An Idea Marks a Beginning
Ronnie Angelus is an example of the power of one individual to initiate and promote positive change. As a parishioner at the St. Joan of Arc Church (SJA) in South Minneapolis, she knows the power of the collaborative ministry to promote change. And when one day she witnessed friends’ suffering caused by mental illness, she knew what changes she wanted. “I didn’t want to see anyone suffer as I had seen friends suffer when suddenly a traumatic event made them aware that one of their loved ones was suffering from a mental illness.” With this discovery, there soon followed the awareness that “nothing will ever be the same again.”
In November 2004 Angelus thought it would be good to reach out and support these families. Together with fellow parishioner Mary Paradis, she spoke with Roseann Rogers, the Director of Ministries at the SJA. “She [Rogers] is a mover and shaker without the bluster.” Rogers was instrumental in seeing that the ministry moved forward with the support of Fathers Jim DeBru-cycker and Jim Cassidy, the staff, and the Parish Council.
A Gathering of Parishioners
By July 2005 there was a core group who shared an interest in what is now the SJA Mental Illness Ministry (MIM). They soon worked out goals and a mission statement: “To decrease the stigma of mental illness through education, resources and support.” Looking back to the early meetings, Rogers said, “Little by little all those goals are being accomplished.”
Another key player in starting MIM was parishioner Gene Sylvestre, who helped secure a startup grant offered by the Council of Churches. MIM used the money to train facilitators to lead two support groups: one for Pursuers and one for family members. Public speaking training is also offered for those who want to share their stories with small parish groups.
The group has also used another grant to establish a top-notch library. Sylvestre began this effort by carefully researching the available materials. He gathered recommended book and video lists from mental health organizations. He also sought suggestions from parishioners. He then conducted hours of research cross-referencing the lists to identify the most highly recommended books and videos. The result is a well cataloged library now available to the community. As he pointed out the various offerings on the shelves, Sylvestre said, “For this whole thing to be useful, it’s not just to get the facts out. It’s to get the feelings out. I think that a lot of people know that the only way we’re going to learn is by talking to people who are mentally ill. That’s when the feelings come out.”
Monthly Meetings: Speakers & Support Groups
MIM continues to reach out to new participants, meeting on the second Monday evening of every month. The meeting opens with a speaker on mental illness issues. This is followed by a brief discussion and then the two support groups break off, one for Pursuers and one for family members of Pursuers.
A March 2006 a letter, sent to area churches and other organizations, closes with this invitation, “We invite you to join with us to find ways that we can all work together to reach out to people affected by a mental illness. With much hope, Roseann Rogers, Director of Ministries, Mary White, co-chair, MIM, and Mary Paradis, co-chair, MIM.”
For additional information, call 612-823-8205 or visit the SJA Church Web site, www.stjoan.com and the Mental Illness Ministry link. The link includes an updated listing of area events, contact information, links and other features.