By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Deborah Bratkon speaks with awe about her reserved seat at Sunday’s 8 a.m. Mass at St. John’s Church. She’s used to being in the parish’s St. Francis Xavier Center – eating in its soup kitchen.
But on Mother’s Day, at Mass, she made her consecration to Jesus through Mary. This prayer is said after using Marian Father Michael Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration,” often in a six-week parish program.
Ms. Bratkon and Luis Rodriguez, who also made the consecration Sunday, now talk of sharing their experiences with others.
Kimberly Harmon and Matthew Hart, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, helped them get to this point.
Ms. Harmon said she lost her mother at age 14 to a heroin-related death. Longing to share Marian and Divine Mercy messages, she started Pilot Project Mary for those who frequent the soup kitchen, some of whom struggle with addictions.
She said St. John’s pastor, Father John Madden, allowed her to announce the project at the soup kitchen on March 25, the date she and Mr. Hart made the consecration together in 2014.
“They came in and they made an announcement. … ‘All are welcome,’” Ms. Bratkon recalled.
“What made you say ‘yes,’?” Ms. Harmon asked her during The Catholic Free Press interview Monday.
“I was in a lot of pain,” replied Ms. Bratkon. “Struggle with sobriety. I’m hoping this will help me with everything in my life. I haven’t used in over two weeks – drugs, alcohol. I let my doctor know about this. … He asked me what I’m doing to help myself.”
“You opened up to us right away,” Ms. Harmon said. “It really made us aware of the challenges.” She said she and Mr. Hart did more with attendees than most “33 Days” leaders do. They met more often, did the workbook together, prayed the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, read Scripture, talked about their struggles and helped meet their needs.
She said she helped Mr. Rodriguez finish an application for housing. He said he’s been in transitional housing a month.
“I’ve been homeless myself,” Ms. Bratkon said. “It’s not easy. I’m praying for Luis. I have a home, but I deserve better. I’ve tried everything. This is the only thing that works – prayer.”
“The reason I started (“33 Days”) – I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Kim,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
Ms. Harmon said that for two weeks before starting the classes she and Mr. Hart ate and talked with people at the soup kitchen. They also posted fliers about the classes, which were held in the church hall Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the past six weeks. She checked up on the people who missed a class by giving shelter workers notes for them and by showing their photos at their hangouts, asking if anyone had seen them.
About nine people came at first and four were fully prepared to make the consecration Sunday, Ms. Harmon said. Only Ms. Bratkon came to the church.
Mr. Rodriguez said he felt “lousy” about oversleeping and missing the consecration, but he and Ms. Harmon prayed it by telephone Sunday. Ms. Harmon said she’s hoping to have the other two make the consecration soon.
Ms. Bratkon was rejoicing about her celebration.
She said she put three of the carnations Ms. Harmon gave her at the Blessed Mother’s statue, not wanting to disappoint her. Ms. Harmon assured her that Mary wasn’t disappointed in someone who’d just received sacraments.
Mr. Hart and Ms. Harmon said they took Ms. Bratkon and Mr. Rodriguez to confession to Father David B. Galonek Saturday at Southgate in Shrewsbury. The retired priest welcomed them in the chapel there.
“He made them feel comfortable,” said Ms. Harmon. “He made them feel special.” After hearing their confessions he gave them Communion and the anointing of the sick.
“He made me laugh,” said Ms. Bratkon. “I was OK with crying and laughing at the same time. It was all good because I was honest.”
“I just felt proud of myself,” said Mr. Rodriguez. “I never really went to church, never mind confession.” He said he didn’t remember going to confession after his first Communion.
“I learned that the soul needs to be cleansed, like a dirty dish,” he said. “I learned that lightning actually won’t strike you just because you confess. It’s good for the body, the mind, the spirit.
“I know that there are good people in the Church – Kim and Matthew. … They’re just so loving. Most important, I learned about the Holy Mary. I used to wonder why people pray to her. I learned that the reason we do so is to accept the Holy Mary as your mother, to get closer to Jesus.”
He said he asks Mary to watch over his loved ones and help them get closer to Jesus. And, having heard it’s a sin to miss Sunday Mass, he’s planning to attend.
“By going to church from now on, it’s one of my ways of thanking God,” he explained. “I know he’s always by my side, him and his task force – his angels, people he uses.”
“Earth angels,” Ms. Bratkon added.
“I hope one day God uses me to bring more people out of darkness,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “By coming to 33 Days – it’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself.” He said he’s told family members about 33 Days, and they encourage him in seeking God, even though they don’t go to church.
“If people only knew,” said Ms. Bratkon. “They’ll find out. … I’m not going to be afraid to talk to people about it now. I can share what I went through – my experience. … I feel cleansed. But I’m still human. I’m the same person.”
Generous sponsor helps bring Marian consecration to homeless
A physically ailing member of St. John Parish in Worcester has helped increase the spiritual health of people who frequent the parish’s soup kitchen.
A donation from Mary Carroll made it possible for Kimberly Harmon and Matthew Hart, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, to give a six-week course with Marian Father Michael Gaitley’s book “33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration.”
The book is included in packets that cost about $30 each and were given to each person who came at least once, thanks to Mrs. Carroll, Ms. Harmon said. The packets also contain a workbook, a consecration prayer certificate, a prayer card, a rosary and a Miraculous Medal.
“Mary generously gave her sponsorship for Pilot Project Mary right before she went on hospice,” Ms. Harmon explained. “She … really wanted to support bringing Marian consecration to the homeless, especially in Worcester, because of her deep roots in the city and her strong love for St. John’s and the Saint Francis Xavier Center.”
Mrs. Carroll’s husband, Francis, is behind the establishment of the parish’s St. Francis Xavier Center that houses the soup kitchen.
“She’s got a lot of faith in the Blessed Mother and St. Faustina (who received Jesus’ Divine Mercy revelations)” and wanted to help, he said.
Monday he said a chaplain had just asked his wife, “What can we do for you?”
“In a very weak voice, hardly audible, she said, ‘I love Jesus, and help the poor and needy,’” he said. He called it one of the most beautiful statements he’s ever heard.
Ms. Harmon said she’s been Mrs. Carroll’s private nurse for a year and a half, and that Mr. Carroll has been her mentor in business endeavors.
“Matthew and I have been praying: How do we keep this alive?” Ms. Harmon said of their work with people at the soup kitchen. She said they want to offer “33 Days” again, work further with those who’ve completed it, and help people tap into other resources.
To do all that, she’s seeking monetary donations, and donations of an LCD projector, a large portable screen, an iPad, Bibles, the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” and religious DVDs, she said.
Father John F. Madden, St. John’s pastor, said donations earmarked for “33 Days to Morning Glory” can be left at the rectory.