For many years Ursuline Academy in Springfield had as its motto Serviam, which is Latin for service (serve). A large part of the Christian formation of the UA students was centered on offering “service” in the church and the community.
Often, in the sacrament of confirmation programs of formation for young adults, one of the important components is completing “service hours.” Often parents (not the youth) would ask if a certain task would be “counted” as falling under the umbrella of “Christian service.”
When considering service hours, I would often ask the youth if they felt that in doing the service they were coming closer to Christ. In other words, “Did you encounter Christ in this action or service rendered?” Often I would have to tell them, making their bed and cleaning their room was not really a “service project” — although the parents may have thought it was a miracle.
A few weeks back I had the privilege to spend the weekend at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Teutopolis. I preached the homily at all four Masses. At three of these Masses the church was pretty full (probably 400-500 persons), while the early Sunday Mass at 6:30 a.m. probably had 250-300. I would say there were 1,500 folks at this gorgeous Catholic “masterpiece” of a church. These numbers are incredible when you see the population sign at the entrance of town: Teutopolis 1,600. Even more incredible is that this town and church are not only surrounded by farms galore, but also by five other area Catholic churches, all only anywhere from three to eight miles away.
What I saw happening was, for me, a clear sign of “discipleship as a way of life.” There were students serving at all four Masses. Saturday afternoon Mass had four servers. On Sunday at the 6:30 a.m. early Mass there were three servers, at 8:30 a.m. Mass there were five servers, and at 10:30 a.m. Mass there were four servers. All of them were there at least 15 minutes ahead of Mass time, all ready to do their ministry. They ranged from a fourth-grader to a senior in high school. All of them were well-trained and very respectful, doing their ministry with reverence.
Later I came to find more of the story regarding the ministry of “acolyte” or being a Mass server at St. Francis. After one of the Masses I saw a “pictorial directory” for the parish — five or six photos of the parish Mass servers. I could not believe it when I counted 194 servers. I know it is probably true that all of the servers were not in attendance when the photos were taken. Wow! What a phenomenal example of discipleship at work in a parish.
St. Francis in Teutopolis is a unique and dynamic parish family. As I met and talked with so many families I could tell so many were already “engaged” in trying to live the “discipleship way of life.” In so many parishes we struggle to find servers, as well as struggle with those who sign up but don’t show up (this is in many different ministries). However, at St. Francis, in every aspect of the liturgical ministries there were many volunteers, and they were committed: two lectors at all four Masses; many musicians and cantors for all four Masses; seven eucharistic ministers helping the priest at all four Masses. There were hospitality ministers all over the place and five ushers collecting the offerings at all four Masses. Each Mass also had a sacristan, a steward who came at least 30 minutes early to set up all the particulars for the liturgical celebration, and coordinate all the ministries. This generous steward remained in the sacristy at a side entrance to the sanctuary, ready to come to the aid of the presider or of any need, should one arise during the liturgy. The liturgies were prayerful, inspiring, and a true encounter with Jesus, in word and sacrament.
I met many of these “intentional disciples.” One in particular that I affirmed personally, but want to give a “tip of the hat” to is Drew Thoele, 18, and a senior at “T-Town” High School. He has served at Mass since third grade. I came to see that in Teutopolis at St. Francis, it still was “cool” to serve; in fact it’s who this young man is — and his family as well. He told me that his mom, Kathy, is a lector, but he also commented on how his older brother Jordan had been one who inspired him. Jordan was also a server from third grade to senior year, but has now moved on into a new ministry. As a junior at Eastern University, he comes home and is one of the parish sacristans coordinating one of the parish Masses. This type of “discipleship” is every pastor’s dream, especially when you then never have to go up to the P.A. system and announce “We need a lector,” or ask, “Are there any servers here today?” I am sure that Father Joe Carlos and all the Franciscans affirm such great stewardship as “intentional disciples.” As a visiting priest I was grateful but more so pretty impressed — and inspired to want to see this in all 129 of our parishes.
Father Carlos, Father Ken Rosswog, and Father Thinh Van Tran are now the three priests missioned at this vibrant parish. They continue staffing the parish and are giving great leadership under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of their order. They are great priests who came to our Sunday afternoon workshop. The Franciscans have a great tradition of Serviam.
Sister Ann Vincent Siemer, a Notre Dame Sister, joins a long list of SSND sisters who have served this parish and formed many disciples over the years. Sister Ann has given this parish over 30 years of ministry, and has touched thousands of lives as she worked tirelessly to “go make disciples” through faith formation. Under their leadership along with their great lay faithful, Teutopolis St. Francis is well under way to becoming a “total discipleship parish.” Throughout the diocese we would be so blessed and will one day be a “total discipleship diocese” if everyone would respond generously like Drew and Jordan Thoele, who began serving the Lord at the age of 8 or 9 and now at age 18 and 21 have never said, “I’m done,” but rather “Where now Lord?” Here I am … send me.