing up all over the country.
Retreats bring men, women, people united by special interests, etc. together on a Friday afternoon and they remain together until Sunday afternoon to pray, listen to lectures and homilies, discuss their faith, celebrate the Eucharist, etc., etc. Then on Sunday evening they return to their homes and their workaday world where there are so many temptations and distractions. Retreat houses are all over the country and have been a tremendous success.
Currently, there are two retreat houses in the Diocese of Austin. One is Cedarbrake which was developed under the formal auspices of the diocese, and the diocese is completely responsible for its operation. The other is Eagle’s Wings and I will tell you about Eagle’s Wings tomorrow. It is a marvelous example of lay people having a vision of the need for a miracle and having the faith to bring that miracle into reality.
On to the Eagle’s Nest!
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St. Austin’s parish in Austin was established back in 1908 when the Paulist Fathers first came to Texas. In my opinion, the founding pastor showed real imagination in naming the church St. Austin’s. The city itself takes its name from Stephen F. Austin, one of the leading figures in the establishment of Texas. However, that name goes back to the 6th century because it is also the popular name of St. Augustine of Canterbury. So the parishioners of St. Austin’s parish can claim both Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Texas, and Saint Augustine (Austin), the apostle to the English.
Augustine was sent from Rome to England to bring Christianity to the Anglo Saxons. At first he had very little success in the foundations for the Church, but the foundations he built for the Church were strong and in the next generation most of England would be baptized into the Catholic faith.
Sadly, we are a country that has only a limited interest in history but I think anyone in Austin should be proud of the heroic work of Stephen F. Austin when he and his father first decided to bring immigrants into Texas. We should also be proud of Saint Augustine who left the comforts of central Italy to establish the Church in the difficult environment of England.
Let’s hear it for Austin!
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One hundred and fifty plus one hundred and fifty equals three hundred! That is the number of houses Habitat will have completed in May when it finishes the new home for the Rivero family in East Austin. The story is better than that.
Austin Habitat started in 1985 and by 2004, it had completed its first 150 homes. Seven short years later, it completed another 150. This is a huge triumph considering it took 19 years to build that first 150 and the second 150 was completed in only seven. This is a reflection of the tremendous local support from institutions and individuals that Habitat is generating.
I am privileged to frequently go to Habitat construction sites and am always edified by two different aspects of the scene: first, the generosity and commitment of these volunteer workers each of whom gives up eight or ten Saturdays in a row, and secondly, they are having a marvelous time doing it. By the time a house is built, there has been real bonding between these workers and the needs of the city. Habitat has now built hundreds of thousands of homes all over the world, but especially in North America.
If you ever get a little depressed by the bad news in the front page of the paper, look behind the scenes and see the generosity of our people manifested in programs like Habitat for Humanity, Hospice Austin, St. Louise House, etc.
There is still great hope for the human family.
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