From starting a refugee ministry to welcoming back Catholics who have been separated from the Church, Claudia McIvor is living the priorities of Courageously Living the Gospel, to proclaim, invite and encounter.
“God does not always show me exactly where I’m going in ministry,” said Claudia McIvor. “God points a direction and sends me, and I just have to trust that He will give me the grace to step forward courageously.”
As Director of Faith Formation at Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace Parish in St. Petersburg, this trust and courageous faith has led McIvor to establish new ministries and seek out new ways to evangelize families and those who have fallen away from the Church. When confronted with challenges or uncertainties, she remembers her favorite Scripture, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20), and relies on the Holy Spirit to take charge.
She has seen firsthand how the Holy Spirit can bless the efforts of the community when they come together to do God’s will. When a refugee family from Africa arrived at the parish three years ago, McIvor said she received “a whirlwind lesson in accompaniment”. What began as an effort to provide faith formation to the family’s children turned into a new ministry as McIvor realized how much more the family needed.
“I had never done any work like this in my life, but I saw that the family needed friendship, basic necessities, advocacy, education and much more. I invited our parishioners and the local community to help meet the needs of this and other families of refugees,” said McIvor.
The response to McIvor’s invitation was and continues to be, overwhelming. In the past three years, the parish has served nearly 100 refugees with transportation services, Christmas gifts, school supplies, education and financial assistance. This Thanksgiving, in partnership with Daystar, fourteen families will have fresh food delivered right to their door!
“It has been a blessing to see the progress toward self-sufficiency that each family has made,” said McIvor. “But as a Catholic, my personal blessing has been to witness the many wounds of these refugees be bound up and healed by our service as the Body of Christ. We have met Christ Himself in these refugees!”
Healing is also offered through “Coming Home,” a program for returning Catholics. It is a ministry of welcoming and accompanying, listening and inviting. The team is available to answer questions and hear people’s stories. The program always includes a communal reconciliation service and opportunity for Confession. McIvor said that relationships are key to the success of this ministry.
“I believe this program works because we accompany the participants, let them into our hearts, reassure them that it’s not too late,” said McIvor. “I think they feel an inner prompting to set their lives straight with God and their Church. We are just there to help them when they are ready.”
Another unique way that McIvor approaches evangelization, is the parish’s faith formation program. With only a small number of children, fifteen between the ages of kindergarten through eighth grade, McIvor knew they needed a new approach to religious education. The solution was found by instituting a full-family faith formation program that meets once a month and provides weekly lessons to be done at home. This year, families are studying “Courageous Saints” and though their stories are learning about virtues, discipleship and other elements of the faith.
“The parents and grandparents who brought their children to our monthly sessions began to love learning about the faith all over again,” said McIvor. “Our families are much more connected to parish life than if they were in a drop-off program. Everyone is learning together.”
McIvor’s dedication to evangelization and service has deeply impacted her community and she is quick to give credit and thanks to the many volunteers who make it possible, saying that these past four years at Saint Mary’s has been like “an immersion in the Body Christ.” When it comes to Courageously Living the Gospel, McIvor draws inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi and Mary, Mother of God.
“St. Francis was so courageous in changing the course of his life, perhaps there is hope for me, too. He changed the world by his radical embrace of the Gospel and care for the poor. Equally as important, Our Lady has been a huge influence in my life. Her presence reminds me that even though I am one person, I can make choices to step forward in courage and faith.”
Claudia McIvor is a 2019 St. Jude the Apostle Medal Award Recipient.