||Visitors at the Catholic Multicultural Center open house are given a tour of the center’s amenities. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
MADISON -- An outpouring of support from the local community, parishes, and the diocese has given the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) new life and a chance to serve the poor and those in need in the Madison area after only a two-month closure.
“Jubilation” was M. Goddard-Pezêt’s response to the news. She and 12 to 14 others had been regulars at the daily Mass at the center, but with its closing many had gone to their own parishes, breaking up the closeness of their group. The center’s proximity to her house and the difficulty of walking from the bus to her parish church, especially during winter, had made the CMC an ideal location for her. Its re-opening has given a ray of hope that Mass may begin again there.
“I’m very happy, as there are a lot of people who need this,” Goddard-Pezêt said. “And some personally depend on this for their livelihoods.”
Goddard-Pezêt was one of the more than 200 people who came to the CMC’s open house July 12 to learn more about its work, reconnect with other center volunteers and regulars, and to meet people who are influenced by its services. Both Bishop George O. Wirz, retired auxiliary bishop, and Bishop William H. Bullock, bishop emeritus, who had the center built at its current location in 2002, were able to attend the open house.
The center, operated by the Diocese of Madison since its inception in 1946, has served a countless number of people from the diocese and even beyond through its meal programs, religious services, adult education, and employment assistance. An announcement May 27 that addressed a severe budget shortfall, however, had led to the closure of the center and 23 diocesan employee positions being cut.
After an outcry from the community, the Madison parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace, with the support of the diocese, assumed responsibility of the CMC only a week later. Due to a strong response to its grassroots effort to raise funds, they expect to re-open the building August 3 and restart its services, beginning with the meal program and food pantry.
“For myself, it’s been extremely inspiring,” Andrew Russell, the former director of the center, said of the response from the local community. Russell, along with three other former employees, will return to the center after its re-opening; as well, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison has agreed to continue the Parish Nurse Program formerly offered at the center and Catholic Charities will provide a part-time bilingual counselor.
Being at the open house and meeting some of the people who made that happen is amazing, he said.
“Hearing all the stuff we’ve been hearing for some time, in person — it’s been great to speak to them and shake their hands, to see the people taking ownership,” Russell said. “They’re not going to let this place close.”
The significant support received from the Madison Diocese, from a challenge grant to match $175,000, and from concerned people throughout Dane County and the Midwest has made it possible for the parish to re-open the center, said Michelle Horton, social action and community enrichment director at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish.
According to estimates, the CMC will require approximately $350,000 annually to operate under the current plan; donations have so far provided 18 months of the operating budget.
“It is a great start but not enough to sustain the important work of the center,” Horton said. “We are right now crafting a two-year budget which will allow us time to work on a more permanent solution on how to better utilize the facility and funding sources.”
The Diocese of Madison has contributed a significant amount to the fundraising effort. Earmarked for the center before its closure was 9.4 percent of the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). At the time of the announcement of the reopening of the center, this total was $155,000, but the amount could increase with a greater response to the appeal.
With the recent developments at the CMC, however, the diocese will also try to bring efforts closer to all the people in need within the 11 counties in southeastern Wisconsin that it serves.
Brent King, director of communications for the Diocese of Madison, said that the move from the diocese’s administration of the center to the parish-based administration reflects the Christian principle of people in the community helping others in their community.
“This is the most effective and sustainable way to serve those in material need,” he said. “As in Janesville and Beloit, the people in need in Madison should first be helped by the people of Madison.
King continued: “That the CMC was started by so many great Catholics in the area, many years ago, is a wonderful testimony to their faith, love of God, and love of neighbor. And it is a great testimony to the bishops of Madison that this work has continued since then.
“But it became time, and financial emergencies made it all the more urgent, that the diocese must step aside and allow the local community to assist their neighbors,” he said. “Msgr. Kenneth Fiedler and the people of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish took the leadership responsibility to get this local-effort-to-assist-local-neighbors principle of Christian charity started. God bless them for this.”
The diocese will continue to have a role in charitable works and helping those in need, King said. “Exactly how that will happen in the future is yet to be decided.”
Persons interested in donating to the CMC can make a check payable to the Catholic Multicultural Center and send it to: Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, 401 S. Owen Dr., Madison, WI 53711.