Every Friday afternoon, Tammie Schenkel enters the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Fort Wayne’s St. Vincent de Paul Church. While her 11-month-old daughter naps in the stroller, Schenkel spends an hour in prayer for Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
Schenkel is one of 19 women praying daily for Bishop Rhoades as part of the Seven Sisters Apostolate, an international ministry of prayer for priests and bishops. Her group is one of 10 in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend that have formed in the last few months.
“This is a quiet apostolate,” Schenkel said. The idea is simple: seven women committing to pray for a specific bishop or priest for one hour, one day a week, for one year. There are no meetings, and the priest for whom each group prays does not have to do anything with the group beyond accepting their gift of prayer.”
The inspiration for the Seven Sisters Apostolate began with Janette Howe of St. Paul, Minnesota. Howe had been praying for her pastor, Father Joseph Johnson, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Without telling him, she made a commitment to pray at 3 p.m. on Thursdays. As she was praying on March 24, 2011, she felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to invite six other women to join her in prayer as spiritual sisters to the priest.
When Howe proposed the idea of the Seven Sisters to Father Johnson, he encouraged her to start the apostolate in seven parishes where seven women would pray for their pastors. After a one-year trial period, “it was embraced and the doors were opened wide in 2012,” Schenkel said.
Schenkel started the first group for Bishop Rhoades in early September after hearing about the apostolate from her stepdaughter, Mindy Haffner, who started Seven Sisters groups at Our Lady of Good Hope for Father Mark Gurtner and Father Daniel Whelan.
Schenkel registered the Seven Sisters group for Bishop Rhoades with the apostolate. After sending him a letter that the group had been formed and would be praying for him and his intentions, the bishop sent a letter of thanks, expressing his gratitude for their continued prayers.
The coordinator for each group of Seven Sisters is called the anchoress, an ancient term that referred to a woman who withdrew from the secular society of the Middle Ages to lead a Eucharist-focused life of prayer and fasting. While the Seven Sisters anchoresses may not be called to such a radical life, their coordination and guidance help to keep the group focused on their mission of prayer. She is also the point of contact with the member of the clergy for whom the group prays, and relates any special prayer requests he might have.
The sisters in a group promise to respect their commitment to one hour of prayer one day a week focusing solely on the priest for whom they are praying, and to pray for his deepening devotion to the Blessed Mother. Schenkel said each group is asked to make a one-year commitment, generally from June to June around the feast of the Sacred Heart. The feast was instituted in 2002 as a special day of prayer for priests.
Delaine Stump is anchoress of a group at St. Vincent de Paul. Her Seven Sisters prays for the pastor, Father Daniel Scheidt.
“I learned about the Seven Sisters Apostolate from Father Jonathan Norton, newly assigned pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Warsaw. He was our associate pastor for three years at St Vincent’s, fresh from ordination,” Stump said. “He shared with me that a group of his new parishioners had gifted him with this apostolate.”
One of those parishioners is Denise Wack, who had seen Seven Sisters founder Janette Howe on Eternal Word Television Network in June. “The Holy Spirit moved me to pray for our new pastor and to get a group started.”
When she proposed it to Father Norton, he took some time to consider her proposal. “I wanted to get his blessing,” said Wack, who has two brothers-in-law who are priests. One, Father William A. Wack, CSC, was named bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee last year.
Father Norton accepted and the group began praying.
The Seven Sisters Apostolate provides a booklet to help members better understand their ministry and to suggest prayers to include in their holy hours. Schenkel said she has been inspired by the stained-glass windows, prayer alcoves and paintings at St. Vincent. “I spend time begging each of them for their intercession for the Bishop.”
Social media has been a help in passing the word about the Seven Sisters Apostolate. Mindy Haffner started one of the groups at Our Lady of Good Hope when she learned about the apostolate from a women’s prayer group on Facebook. “I immediately felt a burst of excitement,” she said. While the notice for the group was about St. Vincent Parish, Haffner was encouraged to pray for the priests at her own parish.
“Absolutely!” she said. “Why not? What a beautiful gift to give to my priests and parish community and school.”
Each of the anchoresses said that she had little difficulty in recruiting women to fill the seven prayer slots in their groups. Many invited friends from already-existing prayer groups, and some found members just by word of mouth.
To learn more about the Seven Sisters Apostolate, go to www.sevensistersapostolate.org. For more information about forming a Seven Sisters group, contact diocesan coordinator Tammie Schenkel at 260-446-5339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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