Parish work has been a core value for the Salvatorians since the late 1800s when the first Salvatorians arrived on the east coast of the USA and made their way to the Pacific Northwest. They found work on Native American reservations and in parishes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and eventually California. Parish ministry has remained a fundamental value for the Salvatorians across the country ever since.
Fr. Mark Sterbenz, SDS, ordained in May 1939, is an example of a Salvatorian with a significant history of parish ministry. He was one of the founding members of Mother Mary Mission in Phenix City, Alabama, which quickly grew thanks to his skills in fundraising. He went on to serve at parishes in Tennessee and Georgia, eventually returning to Alabama in 1961.
St. Joseph’s Mission in Huntsville, Alabama, (now St. Joseph Church)
was founded by Salvatorian priests in 1952 as part of an apostolate dedicated to bringing the Catholic faith to African Americans. The school opened in 1956 with Salvatorian sisters teaching 48 students; enrollment doubled within eight years. When Fr. Mark returned to Alabama to serve as Pastor at St. Joseph Church, he was instrumental in a very historic event.
This September, the school will be celebrating a 60th anniversary: On September 3, 1963, when desegregation was a tumultuous topic in the south, St. Joe’s welcomed 12 white students to learn alongside the already established 106-person African American student body, becoming the first racially integrated school in the State of Alabama. According to St. Joe’s historical account, during this history-making “reverse integration,” one mother of a white student had described her child’s reception as peaceful, warm, welcoming, and comfortable.
Fr. Mark had downplayed the significance at the time, stating, “All we’re doing is teaching religion...to whites, to blacks, to anybody who comes. It’s living the Gospel, plain and simple.”
Today, Salvatorian-led parishes remain faithful to the call to live the Gospel and not to rest until every man, woman, and child knows the Savior through all ways and means possible. Salvatorian priests and brothers also continue to lead and to engage in help-out ministry at parishes nationwide.
“Since our foundation, Salvatorians have helped at parishes and founded parishes when the need presented,” said Fr. Reed Mungovan, SDS, pastor at Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, since 2019. “Here at MGC, we have served since 1925 and will continue ministry to those in need now and in the future.”