One of our treasures in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois with a particularly unique history is the beautiful Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Alton.
Our diocese was once known as the Diocese of Alton from 1857 to 1923. Ss. Peter and Paul were the patronal saints of that diocese, and this amazing parish church was the cathedral (or mother church) during these years.
I was presiding recently at their weekend Masses, with a welcoming invitation from new pastor Father Jason Stone. At each of the three Masses I was blessed to be able to pray with a wonderful parish family who is filled with many stewards who blessed the parish worship as they serve in many ways.
Hospitality was superb at each Mass; many welcoming folks took time to say hello and to welcome me. The altar servers were many in number (five at one Mass) and well-trained, and also happy to serve. Lectors proclaimed the word of God with reverence and clarity, as well as confidence and conviction. Likewise, the eucharistic ministers were reverent and, one could sense, in awe of this ministry they were called to share with their parish family. At all three liturgies, the music ministry truly enhanced and uplifted us in our desire to pray well and praise God.
With respect to all I met in ministry, I would like to share two wonderful examples of “discipleship as a way of life.” One experience I will call: “It’s all in the family.”
At the Saturday liturgy, I was very impressed by a young man I believe to be in his 20s who was the musician. Talented, gifted and a man of prayerful style, Charlie, the pianist, truly knows he has a God-given, and personally developed, talent which he wanted to “give back” in gratitude to his parish and to his God. He remarked with the cantor, Paula Malone, how they enjoy “teaming up” to share this ministry. Turns out that Charlie at one time was a first grade student to Mrs. Malone. Her voice was angelic. I wondered later that evening how much Malone, teaching with her faith at Ss. Peter and Paul School, inspired Charlie to be a better “disciple,” especially now at such an early age.
On Sunday, I got more of the story. At the 10 a.m. Mass I was blessed to meet the parish music director. Wow! She is a blessing with those she leads in song.
I was so filled with peace and joy from these liturgies. Then I discovered the music director is Martha Brockus, and that Charlie is her son. What I experienced is what this parish does each week: a true witness of success of discipleship and sacramental life.
Martha said “yes” to accept the responsibility of handing on the faith to her son. With Martha as his mother, and Paula Malone as his teacher, he was blessed and aided with grace in his choice to share his gifts as a disciple, by teaching and modeling what “discipleship as a way of life” is all about.
After Mass, a lovely lady took time to chat about discipleship and also about her love for her church and God. She told me she was a member of the parish all her life. (Father Stone told me she attended Mass daily.) She was such a joy to speak with, and as we parted she told me her name was Mary Malone. Yes, the mother-in-law of Paula Malone. All in the family is where “discipleship” can truly blossom.
The second experience I will call: “You’re never too old to be a disciple.”
I got to meet with 93-year-old Maurice Wenzel. With a welcoming spirit from the next to the last pew, he turned around as I sat reflecting before Mass in the back pew and said, “Hello” and asked who I was, and told me he was glad to welcome me to “his” church. He too told me he was a lifetime member and his love was so deep for this parish and the school he attended. I asked him about how he had served over the years. He shared with me many different roles of parish leadership he was asked to render and privileged to offer. He told me though he had not been a server as a child. At the age of 80, noticing the “youngsters” were not showing up to serve, he went to the pastor and asked to become an adult server. And guess what? He didn’t need to attend a “servers workshop.” After probably 8,000 Masses (Sunday, weekday, funerals, etc.), he knew exactly how to serve the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Only because of “failing eyesight” did he finally step down from this ministry. Now he sits proudly in the second pew from the back, and with him is his inspired daughter.
I left the Ss. Peter and Paul Parish feeling so blessed as I now begin to serve full time in this ministry of “discipleship and stewardship” for our diocese. I already see such great examples all around our 129 parishes.
Father Stone has been blessed with his first assignment as a pastor and was affirmed at all three Masses with applause. His parishioners affirmed they are blessed to have him come to “share with them,” discipleship and their love of God, and Ss. Peter and Paul Parish.
Once a “cathedral,” where the two first bishops of the Diocese of Alton (now Springfield in Illinois) are buried; this parish is “alive and well,” taking serious the biblical call to “go make disciples.”