The Lord often plants desires in the hearts of those He calls that do not bloom immediately but come to fruition at the time and place ordained in His perfect will. The Parish Missionary Program at St. Thérèse, Little Flower Parish, South Bend, is the fruit of such desires.
While serving on the National Evangelization Team in 2011 Abby Kyle, now the director of evangelization at Little Flower, was drawn to a model used for ministering to parishes. Discipleship teams were sent to parishes for three-year terms, during which time they built up youth ministry programming and, more importantly, sought out the youth of the parish, inviting them to grow in love with Christ and to engage in the life of the Church.
The missionaries’ witness of wholeheartedly living and serving the Gospel is essential for the transmission of the faith, since it is one that all baptized Christians are meant to embrace in their own lives. In the apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis writes:
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization … Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries’, but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples.’”
Inspired by the NET model and Pope Francis’ call to missionary discipleship, Kyle’s desire to form a missionary program grew deeper and she discerned how to adapt the discipleship team model to best serve the community at Little Flower. From her background both as a NET missionary and as a youth minister, Kyle knew that peer-to-peer ministry can be very fruitful and effective, and that having a team of missionaries dedicated to personal discipleship with the youth would bless not only the teens but the entire parish as well. Little by little, the missionary program began to take shape.
Meanwhile in Milan, Indiana, Jessica Kline was discerning how God was asking her to put her desire to serve as a missionary to use for His glory. Kline was preparing to participate in a year of missionary service immediately following her high school graduation, but the plan fell through. She understood this to be God’s way of saying, “Not just yet.”
Kline attended Ball State University, where she studied elementary education with a focus in psychology. At Ball State she became actively involved in the Newman Center, serving on the retreat planning team and growing more deeply in her faith.
In August 2017, at the beginning of her senior year of college, Kline traveled to Mishawaka for a friend’s formal entrance into the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. Afterward she met Kyle, who was personally inviting the Ball State students present to consider serving as parish missionaries. Kline’s desire to do mission work was confirmed by Kyle’s invitation, “No real effort was required on my part,” said Kline. “God dropped the opportunity right in my lap and all I did was say‘thank you!’”
After five weeks of training and formation, Kline was officially commissioned by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during the 9:30 a.m. Mass at Little Flower on Sunday, Sept. 2.
The bishop began the rite by praying a blessing over her: “Lord, bless your servant Jessica … make her words the echo of Christ’s voice so that those who hear them may be drawn to obey the Gospel. Fill the heart of your missionary with the Holy Spirit …”
Next, he blessed a crucifix which he then presented to Kline to venerate. “Jessica, receive this sign of Christ’s love and of our faith, preach Christ crucified who is the power and wisdom of God.”
Kline will keep this crucifix as a reminder of her ultimate purpose during this year of service: to boldly radiate Christ’s love to all the members of Little Flower Parish.
She is excited to serve the youth of Little Flower, and especially to share with them her love for the liturgy. “If we can get them invested in Jesus Himself, present in the Eucharist, then a life of prayer and service will naturally flow from that.” She is also looking forward to learning as much as she can about the role of a youth minister and the day-to-day operations of a parish.
The 22-year-old wants to encourage any young people who feel that they are being called to missionary work. “Be courageous!” she says. “Listen to the Lord, be still and hear what He has to say to you.” Following this pilot year, which Father Terrence Coonan Jr., pastor of Little Flower, has called “our mustard seed year,” there will be opportunities for up to four young adults to volunteer as yearlong missionaries. This program is an important witness to all the baptized members of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, reminding everyone to embrace their call to be missionary disciples.
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