Our Sister Parish: Holy Cross

St. Raphael signed a covenant with Holy Cross Catholic Church in September 2017, which makes Holy Cross our sister parish. We are bound together with promises that we make to pray for each other, to visit each other, and to offer support for each other as needed.

About Holy Cross Catholic Church


Holy Cross Church in Jackson, Kentucky, a part of the Diocese of Lexington in the Appalachian Mountain area, is the only Catholic church in Breathitt County. Josh van Cleef and Ellen Salmi van Cleef are Co-Directors of Parish Life at Holy Cross. They are responsible for all aspects of the leadership and management of the church in the absence of a full-time priest, acting in the capacity that Pastoral Leaders do in the Diocese of Green Bay.

Before Josh and Ellen, the Franciscans cared for Holy Cross and some other Catholic churches in the area. After 50 years of doing this, the Franciscans realized they could no longer sustain their commitment to those parishes, and returned their care to the diocese. Josh arrived at Holy Cross in 2016, just as the Franciscan brother who had been the Parish Life Director left, and Ellen arrived in early 2017.

There are only 30 Catholics in all 495 square miles of Breathitt County. Of those 30, about 25 attend weekend Mass. How many other places can claim an 83 percent attendance rate? A priest travels at least 30 miles to celebrate the one Mass they have each weekend. If someone isn’t going to be at Mass, many of them will call to let Josh and Ellen know. That’s a sign that people really feel they belong, and that they are all an important part of this small faith community. With 25 parishioners, there is only a small number of children. Attracting the few Catholic families in the area who have children has brought a vitality back to the rest of the church. 

Of the 13,000 people in the county, 33 percent live below the poverty line. With that level of poverty, there is a real need for this small number of Catholics to reach out to their brothers and sisters in the community. Holy Cross partners with groups in the community, helping them with the services that they already provide, like food and clothing. The parish also assists in paying gas and utilities bills, as well as providing some food for those who need it. They are continuing to explore where else they can be of the most help to those in the broader community.

Recently, the Parish Life Directors cleaned up the basement of the church to create dormitory-style rooms so the parish can host groups from distant areas. They tell the young people who come that they are not coming to “do service,” but to “encounter God.”

How to Contribute

St. Raphael holds various collections throughout the year to assist our sister parish. The collections depend on the needs of Holy Cross at a particular point in time. Check the bulletin for details about upcoming collections.

You can also visit the Holy Cross parish website, scroll down, click DONATE, and make an online donation through the Diocese of Lexington.