When a community links arms together, it is strong. When it opens its arms to others, it is even stronger. And Butte's Catholic Community North is doing exactly that.
Father Patrick Beretta said the parish of St. Patrick and Immaculate Conception churches is taking the required steps to sponsor an Afghan refugee family for resettlement in Butte.
Beretta credited Butte artist Toni Seccomb with bringing the idea of "adopting" a family to him several weeks ago.
"My son, Dylan Shaw, did a tour in Afghanistan while in the Army," Seccomb said Monday. "I told him I had talked to Father Beretta asking his thoughts on the parish sponsoring a refugee family. Dylan, as a veteran, fully supports our efforts."
For Beretta, the idea was rich with personal significance.
In an interview Sunday, Beretta said that his paternal grandmother, Concetta Psalty, was herself a refugee, fleeing on a French ship from the horror of the Smyrna genocide in September 1922. Losing everything — including her sister — she fled with her sister's baby from the inferno at the ancient Mediterranean city in which it is thought that more than 100,000 people lost their lives.
She made her way to Paris, and there found refuge and started a new life.
"I grew up listening to her stories of all that she had lost, and all that she had received as a refugee," he said.
When Beretta presented the idea to the Parish Council, the support for it was immediate and overwhelming.
"The congregation has received the idea with great enthusiasm," Beretta said. "Now, we wait for a family."
Tom Downey, the Parish Council chair, said that "it was the strong sentiment" of the council that the parish take in a family, not a single refugee, and also that the family be thoroughly vetted.
"And when Father Beretta approached us, all of the council members responded very positively," Downey said.
Beretta and Seccomb met with Noor Parwana of Butte, who is an Afghan-American and has many contacts in humanitarian groups. She suggested contacting a faith-based organization, Home for Refugees.
In order to find a family, the parish has been working with both Home for Refugees and with the office of Gov. Greg Gianforte.
But the mere willingness to welcome a refugee family isn't enough. Beretta said the parish has taken concrete steps to provide the family with a support network.
He said the parish realized that the family would need very specific kinds of assistance:
- The family would need healthcare, including dental care, and he said that immediately Dr. Nicholas Blavatsky and Dr. Mike Bartoletti volunteered.
- The family will need a residence, and a parishioner has made one available. The parish will pay the rent until the family gets established.
- The family's primary breadwinner will need a job, and the CEO of one of the area's largest employers offered his help to secure employment.
- The family will need help navigating local schools, and a teacher in the parish came forward to offer help with that.
- While it is possible that one of the adults in the family helped U.S. troops and may know English, it is probable that at least one of the adults in the family will need translation services, and help with learning English as a second language. As the Adult Education Services program coordinator for Butte School District #1, Diana Kujawa stepped up to help with that.
- And finally, it was thought that someone with financial expertise would be needed to help the family understand family finances in this system. Downey, who has a business degree and 45 years in the insurance industry, volunteered to take on that task.
"We are taking a holistic approach because we want to make sure the family has good support," Downey said.
He added, "When Father Beretta takes on a project, the expectations for success are high because of the quality of his work and attention to detail."
Beretta said the parish's response to the idea has touched him deeply.
"The spontaneity and the enthusiasm have been amazing," he said. "And it came from people of very different political views, from very progressive to very conservative.
"It came from the heart and from faith. It is a moral obligation."
“We have a legal and moral obligation to protect people fleeing bombs, bullets and tyrants, and throughout history those people have enriched our society.” — Juliet Stevenson