Despite COVID-19 challenges, DSF ministries continue to thrive virtually

August 18, 2020

Four men were ordained to the diaconate as part of their journey to the priesthood. Their ordination is just one of the many ways the Diocesan Services Fund has supported thousands in Galveston-Houston. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to ripple across the globe, thousands of individuals and families in the Houston area are requiring assistance to help cope with the uncertainty and changes left in their wake. Ministries of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston supported by the 2020 Diocesan Services Fund (DSF) are thriving and discovering new ways to virtually connect with those who seek their programs and services.

Along with issues related to the current pandemic, 60 ministries collectively assist thousands throughout the year, such as the poor, elderly, sick and those in crisis from past hurricane seasons and other natural disasters.

The ministries provide important programs and services that foster teaching, evangelization and worship for 153 parishes across 10 counties in the Archdiocese. All donations to the DSF go directly to the 60 ministries, and no funds are spent on the administration of the Chancery.

Educating the faithful

One of these DSF ministries is the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis (OEC), which provides religious education programs that foster each person’s faith to become living, conscious and active through a lens of lifelong faith formation. Through technology, Catholic churches and schools are indefinitely changing the landscape of forming and sharing the faith with the domestic Church well after the pandemic ends.

“We all are learning a new way to share and grow in the faith, and this pandemic has resulted in a paradigm shift in not only faith formation for families and students, but also in how we continue to form our catechists and leaders,” said Julie Blevins, director of the OEC. “The OEC and parishes both have ventured into the virtual world with much success and great results. Because of those who continue to support the DSF, we are able to provide formation for the parish catechetical leaders that pass on the faith to the faithful and their families.”

Blevins said the OEC is using new resources to train parish leaders in new methods to effectively minister to their parish’s needs across the life cycle. She said all DSF contributions will help the OEC continue to move to a virtual platform and provide trainings for its staff to learn how to use these platforms to their highest capabilities.

As far as how the fall semester programs and activities will be impacted by the pandemic, Blevins said the OEC has encouraged parishes to create several plans that will address different scenarios that may take place, and be able to easily adapt to new situations as they arise.

During the summer the office held online seminars for catechetical leaders focused on virtual family and adult formation on a parish level, especially on specific needs as the pandemic continues.

“How can we provide virtual programs for parishioners at different levels of engagement?” said Blevins. “We hope that the plans they develop during COVID times would still be able to be implemented when this pandemic has passed.”

The joy of vocations

The DSF-supported Office of Vocations also has been impacted by the mandates. The ministry, which provides personal, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation of young people discerning the call to the priesthood or consecrated life, has been successful in staying connected with them virtually since the restrictions were put into place in March.

Father Richard McNeillie, director of the Office of Vocations, said the ministry has remained in operation with most staff working from home, but has found great success in moving most events, including retreats, online. He said the greatest impact on the seminarians has been moving to an online classroom format and finding temporary housing for those impacted by the closing of several seminaries.

“Continuing to support the DSF and praying for these young people as they discern their vocational call is more important than ever,” said Father McNeillie. “We pray that these young people turn to God to reset their expectations and remake their plans. That would really be something if everyone allowed God to determine their future — indeed, that would be a future full of hope!”

Inclusion in Church, society

Another DSF-supported ministry that has found success navigating through this “new normal” is the Office of Hispanic Ministry. It serves approximately 2.4 million Hispanic and Latinos currently living in the Houston area and continues to grow in large numbers each year.

According to Lázaro Contreras, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, its mission is to be an agent of transformation for the Hispanic and Latino community promoting its fullest inclusion and participation in the Church and society.

“During this time of pandemic and uncertainty, our main goal has been to accompany families and individuals through spiritual support and resources that can address some of the challenges they are facing,” Contreras said.

Recent initiatives included the creation of administrative precautionary health and safety measures for staff and programs, the establishment of a new communications network through an app, and pastoral care and outreach offered through weekly webinars led by professionals and counselors. Contreras said the attendance numbers have been impressive.

Contreras said nearly 1,000 attended weekly live webinars held in March, April and May. Nearly 500 downloaded the initial recordings, which included a Holy Hour and Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a Rosary, and a night of prayer and worship. By the end there were almost 10,000 overall views.

Contreras said while most of the webinars were in Spanish, they collaborated with Office of Family Life to provide a webinar in English and Vietnamese.

“Thanks to the tools provided by technology and the support of many people, including through the DSF, we have been able to continue our ministry and expand the immediate and short-term efforts in response to the need for pastoral accompaniment in times of crisis that we find ourselves as the people of God,” said Contreras.
Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said he continues to be deeply grateful to the faithful in the Archdiocese for supporting the DSF each year, especially in times of crisis. He said their excellent work in parishes and bringing their gifts to the Lord and treasury help the common good of the local Church.

“The faithful’s support of the DSF allows the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to be sustained, grow, and enhanced in the expression of our faith,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “All those who benefit deeply appreciate gifts to the DSF. I ask them today to continue sharing their greatest gifts with others by participating in the 2020 DSF.”

For more information about the fund, including a list of the 60 ministries supported by the annual campaign and how to contribute, visit to