By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
As the Year of Mercy comes to the close, the people at St. Joseph Parish in Fitchburg reflect on what they have been living and learning about the works of mercy. Yes, Bishop McManus named the church a pilgrimage site for the Year of Mercy, but parishioners had been exploring mercy even before that.
In March, during the 24-Hours of Mercy adoration for the Year of Mercy, Father Richard F. Trainor, then pastor, put copies of the book “Beautiful Mercy” in the pews for adorers to use and keep. (Father Mark S. Rainville was named administrator of the parish in July and Father Trainor was transferred to Blessed Sacrament Parish in Worcester.)
Sister Paula Cormier, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a parish outreach worker, said several people had the book, but hadn’t really read it. Since she periodically leads reflection groups for the parish, she decided to do something with the book.
Participants discussed the corporal works of mercy last spring and learned about the spiritual works of mercy in the fall, she said. They would meet each Monday at Madonna of the Holy Rosary, one of St. Joseph Parish’s church buildings.
“It’s a reminder for all of us what the Year of Mercy is all about, and what mercy is about,” she said.
They would discuss passages from the book, have music, pray for participants’ intentions and encourage each other to live out the works of mercy, she said.
Previously Sister Cormier led a reflection group about Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si.’” That led to people seeing that caring for the environment was also a work of mercy.
“The pope is leading us and we’re allowing ourselves to be led,” said Rosemary Reynolds, a parishioner who participated in that group.
She said Bishop McManus designated their church as a pilgrimage site “to encourage us to be merciful, to learn about mercy, to develop the mercy.”
As a result of hearing what the Pope had to say, she took steps to reduce the amount of electricity, water and heating oil she used at home.
She was also moved to replace disposable cups and silverware with real ones and use cloth napkins at the community breakfast she helped start at church in August after Wednesday Masses, she said.
Styrofoam cups, which don’t decompose when dumped, had become acceptable, she said, but she sees it as part of mercy to be merciful to the land’s resources. The breakfast tables were even decorated with real flowers that Robert Babeau, one of the parish organists, gave the church from his garden.
The breakfasts ended when Ms. Reynolds became ill and was unable to continue them, she said.
However, a project she still works on is a monthly meditation with song, started during the Year of Mercy – to pray for mercy for the world. She said she plays the harp for the service, held from 3-4 p.m. the third Sunday of each month. She and others plan to continue it after the Year of Mercy ends because they feel called to pray, she said.
“We think we need it and the world needs it,” she said.
Some parishioners have been living the works of mercy in special ways for some time.
Feed the hungry
St. Joseph’s St. Vincent de Paul Society dates back to 1957, when an all-male membership served French-Canadian parishioners, said Albert Pierce, president.
Now female members add another perspective. Mostly non-parishioners – including Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians – come to the food pantry at the church, he said. There they can help themselves to rosaries parishioners make for the Society, and young clients can choose a stuffed animal to take home.
The Society serves the traditional poor and those left in need by the economic downturn several years ago, Mr. Pierce said.
About 75 percent of the children in Fitchburg qualify for free school lunches, and therefore for the food panty’s services, he said. But members don’t ask clients’ incomes, just proof of residence and family members’ identification.
Mr. Pierce said when he started working with the Society about seven years ago, they gave out 30 Thanksgiving baskets. Last year, they gave out 162. On average, they serve 180-220 families in six months, some repeatedly, he said. Numbers fluctuate because of the turnover of Fitchburg residents, he said.
“People have really bought into giving to the poor in our community,” Mr. Pierce said. “It’s allowed us to purchase food.” He said poor box donations have risen from $30 per weekend to $150-200 the past five or six years.
Father Trainor promoted the Society and giving to the poor, he said. Parishioners know where the money is going, which raises awareness and an inclination to donate. The Society posts needs and gives thanks for donations on parish bulletin boards.
Roger Boisvert, one of the vice presidents, spoke about the raised-bed gardens and classes the parish and the Society use to teach people how to grow and cook food. They work with Growing Places, a Leominster non-profit organization, and received a diocesan grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Clothe the naked
As part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s ministry, five years ago parishioner Beverly Hofer started St. Joseph’s Clothes Closet to provide free clothes – because some people can’t afford to buy them.
“I was retired and it’s just something I wanted to do to be involved with the Church,” she said. She saw people’s needs while working at the Society’s food pantry.
Some people who come for clothes also get food from the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. The Society, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, parishioners and a consignment shop donate clothes, she said.
The closet, at Madonna of the Holy Rosary, is usually open Tuesdays from 3-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9-12 noon. Some Saturdays religious sisters run Nano’s Nook, a coffee shop serving free coffee and pastries in the church hall.
Mrs. Hofer recalled one February day a couple years ago when she encountered a man she’d met before at the closet. He was wearing pajama bottoms and short-sleeved shirt.
She asked where his coat was, and learned he’d been in jail. He said he didn’t have the $20 another used clothing shop wanted for a coat, so they sent him to St. Joseph’s Clothes Closet.
“So I took him into the closet,” Mrs. Hofer said. “I couldn’t leave him out in the cold. I found him sweaters, hats, gloves, a jacket … everything he needed to try to stay warm. And I would have given him more, but he said he had no place to put it.”
She said he was very polite and grateful, as are most people who come.
“We get a lot (of people) that I think really need it,” she said. “So far I’ve only refused one woman, because I found out where she lived – in a brand new home.”
She said she wonders if some people really need free clothes, but also has to consider that they could have just lost a job.
Some ask for a job there.
“You’ll get the same pay I do,” she tells them. “Their eyes light up.” Then they learn she’s a volunteer (as are those who help her), and they don’t want the “job.”
But many come back for more clothes, she said. Some days there are 20 to 30 people at the closet.
Mr. Pierce recalled a donation of clothes the closet got because of other people’s circumstances.
“We take miracles for granted; we don’t believe in miracles anymore,” he said of some people’s attitudes. “People call them coincidences. We call them little miracles.”
Closing the Year, closing the Door
By William T. Clew | The Catholic Free Press
Bishop McManus is scheduled to bring the Worcester diocesan observance of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to a close at 3 p.m., Nov. 20, the Feast of Christ the King, in St. Paul Cathedral at a service where there will be Liturgy of the Word and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The bishop also will close the Holy Door, according to Msgr. Robert K. Johnson, rector of the cathedral and diocesan director of the Office for Divine Worship. The bishop has invited the people of the diocese to attend.
The diocesan Holy Door was modeled on the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican which Pope Francis walked through to open the Holy Year last year on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope will close the Vatican door and end the Holy Year observance Nov. 20.
The Holy Door in St. Paul’s was made by Gary Gagne, cathedral maintenance man. Bishop McManus inaugurated the diocesan observance Dec. 13 last year by blessing and walking through the Holy Door, then presiding at eucharistic adoration and Benediction.
The bishop also named six pilgrim churches, St. Paul Cathedral; Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Annunciation Parish, Gardner; Notre Dame at St. John Paul II Parish, Southbridge; Sacred Heart of Jesus, Milford; St. Joseph, Fitchburg; St. Joseph Basilica, Webster, and St. Luke the Evangelist, Westborough.
At St. Joseph’s Basilica in Webster, the ceremony to close the parish’s observance of the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., will coincide with the traditional parish observance of the end of the Church’s liturgical year on the Feast of Christ the King, according to Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, pastor.
He said there will be adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, with the participation of the parish. There will also be a symbolic closing of the Holy Door. The children’s choir will sing in both Polish and English.
He said there will be a prayer of gratitude for the people of the parish who took part in the observance and experience of the Year of Mercy and prayer for the continuation of the development of their faith in coming years.
He said there also will be a prayer of expiation for those who did not come to church or take part in the Year of Mercy.
There will be a celebration at the baptismal font, he said, to mark the 1050th anniversary of Poland becoming a Christian state. According to Polish history, when Prince Mieszko, the first ruler of Poland, and many in his court were baptized in 966, it also marked the baptism of Poland as a Christian state.
Other pilgrimage parishes have not yet announced if they will hold any special closing events at their churches.