“When I was a child, my mother used to force me to drink carrot juice everyday after school, takes gobs of vitamin pills each morning, and eat my broccoli at dinner,” said Father Roger. “I would eat my vegetables very slowly, and take only one small bite at a time. I thought of it as some grand gesture of defiance, but it was really so that I could stomach the healthy but difficult-to-swallow food.”
The philosophy behind the Saint Brendan Small Bytes program takes a similar approach. Modern society is flooded with promotions, information, and advertisements. According to a recent article published by the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages each day. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.” Fellow comic Steve Martin offered a similar sentiment, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
“Although the workload of many of our parishioners can be overwhelming and their free time rather limited,” said Father Roger, “I don’t think that our busyness should stop us from the business of learning more about our faith each day. That’s why we created the Saint Brendan Small Bytes program. We want to be so succinct, pithy, and informative, that we can’t be ignored. We also want to convey difficult theological ideas in an understandable and digestible form.”
Launching in October, a series of talks on Sunday mornings will seek to deliver small servings of theology and catechesis to parishioners with the opportunity to learn more later in the same week. One Sunday each month, parishioners will be invited to gather for twenty minutes after the 9:30 a.m. Mass to learn something new about their faith from a dynamic speaker who will offer a more extended talk on the subject the following Wednesday evening during an hour-long service that will include uplifting praise and worship music and time for engaging and energizing prayer.
“We call it small bytes with a ‘y,’” said parish Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon, “because a ‘byte’ is a unit of data or information. This program will offer a small amount of information that is both palatable and interesting.” Consistent with the parish theme for this year--Pray Together. Stay Together—the small bytes talks will focus on some beautiful ways to pray that are rooted in the Catholic tradition.
In October, Jesuit Father Joe Spieler will discuss the contemporary experience of contemplative prayer and will lead an interactive session the following Wednesday evening on concrete ways to practice contemplative prayer. In November, Father Roger will speak about the positive effects of gratitude. Other topics will include how to create an atmosphere of prayer at home with your family, the spirituality of eastern Christianity, praying with the gospels and with the saints, and prayer through music and movement. Each Sunday during the six weeks of Lent, a dynamic homilist will discuss the meaning of the various parts of the Mass so that we all can rediscover the joy of the Sunday liturgy in this Emmaus Series.
For more information as well as the full schedule, click on the “Take a Small Byte” button on the homepage of the parish website at stbrendanparish.org.
The Year of Prayer begins next week at Saint Brendan Parish. The catchphrase for the year will be Pray Together. Stay Together. “Everything begins with prayer,” Father Roger said. “We can do nothing without a profound experience of God in our lives that can only come through prayer. But the fullness of our prayer life is experienced, not alone, but in community. That’s why we’re beginning small groups in our parish.”
A table group of parish leaders at the International Catholic Stewardship Conference last week in Atlanta, Georgia discussed the need for small groups to reinvigorate parish life. “Many people come to church Sunday after Sunday but don’t really know what to do next,” said one participant. “What are the next steps for someone with an active Catholic faith?”
Small groups offer Christian disciples an outlet to share with others what faith means in their lives, both the struggles and joys of their spiritual journal, with trusted friends. “We’ve got to overcome the natural inertia of keeping everything inside,” said Father Roger. “It’s important that we come out of our shells a little bit and begin to trust the people who have been sitting in the pews around us for years. We can learn from each other.”
To emphasize the communal dimension of prayer, the parish began a four-week message series last week called, Get off your high horse, Lone Ranger, and let’s do life together. To counter the common tendency to keep to ourselves, Jesus addressed behaviors and attitudes in the gospel readings over the four-week period that keep people isolated from each other, such as making judgments about others, refusing to forgive people, holding onto resentment and jealousy, and becoming too self-righteous. “The most common reason people avoid joining groups and ministries,” Father Roger remarked, “is that they are afraid of judgment and rejection. But once they take that first step and join a group, all the fear disappears and they will experience fellowship in Christ and acceptance among a group of their peers.”
Twelve small groups representing a variety of stages in life and interests have already been formed and are ready for parishioners to join, including:
“There’s a group for nearly every stage and interest in life,” said Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund. “We’re also encouraging people to start their own group if they have a special interest not already covered by an existing group.”
Saint Brendan Small Groups are easy to join. Click on the “Join a Small Group” button on the homepage of the parish website (www.stbrendanparish.org) to review the groups in detail and to sign up over the internet. Tables will outside of Mass this weekend to take sign ups. Or simply call the parish office at (415) 681-4225, and we’ll get you connected.
President John F. Kennedy once said that “change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Saint Brendan School resumed classes two weeks ago, and hundreds of parents filed into the church for Back-to-School Night. Change was in the air with a new year and a new school principal, Ms. Dianne Lakatta, who joined Saint Brendan on August 1.
“After twelve years of stability at the helm of the school, I think parents may have felt a bit uneasy about the future,” Father Roger said. “I know that when they really get to know Ms. Lakatta they will see that she is passionate about her Catholic faith and will be a strong leader for our school, while also demonstrating a loving, tender, and caring disposition towards students, parents, faculty, and staff.”
The parish’s Director of Evangelization and Faith Formation kicked off the evening by leading the assembly in prayer, asking for God’s blessing over the new school year. Father Roger discussed the pastoral vision for the both the church and school in the coming year. “Our parish theme this year is Pray Together. Stay Together,” said Father Roger. “So, all of our big events this year are designed to breathe new life into your relationship with God. We’ll hear from world-class speakers at fun, all-parish events as part of our Spiritual Happy Hour program. We’re going to discover new ways to pray through our innovative Sunday morning Small Bytes Program. We’ll also have many opportunities to join a small group and to do life together with people in your own circumstances.”
As part of the parish’s emphasis on prayer this year for both the church and the school, Saint Brendan School students will have the opportunity to participate in an innovative new program at Sunday Masses. “When it comes to religion,” Father Roger wrote in a three-page letter to parents describing the new initiative, “students learn from a variety of experiences such as classroom interaction, service projects for the poor, as well as regular participation in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Sunday worship of the parish community.” Children of all grades will be able to serve in different capacities according to their grade level, including as gift bearers, greeters, ushers, members of the children’s choir, lectors, altar servers, and even Eucharistic ministers after their Confirmation in the eighth grade. “We’re asking for 100 percent participation in this pilot program,” said Father Roger. “We know there may be a few bumps in the road, including scheduling issues, but we’re giving this a test run for a year and then will evaluate to see how it went.”
Father Roger then introduced the new principal to the parents. Ms. Lakatta introduced the new staff and gave a presentation on the new school year. The evening concluded with the parish theme song this year composed by the Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri, and former local parishioner, Joanna Collins. “I am so excited about this new year,” said Father Roger. “Change can sometimes be difficult, but, as Gandhi once said, ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world.’”
Do you ever wonder what happens to the money after you place your offering in the basket? The answer is that Saint Brendan has its own “money buddies” to process the collection. In addition to the rectory office staff, Saint Brendan’s Collection Committee consists of parishioners Mario DeBono, Robert Crisera, Elizabeth Gamarra, Lucille Kovash, Jack (“Grumpy”) Mona, Jeff Porter, Stacey Simpson, and Ella Tsang.
These dedicated parishioners report every Monday morning to get the collection money from the safe, where it is securely stored after each Mass. Once the cash has been removed from an envelope and counted, the amount of the donation is written on the envelope. The different denominations of bills are placed into separate bins and then the cash is counted by hand twice. As a final check, the cash is run through a cash counting machine like you see at the bank.
Up until last month, each parishioner’s donation was entered manually into our parish data system. Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund, saw an opportunity to make this process more efficient and asked our vendor to place bar codes on all envelopes beginning in August. Lisa then acquired a bar code scanner like you see in stores. Now with one click of the scanner, each parishioner’s information is entered automatically into the database. Another click on sheets printed with the barcode for amounts typically donated (ex. $1000.00), and the data entry is complete.
While the cash is being counted, other committee members process the checks. Each check is endorsed and the endorsed checks are then grouped into stacks of twenty-five and totaled on an adding machine with a tape for backup. The checks are then run through a scanner one at a time and parishioner information and check amount are entered automatically into the parish’s data system. Once data entry is complete, the checks and the cash are taken to the bank to be deposited.
Another innovation on the horizon, which you may also have seen at the bank, is a remote check depositing machine which can deposit each stack of checks in a matter of seconds. With remote deposit of checks in place, only the cash will remain to be taken to the bank. A planned improvement to make even this final step of the process more efficient will be to place the cash in tamper-proof bags and have it picked up by an armored truck service and taken to the bank. This will save staff time driving to and from the bank and waiting in line for a teller.
Processing collections is a ministry of the church. Starting with the next three-month schedule, Collection Committee service dates will be entered into the Ministry Pro Scheduling system, like all other ministries of Saint Brendan. This will ensure that there are enough counters and make getting substitutes easier when counters cannot serve. “We are deeply grateful for every donation received. It is my personal obligation to ensure that the amounts we receive from the generous stewardship of our parishioners is handled responsibly and used only for the glory of God. I am thankful our Monday morning ‘money buddies,’ who make this happen.”
More than a dozen future leaders of small groups at Saint Brendan Church convened a few weeks ago for an evening of camaraderie and hands-on training. “Part of the year of prayer we are embarking on this Fall involves small group fellowship and faith-sharing,” said Father Roger. “This group of dedicated leaders volunteered to facilitate these groups, and we wanted to make sure that they had every resource and all the support they needed.”
The night began with prayer by Saint Brendan Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon, who read the story of the Road to Emmaus. When Jesus walked and shared a meal with two disciples after his resurrection, “their hearts were burning within them,” Manolito said. “It was the original small faith-sharing group.”
During an hour-long presentation, Father Roger laid out his vision for small groups at Saint Brendan’s. “Small groups are important,” he said, “because they are biblical, they encourage personal transformation, and they grow the church from below.” Leaders of small groups are not intended to be theologians, experts, or people with all the answers, Father Roger remarked during the meeting, but rather courageous individuals who are willing to create a safe environment for meaningful discussion about topics that matter the most to people in their everyday lives.
Like mini-churches, small group meetings ultimately serve the same purposes as Sunday morning worship, just on a smaller scale, Father Roger explained. Small groups should magnify God in prayer, grow as the body of Christ in membership, help people mature in their faith, eventually serve others in ministry, and go on mission for Christ. “Make sure the rubber hits the road,” Father Roger insisted. “Ask your small group members near the end of the meeting how they can make sure to apply what you have been discussing to their current lives through acts of ministry and mission in the coming week or month.”
After the presentation, group leaders moved to a nearby circle of chairs in order to practice. Members of the impromptu small group shared thoughts on a passage from John 20, when the risen Christ appeared to his frightened disciples, breathed on them, and sent them out into the world. “It was an incredible moment of off-the-cuff faith sharing,” said the founder of Random Acts of Catholics, Paul Venables, who facilitated the group. “I was honored to lead it.”
Father Roger then blessed the group, as Sister Angela handed a lit candle to each person. The evening concluded as the leadership team shared a meal together. “From the opening prayer, catechetical presentation, and group discussion, to hospitality and the sending forth, the entire event modeled what a typical group meeting would be like,” said Father Roger. “While every meeting and group will be different, it is my sincere hope that every Saint Brendan parishioner will join a small group and ‘do life together.’”
Parents at Back to School Night last week received a sneak preview of Saint Brendan’s new website, which officially launched on September 1. “We’ve been working on it for almost a year,” Father Roger said, “and I couldn’t be more pleased with what our creative team has developed. The site is modern, elegant, and visually pleasing.”
The work began last October when the parish hired Steve Keegan Photography to capture the life of the parish and school over a typical weekend. “What he came up with was sheer artistry,” said Lisa Rosenlund, Parish Manager. “The pictures are nothing less than stunning, and they make our new website incredibly inviting.” Indeed, the point of a modern church website is to persuade ecclesiastical shoppers to stop in. “[I]f your church does not have a decent website you’re uninviting a lot of people,” said author and theologian Kevin DeYoung. “Your website is the front door of your church for many, many people. If you’d put a greeter at the front door of your physical church, and line up ushers in the sanctuary, and set up a hospitality center in the lobby, and make sure all the signs are attractive and pointing in the right direction, surely you ought to take the same care with your church’s website” because “most people on the web looking for a church will never visit if your site stinks.”
Above the “fold” of the new homepage stand the words in bold print, Find Your Way With Us. “By their very definition the words are welcoming, inviting everyone to follow the Navigator to find their way to Jesus and to discover their course in life,” said the parish’s Director of Evangelization & Faith Formation, Manolito Jaldon. Indeed, the nautical-themed site was designed with the user in mind. Each page of the website directs visitors to parish resources that can help them navigate the sometimes strong currents of life. The homepage, for instance, contains all the programs for the parish Pray Together. Stay Together year of prayer, upcoming featured events, the weekly bulletin, a way to sign up for the parish’s weekly e-newsletter, as well as a contact form for those who need help from the staff.
The other pages lead the user on a virtual journey of faith, from connection to a community, prayer to God, healing from life’s wounds, growing in faith, and loving others through service and mission. The Join the Crewpage introduces the user to the parish community and explains what they can do to help by joining one of our many ministries. Prayers and information about our sacraments can be found on the Strength for the Journey page. People needing help with healing can find information on the Seek Safe Harbor page, and our faith formation programs for adults and children are described on the Find True North page. The All Hands on Deck page sets out our philosophy on stewardship and grateful and generous living and allows visitors to give online, while the Fill Your Sails page contains our Sunday messages, featured articles, and good news about the parish.
“I am so proud of this website and the design team,” said Father Roger. “It is truly a work of art.” To visit the site, go to www.stbrendanparish.org.
Hundreds of excited students and parents returned to Saint Brendan School last week. The morning began with a meet and greet for new kindergarten families and a “coffee klatch” for all the parents. “There was an electricity in the air,” said Father Roger. “It felt good to watch the sea of red-sweatered kids return to class and parents gear up for another exciting academic year.”
One of the big changes this year is the appointment of a new principal to replace Mrs. Grewal, who served the school community for twelve years and now works as Associate Superintendent for the Department of Catholic Schools. Through a unanimous decision by the search committee, Ms. Dianne Lakatta joins the school community, after nearly a dozen years as principal of two elementary schools in the Jefferson School District in Daly City.
Ms. Lakatta holds two master’s degrees from San Francisco State University in elementary education and educational administration, as well as a Certificate in Human Resources Management. Before stepping into her role as principal, she taught kinder-readiness and first and sixth grades. Currently, she teaches fourth grade catechesis in her home parish. “After spending seventeen years in public school education, I am so excited finally to be able to talk openly about my Catholic faith with students and parents and to lead a community that seeks to provide a twenty-first century Catholic education,” said Ms. Lakatta. “I feel proud and blessed to be the new principal of Saint Brendan School!”
In keeping with the school’s mission of “educating the whole child,” Ms. Lakatta’s vision includes working to instill a spirituality of stewardship within the students. Stewardship is the grateful response of a Christian disciple who recognizes and receives God’s gifts and shares them generously in love of God and neighbor. “Stewardship is a way of life,” Ms. Lakatta said at a recent meeting. “In every academic subject area and every part of a child’s life, we want to remind them of God’s generous and bountiful blessings and inspire them to give themselves back to God every day in service to the church and to the community.”
Ms. Lakatta reminisced about her own experience as a seventh grade student at Our Lady of the Valley School in Canoga Park, where she helped seniors at their monthly meetings and served as the first female Altar Server. “I felt so special being able to help the priest,” Ms. Lakatta said. “I know that all kids want to serve and give back their time, talent, and even treasure to God. We just need to encourage them to foster a spirit of stewardship.”
With this goal in mind and as part of the parish theme this year--Pray Together. Stay Together—the school announced a new opportunity for students in every grade to participate regularly in Sunday Masses by serving in a ministry of their choice. Depending on their grade level, students will be able to serve as Gift Bearers, Greeters, members of the Children’s Choir, Ushers, Lectors, Altar Servers, and Eucharistic Ministers. In a recent letter sent home to parents, Father Roger and Ms. Lakatta wrote that it was their “earnest desire” to give this opportunity for children “to develop a sense of pride and responsibility about [their] contribution to the parish community.”
“I am inspired when I see young children serving in the church,” said Father Roger, “and I look forward to this special opportunity for them to serve.”
Saint Brendan School resumed classes last week, and hundreds of parents filed into the church for Back-to-School Night. Students and teachers are back in the swing of things with new Principal, Dianne Lakatta, at the helm. Perhaps not as well known, however, is that “school” also is back in session for the Saint Brendan Church Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund.
On Wednesday, September 6, Lisa begins a series of online classes as part of a program to earn a Certificate in Church Management from the nationally-regarded School of Business and Church Management at Villanova University. The nonprofit Catholic publishing house and parish consultant group, Our Sunday Visitor, and its subsidiary, American Church Inc., are co-sponsors of the program.
The philosophy behind Villanova’s Church Management program is that, although the Church is not a business per se, it does have a responsibility to use its resources as effectively as possible to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to it. That frequently requires the use management techniques borrowed from the business world. Villanova’s course materials state that participants will be provided with “the most current thoughts on applying sound management practices in a faith-based environment.” Villanova also offers a week-long Church Management course over the summer. It developed the online program so participants would not have to take time away from work and family and incur travel costs.
Over the course of the nine-month academic year, Villanova will present twelve, 90-minute web seminars. The webcasts are interactive and participants can ask questions just like in a regular classroom. There is homework too. Lisa must submit a 3-5 page paper after each seminar, explaining how each specific webcast topic applies to her work at Saint Brendan. More than two late papers and she flunks out!
A distinguished team of presenters will cover twelve topics, including parish social responsibility, church security, civil law, leadership development, church marketing, websites, human resources, facilities management, church budgeting, social media, parishioner relations, and strategic planning. Each instructor will provide their contact information for extra help during “office hours.”
“I’m so excited to be going back to school and hope I never stop learning!” said Lisa. “I feel a responsibility to be a good steward of the resources given to Saint Brendan Church by generous parishioners, and I am eager for new ideas to improve my ministry to this community.” Vicar for Administration and Moderator of the Curia at the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Father John Piderit, is intrigued by the “interesting new program” and is excited to hear about the results. Indeed, the program has garnered overwhelming positive reviews from parishes around the country. Indeed, the Archdiocese of Atlanta was so impressed that it has decided to sponsor one person per parish to earn the certificate.
“This program is going to prove to be invaluable to Saint Brendan Parish,” said Father Roger. “As Lisa continues to hone her administrative and pastoral skills, we will certainly see the dividends paying off in spades.” So, if you run into Lisa around the campus this year, ask her how her homework is coming.