By Jerry Duggan
As pastoral associate for justice and life at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo., Sue Robb oversees an amalgamation of outreach efforts that, together, alleviate the suffering of many in need in the local community.
She is able to juggle so many different initiatives at once thanks to a generous parish community.
“Our parish is somewhat small, but mighty, and we are an extremely generous group,” Robb said. “We are a destination parish – meaning we draw not just from our neighborhood but from all over the metro area – and people come to us from such distances in part because of Jesuit theology and our commitment to justice.”
A mainstay of Robb’s efforts is the parish food pantry, a robust operation many have been coming to for more than 25 years. The church receives around 6,000 pounds of food monthly from a local food bank and supplements that with donations from parishioners.
“We take our efforts a step further than the average food pantry by taking orders – we want to give our neighbors foods they know how to cook and foods they need and like rather than simply giving them a generic box of food,” she said.
The pantry also assists community members in getting documentation such as driver’s licenses, ID cards, and birth certificates and helps with other emergency situations as the need arises.
“We learned of four large refugee families who had just arrived from Afghanistan and who were living in temporary housing next door to the parish. All they had were the clothes on their backs,” Robb said. “Our parishioners immediately rose to the occasion, as they have time and time again.”
The families were given access to the parish food pantry, where they could select whatever they wanted. An impromptu request for clothing, put out by Robb via email on a Friday afternoon, netted 70 bags of clothing by Sunday’s Mass. The parish distributed the excess to other refugees in need in the community.
The SFXKC parish community also focuses on refugees, immigrants, and migrants, narrowing in on four specific social justice concerns. First, it participates in the Encuentro Project, started by Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ, who was once pastor at the parish, which provides an immersion experience for parishioners to learn more about immigration policies and conditions on the U.S. – Mexico border.
Additionally, the parish annually supports migrant farm workers in Lexington, Mo., participates in fair trade initiatives and supports local refugee resettlement agencies.
Other efforts include a neighborhood justice center for those who cannot afford legal representation, maintaining a community garden that produces over 1,000 pounds of produce a year, and racial justice initiatives.
This lifegiving, direct, vibrant ministry is something Robb has fallen in love with over her nearly four years at the parish.
“The time had come in my career where I wanted to focus more deeply on justice – that was where my heart was,” she said. “When I came across this opportunity, I knew that it was going to be a demanding role, but that it would be incredibly rewarding – and it has.”
After working in a variety of faith-based capacities for several decades, Robb completed the Spiritual Exercises in 2017, knowing little about the Jesuits at the time. Her experience proved transformative.
Five years later, she finds it difficult to believe the Ignatian Spirituality is a relatively recent addition to her life. Her values are, and always have been, Jesuit.
“I’ve always been a big believer in caring for the less fortunate, in caring for the whole person, and in social justice,” she said. “So be able to use the Ignatian charisms and the Universal Apostolic Preferences to dig into these deeper problems in my work is a tremendous gift.”
Robb maintains that her efforts would not be possible without a generous parish community and dedicated volunteers and that no one has a magic wand – the parish simply aims to alleviate suffering.
“Our incredibly generous parish family makes all of this possible – I may do the organizing and oversight, but they are the people who give our programs life,” she said. “We don’t have all the answers and can’t make all hardship go away, but we try to at least accompany our neighbors and alleviate suffering.”