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This was the letter of the new USW provincial, Fr Jon Kirby at the beginning of the visitations of the SVD Districts in last september.

“Over the past month I have been making visitations of the San Bernardino District Parishes and Communities and then of the Northern District in San Francisco.

Being originally from the Western Province is no help in getting to know my new “SVD flock”. Alan Jenkins is the only person in our present membership whom I knew from those early 60s. I’ve been away 45 years, which is longer than many of our members have been alive, so there is a lot of catching-up to do.

Visiting our parishes has been a big eye-opener. Different parishes have different needs and challenges. Becoming more familiar with our parishes and challenges is important for knowing what we are able to offer, who we can send where, and the various possibilities for implementing our characteristic dimensions. It is important for knowing the many challenges in our parishes—both those that persist like racial and cultural issues, the aging congregations, and the need for larger churches and better facilities - as well as the new challenges of Covid-19.

The long list of postponements, outdoor Masses, diminished collections, the need for greater IT know-how, and the cumbersome and heartbreaking task of administering sacraments and caring for the sick from a distance and behind a mask have greatly magnified our already quite demanding mission.

Yes, it has been very good to get to know the province and to see firsthand what is happening in our parishes. It has been a blessing to know the confreres a little better; to know their cultural preferences, personalities, family backgrounds and histories, precious gifts and great passions. This is so important for fruitful dialogue and sharing, and absolutely essential making appointments.

Visiting, and simply being with you, even for a short time, has also been a great heart-opener. These were joyful visits. Listening to the ways you live out your ministry, deal with your problems, work with you staff and give yourselves to your flock has brought me much closer to you. It has been a joy to meet you where you are, “at home” in your ministries, and it has been inspiring see the great work that is being done in this difficult time. I realized that we have so much to share, so much to learn from each other—new ministries and technical skills for streaming Masses, workshops and devotions—but most of all the sharing of our lives, our hopes and fears, our deepest longings.

These visits have helped me to know you better. They have opened up my eyes and my heart, and have helped me to realize the simple truth that together we are so much more than we are as individuals, and that by working together we can offer so much more to God’s mission. I look forward to visiting all our Districts before the New Year”.

-Fr Jon Kirby, SVD

Published in the USW Newsletter- August 2020