Having so many people confined at home over the past year has spotlighted the importance of the domestic church. Last fall, the parish leadership team at St. Therese, Little Flower, South Bend, decided to devote 2021 to the family as well, going all out to support every member in their parish “family of families.”
As they were brainstorming ways to do that, they received several confirmations that their initiative would be blessed. Two came from Pope Francis, who dedicated a year to St. Joseph, father of the Holy Family and then declared a Year of the Family to mark the five-year anniversary of his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” — “The Joy of Love.” The parish Knights of Columbus provided additional confirmation when it proposed recognizing a Family of the Month 12 times during the year.
With the encouragement of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, St. Therese has been striving to be a next-generation parish. It began by establishing a three-year strategic plan identifying its mission, vision, core values and priorities. Over the past year, a group of 12 parishioners have been praying, working together and passionately discussing this pastoral plan. They want to create a fellowship of families, equipping parishioners to walk together so intentionally that no one can slip through the cracks. They reached out to single young adults, godparents and grandparents, women and men.
“We’re all part of the Catholic family,” said Megan Gettinger, parish communications coordinator. “We want to live that out more fully.”
Year of the Family offerings include a Frantic Family Workshop on Mondays in Lent to help each family choose a motto exemplifying its vision, plan family meetings and handle conflict. There are Family Freedom Nights featuring a talk, prayer and child care, and an opportunity to watch “The Chosen” together after praying the Stations of the Cross on Fridays, and a Sanctifying the Home workshop for women with Colleen Billing. A “Meat and Greet” men’s cookout will happen on St. Joseph’s March 19 feast day, and “Into the Breach” study groups on Catholic manhood have been formed.
Preparations are also currently being made to form medium-sized “households,” each with its own charism somewhat like the charism of a religious order. They should be ready to launch this summer and will take the form of monthly gatherings and smaller groups for committed members. Each parishioner will be encouraged to discern membership in one of the households.
The Knights of Columbus Family of the Month program fits perfectly into this template. Members are enthusiastic and eager to fulfill their role of servant leadership. They have adopted the national Knights Family of the Month program in hope that some of the families honored at St. Therese will go on to earn recognition at the regional or even international level.
Each month, the council Family of the Month committee selects a parish family who models Christian family values and visibly lives them every day. Because St. Therese,
Little Flower doesn’t have a school, the seven-member committee is eager to honor not only young families but families at different stages.
“I think it is truly wonderful how this program is witnessing that each family is called to holiness in a unique way within their unique circumstances,” said Gettinger.
The Knights solicit nominations from the parish, then try to learn more about each family. At first, families often demur, saying they serve for love of God and the Church, not to be praised.
Jerry Zent, recorder for Council 17043, reminds them that it’s important for other families to have examples of what a great family looks like. Honorees are then invited to join the committee to help identify other exemplary families.
Mphasa Mwanza and her children Oyata, Sete, M’atli and Jendayi, who range in age from 8 to 23, were the committee’s unanimous choice in January. They arrive early at 9 a.m. Mass every Sunday to serve as greeters and stay afterward to help sanitize the church. Even when Mom was in Zambia for 12 days visiting her mother, the four children let their light shine, sitting attentively in the front row. Pre-pandemic, the older daughters were altar servers.
Grand Knight Ben Janczewski calls Mwanza, who is a single parent, “mom of the century.”
Mwanza herself said she has tried to embrace suffering as a blessing. She arrived in the United States two days before 9/11 in pursuit of the American dream of a better life. Her family joined St. Therese, Little Flower before Sete was born. She is a family nurse practitioner, and Oyata, an IUSB graduate, is applying to medical schools.
Mphasa tries to be wherever she is needed in the parish. She loves to cook and has hosted coffee and doughnuts after Mass. She’s an usher and eucharistic minister, has participated in the Alpha program and serves on several committees, including a capital campaign for church renovation. She has helped plan mini-retreats and serves with Oyata on the healing team that regularly prays for the needs of parishioners.
Mornings are hectic but the Mwanza family gathers for prayer every evening, holding hands and sharing intentions. On Sundays, they pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The rosary was a favorite when the children were younger.
After the 9 a.m. Mass one Sunday in January, the Mwanzas received a framed certificate, gift coupons for Barnaby’s Pizza and an outdoor nativity set with a spotlight. Mwanza said she cried, she was so surprised and humbled. “
It gave me so much hope,” she said, “showing me that Jesus loves each one of us. He’s the one calling us; I give Him all the honor.”
Photos of both families have been displayed in the church bulletin, parish website and near the entrances to both the church and the gym where weekday Masses are celebrated. Monica Markovich was surprised how much the framed certificate meant to her children Augustine, Avila and Elizabeth; it is prominently displayed on their piano. They were also thrilled to receive a gift basket for their new puppy, Bosco.
The Chip and Monica Markovich family were February’s honorees. They, too, play a visible role in the 9 a.m. Sunday liturgy. Along with many other ministries, Monica serves as a lector, Gus rings the bells at the consecration and Chip is a Knight of St. Joseph, quietly taking care of things behind the scenes.
Zent calls Monica a “whirlwind.” She chairs the parish finance council, participates in the healing ministry and is a presenter for Kingdom Builders, which the parish hosts every month. Chip is a member of the Knights as well and helped with their men’s prayer breakfasts before the pandemic shelved them.
The family joined St. Therese when they returned to South Bend in 2014. They love the fact that it is a very welcoming parish and that it takes social justice seriously through its food pantry and utility assistance. “The Lord wants to do new things with us,” Monica affirmed. “We try to be open to the way the Spirit is leading.”
Coronavirus pandemic restrictions have been challenging for the parish. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a hands-on experience, and the Markovich children did not do well with virtual religious education. Their parents tried to provide at-home catechesis, paying more attention to the saints and seasons of the Church year. During Lent, they have been praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet together every night.
Both families say they’re simply living their faith together to the best of their ability.
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