December 15, 2017 // Parish

Parishioners embody patron’s missionary spirit

How did a young nun who spent most of her short adult life within the walls of a cloister come to be named the patron saint of missions?

Winners of the past three St. Therese, Little Flower annual Chili Cook Off fundraisers pose during this year’s event. All funds from the cook-off are put toward the parish’s “Whatsoever You Do” financial outreach program.

Mission comes from the Latin word “mittere,” meaning “to send.” All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are sent out to love, serve and be witnesses of Christ, and it was St. Thèrése of Lisieux’s passionate love for the Lord that kindled in her a burning zeal for loving and serving others. She discovered that she was being sent out to love in small but impactful ways, first in her home among her family, then in the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux, and finally, in heaven as a powerful intercessor. St. Therese, Little Flower Parish in South Bend was born out of this missionary spirit, and continues to live out St. Thèrése’s mission of love and service today.

The roots of the parish trace back to 1937. Two seminarians of the Congregation of Holy Cross were out searching for the seminary’s lost horse when they happened upon a small settlement of Catholics living in extreme poverty. Convicted to do something that would meet both their physical and spiritual needs, the seminarians obtained permission to form a mission church that would gather in a small chapel. Father Joseph Payne was originally assigned to serve as its temporary pastor, but continued in the role until 1972. It is written in the parish’s history that “Father Payne’s leadership brought into being a parish with the charisms of vibrant liturgy, faith development and reaching out to those in need.”

In 1950 the mission church officially became St. Therese, Little Flower Parish, lovingly called just “Little Flower.” Soon the little chapel could no longer accommodate the growing family of the parish, and in 1958 the current church building was dedicated.

Throughout the years Little Flower has continued to grow. New ministries and faith formation programs have been developed, and additions and renovations have been made to the physical space. Nevertheless, in the midst of this growth, service to the poor and a commitment to social justice have remained at the heart of the parish’s mission. In the early 1980s this dedication to service was formalized in the parish mission statement, part of which reads, “We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world today, with a mission to share the faith, to serve others, and to promote peace and justice in our world.”

There are many examples of this mission being lived out at Little Flower. Members faithfully raise funds specifically for use in the direct assistance program, through which over 25 families are given monetary assistance for paying monthly rent or utilities. The parish food pantry helps feed the poor in the community and even invites local farmers to get involved by donating produce.

Phyllis Singleton, a lifelong parishioner of Little Flower whose parents were founding members, recalls her years of helping run the food pantry. “We put in a lot of hours and fed so many people. We worked hard, but also had a lot of good times while we served. I’m glad the food pantry has expanded from one tiny room to the huge ministry it is now,” she said. Working together in these and other service ministries deepens the sense of community and family connection among parishioners.

“We, the people of St. Therese, Little Flower Catholic Church, are a Eucharistic family, united in our relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” says the mission statement. The diversity within the parish provides a vibrant sense of family and adds a welcoming atmosphere.

The parish embraces members of all ages; youth and young adult ministries are well-established and the parish center serves as the site of the Forever Learning Institute, a program that provides lifelong learning experiences for over 1,300 seniors each year. A dynamic Filipino community calls Little Flower home, and brings energy and joy to the parish.

Father Terrence Coonan Jr., pastor of Little Flower, said he is grateful for the beautiful diversity of the parish and that “… we know it is the Lord God Himself who unites us all. This is especially apparent at Mass,” at which the diversity of those in the pews becomes a testament to the shared love and mission of all the members.

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