St Monica’s Parish in Mishawaka celebrated their patroness’s feast day through the end of August with an evening novena, concluding in a festival on the last Saturday of the month. The week also featured a speaker’s visit, rescheduled from March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The events helped newly appointed pastor Father Jason Freiburger and parishioners deepen their devotion to St. Monica, “the mother of all mothers.”
Every evening of the novena, parishioners gathered in the main sanctuary for a series of prayers, including a Litany of Tears to St. Monica. Father Freiburger told Today’s Catholic that in light of these prayers, “it was good to focus each night on a different intention, such as those who might have somehow been pushed away from the Church by her leaders, family members, or misunderstanding.”
National speaker and youth minister Mary Bielski ushered in the official parish mission event. Bielski presented her signature series – “Be His, Be Brave, Be You” – on the three final nights of the novena, and social gatherings followed. She tied her message into the events commemorative of St. Monica by stating that parishioners share St. Monica’s mission to invite Christ’s healing presence into their families.
Bielski hoped to inspire parishioners to grow in their spiritual lives so that they might flow out in evangelization. Bielski said the first evening, Aug. 25, “As a Church, we have to go deeper than what the world has been saying [about our identity in relationship with the Lord].”
The mission event, Father Freiburger said, was not for the St. Monica parish community exclusively, but for a mix of young adult groups and nearby parishes. “It was focused on what we need to do to strengthen our confidence, knowing we don’t need to be professors of theology to go out and evangelize; it’s our example, our love for others. Bielski gave us some courage for doing that.”
Ministry Developer Megan Burdell said that the mission event “provided a great opportunity to focus on our sense of identity, originally described by our former pastor, Father Jacob Meyer, as a parish that ‘parties, prays, and proclaims.’” While the parish mission did not set new official parish goals and is not a yearly tradition, Burdell expressed that they hope to host more in the future.
The festival dawned on Saturday with Mass, confession, and Father Freiburger in the dunk tank. A parish historian guided guests on a detailed tour of the church; bake-offs were judged, and the Amish-designed sacristy was open for public viewing. Father Freiburger hopes that the week’s events inspired the parish’s large young adult population to become more involved.
Though the parish’s many ministries require strong, faithful leadership, Father Freiburger said, “It doesn’t have to be the priest.” He asked how young adults might be engaged, knowing that they might find themselves in a state of transition, and how long-time parishioners can extend the invitation to younger generations.
Commitment to the faith, he shared, of course trumps commitment to the parish. He proposed service and giving as the paths into parish life that young people are most likely to take. Ultimately, the causes behind collections require work that belongs to the whole Church. So, Father Freiburger asked, “How do we get someone new to coordinate that, so it’s not one more task for the secretary or another ministry leader?”
In a final reflection on St. Monica, Father Freiburger recounted, “Monica was not perfect; Augustine later said that if it weren’t for the education she had pushed so much, he might have come back to the faith more quickly.” A bishop had tempered the great saint’s urgent pleas on behalf of her wayward son: “The bishop told her ‘Get away, it’s not going to happen now … God cannot ignore so many tears; your tears will save him, just not this moment.’”
Father Freiburger mentioned that Bielski had highlighted St. Monica as a patroness of conversion and evangelization, and especially patience, trust, and faith. Both he and the parish are comforted by the thought of another mother looking out for them, as they look out for each other. He shared in a homily weeks before the novena, “I can’t be everywhere. Faith has to be heard, and you need to be the feet and hands of Christ.”
St. Monica’s parish enters a busy wedding season, and RCIA and religious education recommence in the coming month. Construction for a new adoration chapel that will hopefully serve the school as well as the public continues. “More time in prayer, realizing God’s love, will help people grow in conviction and commitment,” Father Freiburger concluded.
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