In MY diocese: St. Henry and Sacred Heart Parishes
The small but mighty parish of St. Henry
By Claire Kenney
A measurement of the strength of St. Henry Parish, Fort Wayne, should not be based solely on an evaluation of its physical size. In fact, the humble nature of the parish allows it to give frequent individual attention to not only its parish members, but also those living in the surrounding community.
“Our number one goal is to change lives one at time,” the parish’s pastor, Father Dan Durkin, said.
Father Durkin has led the parish for the last decade. During his time at the parish, he has witnessed a lot of change.
The parish remains relatively small, with approximately 250 registered parishioners. It works to be involved in multicultural engagement within the local community.
With the help of Redeemer Radio, parishioners’ contributions, fundraiser sales from the community thrift shop and the support of Foellinger Foundation’s Summer Club House, the Brandon Foundation and surrounding parishes, St. Henry has not only been able to carry out its mission of serving “those in our community in any way we can,” but also foster agricultural innovation.
The parish’s ministry outreach, Community Garden, allows it to feed 101 families from 18 different countries. Paul Gerardot, property manager of St. Henry and member of the parish since 1970, is the visionary behind this ingenious agricultural program.
Inspired to honor his brother, Philip Gerardot, who passed away from cancer on the Feast of St. Henry in 2010, Paul launched the Community Garden project just a year after Philip’s death.
“One month after he died, I was looking out at the open plot of land Philip and I grew up playing football on, I said to him, ‘Philip, we are going to do something great with this land’,” Paul recounted in an interview with Today’s Catholic.
And, well, Paul did just that. Paul is, after all, in his own words “relentless.”
“Through the garden, I could give joy to people through the death of my brother,” he said.
The church provides 500 four by eight-inch raised seed bank beds and supplies seeds for members of the parish and members of the larger outside community, so they call all grow produce at the location free of charge. Once an individual inherits a plot, he or she is expected to maintain their garden. And in the spirit of St. Henry Parish’s attention to the individual, each person or family who inherits a plot is given a specifically sized one and types of seeds that cater to their particular needs.
For Paul, the Community Garden has served as therapeutic after his brother’s death. Other participants have benefitted in varied ways.
“We grow more than vegetables,” Paul said. “We grow friendship, love and community.”
Many people have come back to their faith through participation in the garden project.
“Last year, we had about six people come back to the church, including one who had not been back to the Catholic Church for 45 years,” Paul noted.
Because gardening helps with anxiety, the parish invites members of its Alcoholics Anonymous group to participate in maintaining land as well. “They have been actively a part of our garden for about a year,” he said.
On April 8 the parish will host its annual “big event,” as they refer to it, where the banks are prepped for spring. Participating local community members and parishioners restore and refurbish these plots for future use.
Sonia Mares has been a member of the parish for the last five years and has served as the director of religious education for the past three and as the parish administrative assistant for one.
Mares said her participation in the parish helped her to “become more mature in my faith.”
St. Henry Parish is one that works to instill in its members, and those outside of their parish community, a sense of purpose.
“With the resources that we have, the church is a hope for the hungry and despairing,” Father Durkin said.
2929 Paulding Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46816
Saturday: 8 a.m., 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: 8, 10:30 a.m.
Weekday M-F 8 a.m.
Eucharistic devotion: T 8:30-10 a.m.
Reconciliation: Saturday 8:30-9:30 a.m.; Before Mass on First Friday