A parish mission that fosters vocation culture

A parish mission that fosters vocation culture

By Marilyn Minter C.S.S.F.

The Felician Sisters of the North American Provinces have committed themselves to a collaborative vocation initiative. The purpose of this collaborative effort is to make vocation awareness, vocation promotion, and vocation invitation by the Felician Sisters a more effective ministry. One of the programs offered through this initiative is a parish mission conducted by the North American Felician Vocation Team.

The concept of a parish mission was birthed in 1996 when I was the vocation director of my province in Lodi, New Jersey. I felt called to create a culture of vocations in a parish community setting. I expressed this desire in a conversation with a fellow Vocation Director who also ministered in a local parish. He invited me to conduct a mission in his parish and was instrumental in spreading this idea to priests whom he knew. It was not long before I received more invitations to do the same. I was the sole presenter of these week-long parish missions. When it was possible, my sisters would come to support me and to give witness with their presence. The presentations and visits to parish organizations, youth groups, the parish school and religious formation classes were based on the charism and spirituality of the Felician Sisters. My dream was that someday these parish missions could be given by a team of Felician Sisters throughout North America. It would be a means by which we could spread vocation awareness, promotion and invitation; share our charism and spirituality; and be about our mission to cooperate with Christ in the spiritual renewal of the world. Together as Felicians, we would draw others to Jesus and respond to the new evangelization.

In April of 2002, I was one of four Felician Vocation Directors asked by the Provincial Ministers of the North American Provinces to create a Felician Vocation Plan for North America. Our goal was to create a culture of vocations in the church through pastoral activity, especially the pastoral care of youth and young adults. We wanted to focus on five actions: to pray, to evangelize, to experience, to mentor and to invite. (Based on the “Pastoral Plan of the Third Continental Congress to the Ordained Ministry and Consecrated Life in North America,” 2003). My dream became a reality when the team of Felician Vocation Directors adopted the parish mission concept as a way of fulfilling the vocation plan.

We entitled our parish mission, “Rediscovering Your Catholic Faith: A Parish Mission Experience.” Thus far invitations to conduct a parish mission have taken us to Tennessee, New York and Illinois. Looking at the fall of 2004 and into 2005, we are already committed to parishes in Ohio, New York, and Michigan. We hope to conduct missions in “new territories” where Felicians have not ministered, as well as in places where the Felicians once ministered but are no longer present.

This decision was prompted by a little book called, The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson. It is about what happens when we decide to live life in an extraordinary way by praying this simple prayer. Part of the prayer asks God to enlarge our territory to make a greater impact on lives lived for God. We look for new territories where Felician Sisters have not ministered in order to spread the good news of our mission and message so that we can create a culture of vocations and to make a greater impact on life for God. Even though we have eight provinces in North America, geographically there are many places where Felician Sisters have never been. We believe we’re a “best-kept secret” that now needs to be shared with others. There are many parishes throughout North America where the parishioners have not had the opportunity to meet and share life with members of a religious community.

Locating interested parishes

The Felician vocation directors from each of our eight North American provinces are asked to search for parishes that may be interested in having a mission experience. The search begins with a phone call. A letter, a simple flyer stating the components of the parish mission, and some materials about the Felician Sisters are then sent to the pastor or administrator. Upon receiving a phone call from the parish leader expressing interest in having a mission, we explain how a parish mission works.

The team of sisters comes to the parish for the weekend Masses. One sister gives a reflection at Mass on the theme of the mission, incorporating the readings for that particular Sunday celebration. The other team members act as ministers of hospitality, the Word, Eucharist or music if needed and invited to do so. At the Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the entire community is encouraged to participate and join us for the parish mission experience. We try to make the presentations all-inclusive for youth, young adults, and the adults of the parish. It is our hope that youth and young adults will be encouraged to attend the evening sessions since the presentations and style of the speakers vary and are creative. At one of the parishes we were able to have the youth from the religious formation program join us for the evening presentation in place of their class time.

We create a display table in the vestibule of the church for Felician vocation literature. This serves as a place for interested persons to meet and talk with a Felician sister after Mass.

The theme for each of the four evenings of the parish mission is based on our Felician charism of compassion and mercy and the various Franciscan aspects of our spirituality—Eucharistic, Marian, Ecclesial and Evangelical.

Sunday: Together we are church

This evening includes song, a presentation and the night prayer of the church. In the presentation we develop our individual call to holiness and our personal response to the mission of Jesus Christ.

Monday: Mary, our model and guide

This evening includes song, a presentation and the rosary. The presentation incorporates the Holy Father’s call to each of us to be aware of Mary’s role in our lives and to appreciate the gift of the rosary. Marian spirituality, an important aspect of our Felician way of life, is also incorporated into the talk. After we distribute rosaries made by our Felician Sisters, we pray the rosary using the CD, “Rosary of Light”—which includes scriptural meditations on Pope John Paul II’s Luminous Mysteries. (This CD was created by Vinny Flynn and Still Waters Spirit Song Ministries, P.O. Box 486, Stockbridge, Mass. 01262, 888-549-8009).

Tuesday: Francis of Assisi as person and saint

This evening includes song, a presentation, individual prayer with a sister, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The presentation is based upon the life of Saint Francis and his invitation to each of us to respond to the call to conversion to Gospel living and peacemaking in the world today. We emphasize that peace and reconciliation begin with ourselves so that we can share peace and reconciliation with others.

Wednesday: being Eucharist alive

This evening includes Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Praise and Worship, a presentation and Benediction. As Felician Sisters and women of the Eucharist striving for intimacy with God in the sacramental encounter, we experience love and in response we strive to love, to become Eucharist alive. Through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, excerpts of the Holy Father’s document on the Eucharist and a witness of our own lived experience of trying to be Eucharist Alive, we invite the parish community to be drawn into a personal and communal experience of Eucharist.

After each evening’s gathering there is an opportunity for those present to meet with the sisters to enjoy refreshments and to share conversation. This socializing is an important part of the mission experience. The time of the social is not only beneficial for the parishioners but for the Sisters as well. Our lives are meant to be shared. We have learned we can build relationships through one-on-one conversation. God has made an incredible promise to us: “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be with them.” (Matthew 18:20) Through our shared presence and through the sharing of our personal stories, we experience prayer and healing.

If the parish has an elementary school and/or a high school, the sisters schedule visits to the classes which include vocation programs on all grade levels. Spiritfilled presentations and song form a part of these gatherings. Felician literature is also distributed to the students. The religious formation programs of the parish are visited by the sisters after school or at evening sessions as needed. Reflective talks are also available for the confirmation classes and youth groups within the parish. As part of our presentation to youth, young adults and the elders of the community, we present a dramatization of the life of our foundress Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska. At the end of this presentation we distribute a flyer on the life of Blessed Mary Angela and copies of a Litany of Blessed Mary Angela. Before praying the litany together, one of the sisters shares how she lives the legacy of our foundress in her life today. In the presentation to the youth of the parish, one of the sisters processes with them what they “heard” Blessed Mary Angela say to them and how they too can live her spirit in their lives.

Follow-up and other details

The team meets with the parish staff to share ideas about ways to create a culture of vocations. The team visits any other parish organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, and the senior citizens of the community. One highlight of the parish mission is the opportunity to go to the homebound members of the parish to bring Eucharist and to pray with these individuals. We try as much as we can during these four or five days to touch every aspect of the parish’s life and to encourage a culture of vocations.

Together as a team we enter into the prayer life of the parish community by attending daily Eucharist and participating in any parish devotions scheduled during that particular week. We send the contact person a flyer that can be copied and distributed to the parishioners with the week’s schedule and a brief description of the activities. Short bulletin inserts entitled, “Did You Know?” are also included in that mailing. These inserts give some information about who we are as Felician Sisters: our story, foundress, charism, spirituality, our emblem and where we are located in North America.

During the course of the week, after each evening’s presentation we distribute “Keep the Fires Burning!” contact cards. Participants are invited to fill out one of these cards with their name, address, phone number, email and any intentions or prayer requests they may have. These cards also include a space for requesting information on Blessed Mary Angela, exploring a vocation to the religious life or priesthood, or becoming a Felician Sister. When we receive requests for prayers, we respond with a letter promising our prayers and include these names in a prayer journal.

Once the parish has committed to having the mission and the dates are set, the vocation directors volunteer to be part of the team for that week. We do not request a specific stipend but only ask for a donation for continuing our mission. The donations received do not cover the cost of the travel for all the team members since we come from different parts of the country. The donations do, however, cover the cost for materials, future planning and programming for the missions.

We ask that one person be designated as our contact. It can be someone other than the pastor. This contact person is the one with whom we settle schedules, time activities with various groups of the parish and arrange our room and board. We suggest that hospitality for the week be at a nearby convent or at the home of a willing parishioner.

Parishioners who have participated in our mission experience have given us positive feedback. Some tell us that we are “full of life and energy for the Lord”; young people have said that they “have not seen so many sisters in one place before” and that “the church is alive and well and ministering to the needs of the times through the Felician Sisters.” Others have mentioned that the sisters’ presentations on the Eucharist and on Mary are among the best that they have heard. These positive comments reveal that the people of God are hungering for the witness of our commitment to Christ and to the church.

The parish mission experience has been a blessing, not only for the parishes involved but for each member of the team. Our sisters who have been able to participate in one of the missions have also been animated by the experience. We feel that our Felician Congregation has benefited in many ways, especially in the way that God’s grace and the mission of our congregation have been shared with the people of God.

We hope that as we accept the call of Christ to be about the spiritual renewal of the world and create a culture of vocations in North America, we may encourage young people to respond to God’s invitation to the priesthood, diaconate and vowed consecrated life.

Marilyn Minter, CSSF is a Felician Franciscan Sister who has served the Lodi, New Jersey Province for 13 years as vocation director. She is now one of the two coordinators of the North American Felician Vocation Center at 14501 Levan Road, Livonia, Mich. 48154 (866) 762-6355.

 



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