West Dundee Parish Reaches Out to Help Flood Ravaged Texas Parish
Christmas Angels
By Pat Szpekowski, Observer Correspondent
December 21, 2017
WEST DUNDEE—Christmas angels do exist. They can be found at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, here, and its sister parish, St. Mary of Gilberts, and at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Spring, Texas. 
Located 1,078 miles apart, parishioners in both states formed a special bond this Christmas and have given each other gifts of faith, hope, and charity. 
Bundles of faith-filled articles were delivered on Dec. 9 to the Texas parish by Joe Sakowski and Gerry Ballard, members of St. Catherine, on behalf of the parish. 
The project began with Sakowski, whose generosity crosses the miles. He is the first to forego credit, but his ideas germinate and build with help from parish members. 
And, as he adds, “the Holy Spirit.”
In November Sakowski spoke to parishioners after Mass. 
“There is a great sense of welcoming and family here,” he said. “I am really excited to share with you that we have 125 new families becoming part of our extended family.”
He explained getting connected with people from St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish near Houston. He said he “spoke with Ethel Maples, who co-chairs a ministry with her husband Bobby, called Christmas Angels.” 
Sakowski told how many families have stories of loss, recovery, and faith following the catastrophic results of Hurricane Harvey  in August. They and thousands of others lost homes, vehicles and jobs and have begun rebuilding their lives.
He asked St. Catherine parishioners to donate $20 for materials and instructions to make a handmade-tied blanket and write a hand-written Christmas card for a family. 
Father Matthew DeBlock, pastor, and Father John Gow, parochial vicar, joined parishioners in the project. 
“I am very grateful to Joe and our parishioners for bringing such a simple but beautiful spiritual lifeline to the families in Texas,” said Father DeBlock. “They will also continue to be remembered by all of us in our prayers.”
Participants returned their finished blankets on Dec. 2 when a team of volunteers sped into action, neatly filling each blanket with donated family Bibles, rosaries, hand-written Christmas cards, and a nativity book called “Manger on the Mantle,” and a Christmas letter from Father DeBlock. 
“This was an easy thing for us to do,” said Jim Scarnegie, who with his wife Gina and their children made a blanket. 
“When Joe announced this project, there was a long line after Mass and the 125-family goal was quickly sold out,” he said. “So many people were willing to help.”
Ethel Maples sent a letter to the St. Catherine of Siena and St. Mary in Gilberts parish families. 
“Our pastor, Father Norbert Meduzia, Jr., was thrilled, but not surprised, at how faith works through others,” she wrote. 
“Beautiful blessings come from a totally unexpected direction. When things look the worst, we have to trust God,” she continued. 
“He has hands and feet and hearts in many, many places. Each of you is following our church’s motto, ‘A People for Others,’ ” Maples wrote.
When Sakowski and Ballard arrived at the St. Ignatius Loyola parish parking lot, “everyone stopped what they were doing and began clapping for us,” said Sakowski. 
“It was so not necessary,” he said, “but they showed their gratefulness the entire time we were there.”
“We met their entire team and felt right at home. The church and parish buildings were being repaired. The hurricane left their sanctuary with the water level up to the top of the altar. It’s hard to imagine.”
This year’s Christmas Angels event at St. Ignatius Loyola was different. Each family stayed in their cars as there were no rooms to gather as in years past. 
Sakowski and Gerry spent four hours with the Christmas Angels, who raised $40,000 for the pre-registered families. Each parent received a $75 gift card for Christmas gifts per child plus a larger value gift card for food and necessities. Then, Sakowski and Gerry gave each family a faith-filled bundle as they drove up in their car.
“When one particular husband and wife drove up and heard we were from Chicago,” said Sakowski, “they stopped to talk and said they had a successful business in the Wilmette area, retired and moved to the Houston area. When the hurricane hit they hardly had time and lost everything. They said the experience brought them both to their knees before the Lord.” 
The couple asked Sakowski why he came. “ I said easy, we came for you. His wife began to cry. I wished them a Merry Christmas, received a handshake and smile, and off they went.”
The Christmas Angels project provided a blessed experience for the parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Mary in Gilberts. “This was a tangible way we could help individual people spiritually through such a difficult time,” said parishioner Jeannie Jobst. “I was happy to be a part of it.”