The life of devout and dynamic Catholics is varied and vast. Most have at least two things in common, however: a strong faith foundation from their families of origin, and a parish community teeming with people and priests who directly affect their spiritual growth. At Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, the priests and parishioners agree that it’s the family life that makes it a thriving parish.
“We have a great family feel to our parish, and the commitment level of our members who want to grow in their faith is inspiring,” said Father Mark Gurtner, who has served as both parochial vicar and is currently the pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, for a combined 10 years of service. “The biggest strength of our parish is the number of people who attend Sunday Mass and daily Mass. They are always packed. The daily Masses frequently have over 100 people in attendance, which is a great blessing.”
Father Daniel Whelan, parochial vicar since March at Our Lady of Good Hope, agreed. “I think the greatest asset of the parish is the number of young families. Of course, there are the blessings of the older parishioners and their wisdom. But you get the whole gamut at Our Lady, especially the number of young people striving to grow in their faith.”
To a visitor, the Masses might seem distracting, given the intermittent coos, cries and yelps from the littlest Catholics in attendance. But the witness of the families who bring all their kids to Mass faithfully, week after week, is hard to ignore. “To me, babies are like our little pray-ers,” offered Father Whelan. “It’s like hearing them sing to God, which is a welcomed and refreshing aspect of being a part of this parish.”
Father Whelan accedes that parents should, of course, remove their children from the sanctuary if the noise decibel is too loud or if the behavior is inappropriate. But it should be temporary, he believes. “The cry room should only be used when absolutely necessary. It shouldn’t be a de facto place to immediately go to spend the entire Mass.”
David Zehr, whose family joined Our Lady of Good Hope in 1998, added, “I try to make a point to tell a young parent (mother or father) after Mass, whose kids are screaming and squirming, that there’s grace there.” He feels that the sound and movement of young children is “the renewal of the Church.” It cultivates a strong sense, he added, that the young ones are “the next great Catholics.”
Zehr, who serves as pastoral associate and RCIA director, believes this strong foundation of the domestic church first began years ago when then-pastor Father David Voors consecrated the parish to the Blessed Mother, asking her intercession that the parish would include couples with small children and foster a pro-life atmosphere. “He made it a point to pray for the renewal of the church, and now it’s happening. We are seeing the fruits of this prayer,” Zehr said. “We have seen Father Mark take up this beautiful cause, and we know that Father Daniel is very pro-family too.”
Father Whelan feels this pro-life and pro-family culture at Our Lady of Good Hope results in the deeper understanding that children are blessings. “Even if a family only has one child, it’s an incredible blessing,” he elucidated. As a result, the parish is benefiting from the fruits of the hard work parents are doing to instill the faith in their children’s hearts. There are several ministries that serve the littlest members all the way through their young adult years. “In addition to junior high and high school, we have a youth ministry for younger children, which is pretty unique,” said Father Gurtner. “We also have a very active young adult ministry called the Frassati Society, named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who shared his Catholic faith with all of his friends.”
The Frassati Society is open to young adults throughout the diocese, not just limited to members at Our Lady of Good Hope. As stated on the website fortwaynefrassati.org, “sainthood – Heaven – is worth the fight. We know from experience that we can’t do this alone. And so, we journey together. We encourage each other. Grow with each other. And, God willing, we’ll be saints for eternity.” The group’s ongoing activities included monthly eucharistic adoration, with an opportunity for young people to go to confession and hear a talk for further reflection.
Monica Bodien, co-founder of the Frassati Society, said, “We have found that the Eucharist has been the most popular desire for the young adults at our parish. This is why we have been centering all our events around the Eucharist.”
It’s the sacramental focus at the parish that makes it great, Zehr strongly believes. “The Eucharist is the focal point here. The last couple of priests, including Father Mark, have really helped us to understand more clearly the Real Presence.” The parish has always been family-oriented, prayerful and intimate, according to Zehr. “The priests here have always preached about the need to go to confession and instituted weekly adoration on Tuesdays,” he iterated.
As an example of a typical Saturday night during Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar, Zehr shared: “I was making announcements and before Mass, Father Mark came up to an elderly woman and her son and anointed them because of health difficulties. While that was going on, Father Daniel was in the confessional, and then we celebrated Mass.” He says the sacraments were “very vivid and clear” that night, which isn’t unusual.
The Mass is also integral to the students at the new parish school, only in its second year. Father Gurtner explained, “We started it because I had a number of parents who approached me about the consideration of starting a parish-based school. It turned into a three-year discernment process of planning and preparation.” The school is based on a classical educational model, which incorporates the faith into every subject area: The goal is to inspire students toward wisdom and virtue. Central to their spiritual growth is attending Mass four days a week; an additional day is spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
According to both Father Gurtner and Zehr, Our Lady of Good Hope is a parish full of generous and genuine members. “It’s the best aspect of being pastor here,” said Father Gurtner. Zehr concluded, “I can’t really overemphasize the kind-heartedness of the people in our parish.
Our Lady of Good Hope
7215 Saint Joe Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46835
Saturday: 4:30 p.m.
Sunday: 8:30, 10:30 a.m.
Holy Day: Consult bulletin
Weekday: T, Th, F 9 a.m.
Adoration: T 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Reconciliation: Saturday 3:30-4:15 p.m.; and by appointment
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