Shelby Barth of Highland shares her conversion story
By ANDREW HANSEN
HIGHLAND — Growing up, 26-year-old Shelby Barth attended a non-denominational Christian church but was never baptized. Then God put someone in her life who changed everything. Little did she know that a man named Abe would not only become her husband but would also be the inspiration in her becoming Catholic last year.
Barth, now a parishioner at St. Paul Parish in Highland, shared her story with Catholic Times Editor, Andrew Hansen.
As you grew up a non-Catholic, what did you think about the Catholic faith?
As someone who was not raised Catholic, I had a lot of questions about everything that happened during the Mass and the meaning/history behind it. I felt like there was so much to learn and a bit out of my element, but that also led me to want to learn more and gain a deeper understanding.
The Catholic witness of your now husband, Abe, played a major role, you could say even inspired you to become Catholic?
Early on in our relationship, I could see how important Abe’s faith and upbringing was to him. So, I do feel as though his faith has inspired me from the beginning. He often invited me to attend Mass with him. From then on, our discussion of faith grew. I made the decision to join the Church shortly after our engagement but had been discerning the call to the Catholic faith for quite some time by thenHow often would you and Abe talk about the faith and answer your questions?
Before beginning the RCIA process, I was told that I would end up knowing more about the faith than Abe would, so I must say, I stumped him on a few questions! However, the RCIA process really did open a lot of doors to discussion of faith on a deeper level within our relationship.
Was there anything about the teachings of our faith that you struggled with and if so, how did you overcome that?
I don’t specifically remember struggling with any of the teachings, but more so needing to gain a deeper understanding. My sponsor, Angie Rinderer, and the rest of the RCIA team were always willing to answer our questions and go more in depth of the teachings.
Is there a saint you fell in love with, asking him or her for their intercession and if so, which saint and why?
St. Brigid of Kildare was the patron saint that I chose for confirmation. She is best known for her generosity. Her selflessness is something that has inspired me and a saint I would pray to for intercession.
Last Easter, you were what the Church calls a Catechumen, someone who was unbaptized. On that day, you were baptized, and you received confirmation and first Communion, officially becoming part of our faith. What was that day like?
It was a night filled with so much meaning and the cultivation of my RCIA journey. The Easter Vigil Mass will forever hold a special place in my heart. I look forward to attending this Mass in the future to remember my commitment and support others as they make their own.
When you look back over your journey to our faith, what stands out?
I cannot speak highly enough of the RCIA process at St. Paul (Highland). The team and sponsors showed such determination and devotion throughout the weekly sessions. The team and my sponsor have truly helped me to grow spiritually in a foundation of faith. It is heartwarming to know the support and prayers the parish offered during my journey.
What do you love most about our faith?
There is so much to love and always something new to learn within the faith. I especially enjoyed learning about the sacraments. St. Augustine had described a sacrament as a visible sign of God’s invisible grace, and that really put the sacraments into perspective.
A former Springfield Blessed Sacrament student, parishioner living in Poland, who is taking in Ukrainian refugees, describes the scene at the border, the devastation happening to innocent families, and stories of heroism
By ANDREW HANSEN
POLAND — Children cling to their parents. Families desperately try to find safety. Lines of people wait for food. Ambulance sirens blare. News media rush around. Makeshift fires and big tents are set up to provide some reprieve from the cold. Loud announcements and cries of desperation fill the air.
This is the scene playing out in several cities in Poland along the Ukrainian border as more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their war-torn country. Despite the chaos, these cities in Poland have become beacons of hope for these refugees after Russian President Vladimir Putin had his country unjustly attack Ukraine, raging war on an innocent nation.
“There’s no sense of time. Hours contract into minutes, and minutes stretch into hours. You arrive to pick someone up at 15:00 and they don't come through the border until after 21:00. You drive through the middle of the night, and still there is traffic all around, big buses, full of people, or empty, on the return trip to get more people. The sense of the place is warped as well. You’re in Poland, but mostly hear Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, English, German.”
Those are the thoughts of a former Springfield resident who attended Blessed Sacrament School and Parish and graduated from Springfield High School and who has been living in and out of Poland since 2014. She wished to remain anonymous. She is one of countless of people who is performing heroic acts of love and charity, compassionately taking in some refugees.
For the past several weeks, she has driven to Hrebenne, Poland, which sits on the border. There, tens of thousands of Ukrainian people have poured in. This is one of just many sites where one can witness true grace. This former capital city resident is one of many who are showing courage in the face of calamity, compassion in the face of chaos, and unending generosity in the face of uncertainty — a perfect of example of putting on the face of Christ.
“I've done something as simple as playing with children while exhausted mothers rest and also helping transport people from the border to destinations in Poland,” she said. “I've hosted refugees as well. Right now, I have a mother and her two daughters staying with me. The girls are 8 years old and 14 months. They fled Ukraine with less than $100 and their only possessions were the clothes on their backs. So, the past few days I've focused a lot on making them feel welcome, finding clothes and things for them like diapers, trying to organize school for the 8-year-old, and helping them navigate the situation in Poland.”
She has also helped organize community wide donation drives of medical supplies, clothes, toys, bedding, and things for babies, and she has helped coordinate accommodation, transportation, and assistance for Ukrainians once in Poland, such as finding legal services, opening a bank account, and arranging transportation out of Poland.
“Most Poles I know are hosting or have hosted a Ukrainian refugee family,” she said. “Business-owners, lawyers, journalists, and teachers — people from the most humble to the most exclusive echelons of Polish society, everyone has an open bed, a spare room, or a free flat that they are offering right now. Still, people keep coming, and coming. This massive inflow of people is especially visible at the train stations, where there are masses of people, bundles of clothes for donation, free food, and people sleeping on the floor, waiting for accommodation or for their train. Not all Ukrainians stay in Poland. Some go on to countries in the European Union, like Germany or Sweden. Many Ukrainians fear Putin and Russia will strike Poland next, so they don't want to stay too long.”
Even for Ukrainians who are able to escape the physical danger, their mental anguish remains. Thoughts of family members trapped back in Ukraine, fearing family members will be killed fighting the Russians, the devastation of their home country, and loved ones being lost to an unjust war. Men over 18 cannot leave Ukraine. They have to stay behind to serve in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, something these men take pride in doing, with some Ukrainian men in Poland and throughout Europe returning on their own initiative to protect their country.
“There are terrible reports of Russian military strikes on civilians,” she said. “At the beginning of March, Russia struck a maternity hospital. Entire families have been wiped out from attacks on civilian cars as people are fleeing. Families have been gunned down while walking through what was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor. Russian news is determined to pretend like these things did not happen, or that they were justified in happening. So, the Ukrainian people are suffering immediate harm of their country being invaded without provocation, the second harm of intentional attacks on civilians, and on top of that, those attacks are denied or justified. It is awful. Because of all this, when talking to refugees, I don't ask questions about their experience. But if they talk, I will listen and listen.”
Some of those stories she has learned has touched her profoundly, as she has several friends from Ukraine. One of her friends had their father missing. Later, it was discovered he died, killed under Russian fire while was crossing the street to buy groceries in the city where he's lived all his life. Another friend is a young man. He finished his studies and was excited about his new job. Now, he is spending most of his time in a bunker and making Molotov cocktails. Another friend is a neurosurgeon, as is her husband. She fled with her children, and the father stayed, to serve as a medic in the military.
She also has Russian friends, who she describes as “very frightened.” Some have fled, but others remain. Russia has cracked down mercilessly on war protest and dissent. At the beginning of March, the Russian legislature voted unanimously to outlaw anything other than the official Russian government reports of the "operations in Ukraine,” including making it illegal to call it a "war." People can be punished with a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
“A lot of coverage in the U.S. is using a U.S. or NATO-centric lens, but that lens ignores the history of these places and the words coming from Putin's mouth,” she said. “To a large degree, this war is about history and about Putin's legacy. Putin sees Ukraine as irrevocably part of Russia, to the extent of claiming that Ukraine as a state doesn't exist. From that mindset, he sees the separation of Russia and Ukraine as a mistake that needs to be rectified. He is willing to go to great lengths to bring the space and the people of Ukraine back under Russian control. But that is not what Ukrainians want. Ukraine is a sovereign country, and Ukrainians have the right to choose their country's direction.”
The chaotic scene playing out in the border city of Hrebenne comes on the backdrop of what happened about 80 years ago in Bełżec, Poland, about 15 minutes away from Hrebenne. Bełżec was the site of one of the worst extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany during World War II. This site was not a concentration camp. The camp’s only purpose was to kill. There are still lines of sinister-looking train tracks marking the camp's former sight. Those who pass through Bełżec describe it as a place where you can feel the history in the air, which mixes with the deep apprehension of the present. In this part of Poland, with the wood and coal smoke in the air, old homes, and large tracts of farming land, if feels like you’ve stepped backward a century, to pre-war Poland.
“Given the circumstances that bring everyone to the border, it is hard not to reflect on the horrors that happened there, hard not to think about as we pass bus upon bus full of people fleeing, that once upon a time, this place saw train car after train car of people arriving, sentenced to death, judged, and condemned for their personhood, who they were. There are a lot of thoughts that come from the juxtaposition of the two situations.”
There is also the best spiritual weapon we have as people of faith, which Bishop Thomas John Paprocki wrote about in his March 6 Catholic Times column: “Our strongest weapon, and the most important thing we can do is to pray, asking our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Peace, and her son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to bring a peaceful end to this dire conflict.”
In my last parish, I was told that intinction was not allowed. Our parish priest does do intinction when he receives the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Is intinction OK for priests but not lay people?
For those unfamiliar with the practice, intinction is the dipping of the consecrated host into the Precious Blood and then receiving the “intincted” host in holy Communion.
According to the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), the detailed document that governs the celebration of Mass, the Precious Blood may be distributed in a number of ways: by drinking directly from the chalice, intinction, or by means of a spoon or tube. Receiving by spoon or tube, however, is not customary in the Latin Rite dioceses in our country.
Yet both the GIRM and the U.S. Bishops allow reception by intinction by both clergy and lay faithful when certain protocols are followed to ensure proper respect for the Precious Blood.
For priests, the GIRM specifies that after the principal celebrant has received Communion in the usual way, the concelebrating priests wishing to receive by intinction “approach the altar one after another, genuflect, and take a particle, dip it partly into the chalice, and, holding a purificator under their chin, consume the intincted particle. They then return to their places as at the beginning of Mass” (249).
Concerning the laity, the GIRM instructs: “If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the Priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, with a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The Priest takes a host, intincts it partly in the chalice and, showing it, says, The Body and Blood of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the Priest, and then withdraws” (287).
Notice what is required: a purificator for priests and a communion-plate under the mouth of the laity, as well as the imperative to receive the intincted host in the mouth. Both seek to prevent irreverences like the Precious Blood dripping onto the altar, floor, or one’s hands. Also, it is always the priest who intincts and distributes the host; neither deacons nor the lay faithful are to intinct the host themselves and self-communicate.
So, in answer to your question, yes, intinction is allowed for both priests and laity when the appropriate prescriptions are followed. Yet, receiving directly from the chalice has been and remains the customary way of receiving the Precious Blood in the Roman Rite.
Father Seth Brown is pastor of Mother of Dolors Parish in Vandalia and St. Joseph Parish in Ramsey. He is also chaplain of Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry, chaplain of the Vandalia Correctional Center, and research theologian for the Diocesan Curia.
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
EDWARDSVILLE — For nearly 19 years, Theresa Howard of Edwardsville has been in a unique vocation — she is a consecrated virgin living in the world. That means she has taken vows to live “consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church” (Canon 604). In short, she has taken a vow of living in perpetual virginity and is responsible to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, receives the sacraments, and is faithful to private prayer.
Howard took her vows at St. Mary Church in Alton, with then-Bishop George Lucas consecrating her to this form of religious life on May 4, 2003. She was the first consecrated virgin the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. She is not known as “Sister,” and lives in her own home and is responsible for her own material needs. She does not wear a veil or any special clothing, but she does wear a special ring, which is her a symbol of her mystical marriage to Christ.
Looking back on her spiritual journey, Howard, who is now a parishioner at Mother of Perpetual Parish in Maryville and a member of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, says she really had no idea God would lead her to this vocation, but she is sure she is living life exactly the way God had planned for her. “As I look back at my childhood, I can see God at work through my mother who taught me about Jesus and Mary,” she said. “By her words and actions, she taught me how to pray and how to live my life for God.”
As she grew to adolescence, Howard, like many young women, went out on dates. “I dated in high school and a little bit afterwards, but I had no idea when I was younger, that God had a beautiful vocation set aside for me,” she said.
However, by the time Howard was in her early 20s she began to hear God’s call. So, for many years she lived a private promise of perpetual virginity — long before she sought consecration. “For many years I searched and discerned where God was calling me to serve Him,” she said. “For many years I heard nothing but silence and yet I knew He wanted me to give my life to Him. During this time, I also worked, helped out with my parents before they died, attended college, volunteered in a couple of organizations in the community, was active in parish ministries, and went to the adoration chapel for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.”
During the 1980s, Howard visited religious communities and by late in that decade, after spending time for about a year in one community, she talked to the vocation director. “The vocation director told me that they would like for me to enter that Aug. 1, upon completion of the psychological testing and a physical,” she said. However, that was when the unexpected happened.
“On my way home, I was in a near-fatal accident and ended up on life support. When I woke up, I asked God what He was trying to tell me. Was He telling me no to this community? Was He telling me no to religious life? Was He telling me no for now? I was so confused and later told the vocation director that I needed more time for discernment and would not be entering the community. Also, due to internal injuries and learning how to walk, it took me a year to recuperate.”
As Howard recovered, she began to search for her calling once again. “I served as a lay Dominican associate for one year,” she said. “I then started preparation to the Secular Franciscan Order — my profession ceremony was Jan. 12, 1997. The evening before my profession, I felt that God was asking more of me.”
The next year, Howard went on to join St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Alton. “In October of that year my new spiritual director mentioned the vocation of consecrated virginity,” she said. “I pushed that aside until some time later when another priest asked me if I had ever looked into that vocation. As I was driving home that day I thought ‘Why would God call me to that life?’ Upon arriving home, I heard God say, ‘Check it out.’”
That’s when Howard’s journey to her present vocation began in earnest. With the assistance of her spiritual director, she studied and prepared for her consecration. She was under the guidance of Bishop Lucas and had meetings with a Franciscan religious with the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton. Her mentor was a consecrated virgin in Mexico, Mo.
Howard, who is now 70 years old, retired and a church volunteer, says she has had many challenges and opportunities to grow closer to God over the past 18-plus years. “All of those years that I spent searching for God’s will in my life were not wasted. The joy, peace, and freedom I experienced on my wedding day have grown these past years.”
Although some people don’t understand Howard’s vocation, she is comfortable explaining it this way: “Since my consecration, people have asked me what I didn’t enter the convent or why I chose this vocation. I simply smile and tell them that God wanted me in the world. Also, God chose me to be His bride.”
More about the vocation of consecrated virgins
The rite of the vocation of consecrated virgins traces its origins to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew that some people renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The ancient Church had a liturgy for women who made this commitment. However, over time most women who were committed to chastity joined the many religious orders.
On May 30, 1970, Pope Paul VI re-instituted the rite.
Today, there are just over 250 consecrated virgins living in the United States and about 4,000 of these women worldwide. In the United States, consecrated virgins today include teachers, social workers, businesswomen, librarians, accountants, nurses, physicians, a fire fighter, a dance teacher, women employed in a variety of Church positions, retired women, women with disabilities, women dedicated to prayer, or devoted to the care of a family member, those dedicated to volunteer work, as well as other professions.
Consecrated virgins hold much in common with one another. Their common spirituality is that of living as a bride of Christ, the spirituality of the Church herself, and of the Blessed Mother. Some members also follow preferred Franciscan, Benedictine, Carmelite or Ignatian spirituality.
Catholic Times file photo
By ANDREW HANSEN
A self-described atheist at one point in his life, Nathan Grider’s passion is science. His love for the field led him to a career as a biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. But it was during his pursuit of his degree when Grider started looking at different religions of the world and their history. He said that he “liked that the Catholic Church had a strong connection to science and seemed to embrace science more consistently rather than dispute it.”
His story to embrace the Catholic faith, however, wasn’t easy. As a scientist, Grider had to dive deep by asking questions, watching videos, and studying what the Church taught. What he eventually learned opened his eyes to another world — a world of faith. Grider became Catholic on Easter last year, receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy Communion.
Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen interviewed Grider, a 37-year-old parishioner at St. Agnes in Springfield who is married with two daughters.
What led you to even start looking at different religions?
In more recent years, I started to recognize that I had many friends and colleagues who were scientists and Christians. I thought that was interesting and asked a few of them about their perspectives on science and religion with complete sincerity. They were usually brief conversations and we tended to land at a usual place, “There is a lot we don’t know or understand … .” These are great people, and I could see how their faith made them better at their lives and even their jobs. Keep in mind, I had been attending Catholic church with my wife and her family for about 12 years by this time. I was taking it all in, but reluctant to just let go of my stubbornness that had me thinking that I had it all figured out through studying science. All the while, I knew church was a good thing and good for society, so I figured it didn’t hurt for me to go. As my belief in God continued to develop, a lot of things I heard while attending church with my family started to make more sense. I still wrestle with some of the details, but I knew I was ready to explore it further, so I joined the Church.
At one point in your life, you considered yourself an atheist. Was there a moment during your search when you thought, “I am wrong. God does exist, and I want a relationship with Him!”
A few years ago, I started to realize that I was thinking about God all wrong. A few things helped open my mind. One was a book called Proof of Heaven, given to me by a family member and fellow scientist. I recommend it for anyone struggling with these questions. This book is about “near death experiences” (NDEs), which lead me to learn more about them. There is a common theme reported from people who experience NDEs and for me, actual evidence of God started to take shape there. Further, I came to understand, at least in my mind, that God really is the energy all around us that makes up everything and has influence on everything — the source of the universe and what lies beyond it, before it, and after it. I don’t picture an old, bearded man in the clouds as it had been presented to me before or even a “He or She” necessarily. The power that is God that I have come to know is beyond needing to fit biology and the natural world that we understand. I’ll refer readers to Episode 3 of The Search (The Search is a video series that tackles the key questions of every human heart from a Catholic perspective). The Search completely changed my view of God and helps explain the perceived clash between science and religion. I overheard it while my wife was watching it, and I was drawn in. It changed me, and I joined the Church not long after.
Also, the story of Jesus became more compelling to me the more I dove into it. There are too many details from multiple witnesses to just be made up. There is something to it! Eternity is a long time, and I don’t want miss out on something great because I was too stubborn, especially if my family goes, and I don’t. How terrible would that be! Nothing bad can come from Christianity. It only brings out the good in us. Imagine a world without it!
So many falsely think the Church and science are at odds with each other. In your search, how did you conclude that in fact, the two are in unison?
To me, science and religion were two separate things and at odds with each other. I remember saying that “the clash will always continue because neither could ever prove the other wrong.” Religion tends to rest on faith without hard evidence, and science has no way to test and prove God does or does not exist. However, I started to understand that science is there to explain the “how” but not the “why.” Again, Episode 3 of The Search helped me better understand how the two can coexist. Of course, there is also the fact that many of the greatest scientists who ever lived were also priests and the Church funded most of the science in the past. I still accept the theory of evolution to be true based on the overwhelming evidence and all the other things that science teaches us about our world. Thus, there are things about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that I don’t take literally.
Last Easter, you became Catholic, receiving three sacraments. What was that day like?
That was an exciting day. I never thought I would officially join the Church if someone was to ask me a few years ago. That day felt like starting a new journey of trying to reach a deeper understanding of life. I was surrounded by my family and new friends of the Church. Everyone was very welcoming. I also spent time that day thinking about my daughters and feeling better knowing that I was doing what I could to have a chance at seeing them again after I die. That gave me peace.
When you look back at your journey to Catholicism, what stands out?
What stands out the most to me is the moment I realized I was thinking about God all wrong for most of my adult life. The way I was thinking about it purely as told to me from the Bible stories did not allow my science-based way of thinking to accept it. It was only when my perception of what God is changed that I was able to start to understand and begin a spiritual relationship. I think many people are stuck on this part too, and maybe my story will help them out.
What do you love most about our faith?
I love that the Catholic Church embraces science and does so many good things in communities. I have always been a philanthropist type and care deeply about other people’s wellbeing, including our planet and all the life that it supports because it is truly amazing, rare, and precious. I know my purpose in life is to care for our planet and the life that it supports, and the Bible tells us to do the same. There are many similarities between my line of work in conservation and the faith and that gives me further motivation to carry out the difficult work. It helps give me strength and patience in my daily life. I love that about it!
Make your Lent holier
Join Catholics across our diocese for a Lenten mission to restore our souls with grace in preparation for the Resurrection. Sign up to receive weekly Lenten inspiration, tips, and resources from priests in our diocese in your inbox as we focus on REconciliation to the REsurrection. Go do dio.org/lent to sign up!
By SISTER BETH MURPHY, OP
Special to Catholic Times
When Sister Maristella Dunlavy retired from her educational ministry in 2006, she concluded 14 years as principal of Cathedral Grade School. As she prepared to move on, the prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield asked whether she would consent to serving as sacristan at Sacred Heart Convent. “Yes, I’d be honored to do that,” she replied. “But there is something else I’d like to do, too.”
That something else was a dream Sister Maristella had harbored for years. She wanted to begin a prayer card ministry, designing, and distributing cards that came with a promise of prayer from the Dominican Sisters.
“I wanted to extend to as many people as possible the powerhouse of prayer we have at the motherhouse,” she said, referring to Sacred Heart Convent on West Monroe Street in Springfield, where she continues to serve as sacristan. “The cards are a tangible reminder to people that we are always praying for them.”
Fifteen years later, Sister Maristella says she can’t possibly count the number of cards she has distributed or measure the impact of the daily prayer our sisters offer for those who send and receive the cards. “It is considerable,” she said matter-of-factly.
Her original five designs — sympathy, get well, birthday, anniversary, and thank you cards — continue to be popular. She has also added new designs — 16 blank notecards — now available to order at springfieldop.org/prayer-cards. They include some of her favorite Scripture quotes and inspirational words.
She pairs a line from the book of Daniel — “Ice and snow bless the Lord!” — with an image of the convent bell tower hovering over icy tree branches. Another, with a stunning fire blazing in the dark, includes the words of the Dominican mystic St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
In addition to meeting the need of that rare breed of people — those who choose to communicate their care and concern through handwritten notes — Sister Maristella sees this ministry as an important way to expand the ministry of prayer of the 90 or so sisters who live at the motherhouse. “As we age, we aren’t as busy as our sisters who are still ministering around the U.S. and in Peru,” she explained. “We have much more time to dedicate to prayer ‘for the life of the world’ as we say. It is meaningful to us to be able to share the life and energy of our relationship with God with so many around the world who count on prayer to sustain them in difficult times.”
Those who request cards are invited to make a donation to help cover costs and sustain the outreach that has given Sister Maristella such life and energy for such a long time. All donations are put right back into the ministry to cover the cost of printing and shipping the cards.
“Many of those requesting cards are our sisters, associates, family, and friends,” Sister Maristella explained. “I also hear from people I’ve never met. Recently a gentleman from New York made a request for cards.” She speculates that he either found his way on his own to the website or received a card from a friend and decided to order some of his own.
Quincy resident Jo Buckley, who for years worked in the Diocesan Office of Education, is a dear friend of Sister Maristella’s and a frequent card customer. “Sister Maristela is a joy and I love her cards. She is good about getting them in the mail right away. They come in handy,” she said, especially the birthday and sympathy cards. “I send them to my friends, and they love them.” When Buckley’s husband died last fall, she got a taste of what it means to be the recipient of a handwritten expression of care. “It was nice to get so many sympathy cards,” she said. “They meant so much. I am going to read them all again.”
And isn’t that the point? After 15 years, Sister Maristella’s card ministry has surely provided that same kind of care and comfort for countless people.
If you’d like to join the circle of prayer Sister Maristella began with her prayer ministry 15 years ago, visit springfieldop.org/prayer-cards.
Sister Beth Murphy, OP, is communication director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield Illinois.
Your donation also gives you 75 percent tax credit
A matching gift program for 21 schools in our diocese is happening right now thanks to a generous couple who is offering a 1:1 donation match toward the 2022-2023 tax credit scholarships that help students in need. Gifts made through Empower Illinois for the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program at eligible schools will be doubled up to $10,000.
Illinois’ bipartisan Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides need-based scholarships to kids from low-income and working-class families to attend their best-fit school. Program donors earn a 75 percent state tax credit on their gift. For example, if an individual donor contributes $1,000, they will receive a state tax credit of $750. Donors can also direct their donations to a school of their choice. Since 2018, the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program has awarded more than 28,000 scholarships totaling more than $250 million.
Donations must be made before April 15 or when the cap is met at your select school to be eligible for the match. For more information on how to donate visit empowerillinois.org/donate or call (800) 616-7606.
The Evermode Institute to offer spiritual and intellectual formation for clergy, religious, and lay Catholics
By Andrew Hansen
The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois announced March 3, plans to establish The Evermode Institute, a new center for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation in Springfield, and that the institute will include priests from the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey, who will establish a new community there.
In what will be located at the site of the former Chiara Center on the grounds of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield, The Evermode Institute will focus on formation for Catholics, offering programming for both ordained and lay teachers of the faith such as catechists, Parish School of Religion teachers (PSR), Catholic school teachers, and other groups who teach the faith. Several priests from the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey, based in Orange, Calif., will move to the property with the necessary preliminary steps being taken this summer. Serving at The Evermode Institute will be their primary apostolate. A date for when The Evermode Institute will open has not been finalized.
“We have developed a strong relationship with the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey over the past several years, and we are thrilled to welcome them to our diocese,” said Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. “The Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey are a vibrant and growing community of holy men, and their presence and apostolic work will be a great blessing to the people of our diocese and to this region.”
The Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey recently completed construction of a new abbey in Orange County, Calif., and the monastery is already at full capacity, with nearly 50 priests and 40 seminarians.
“In light of the growth in our community, we had already been discerning the possibility of establishing a new community when Bishop Paprocki approached us,” said Abbot Eugene Hayes, O. Praem. “After prayerful discernment as a community, we have joyfully accepted Bishop Paprocki’s invitation, and we are grateful for the opportunity to establish a presence in the Springfield diocese.”
The Evermode Institute is being established under the patronage of St. Evermode, a Norbertine prelate who died in 1178 and was a close collaborator of St. Norbert. St. Evermode is credited with great and effective works of evangelization and formation in the Catholic faith.
These announcements follow news earlier last year when the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and the Hospital Sisters reached an agreement for the diocese to establish a trust that has now assumed ownership of the sisters’ buildings and grounds effective Jan. 1, 2022. The Hospital Sisters will continue to live in the convent indefinitely as part of that agreement.
“We welcome the Norbertine Fathers to Springfield and to the holy ground that has been our home since 1917,” said Sister Maureen O’Connor, OSF, Provincial Superior of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. “This new chapter in the history of the Hospital Sisters and the diocese marks the beginning of what we pray will be a mutually beneficial relationship. Throughout our nearly 150 years in America, the Hospital Sisters have collaborated with others in the work of the Church, and so we view this agreement between the diocese and the Norbertine Fathers as a continuation of that tradition.”
About the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey
Immersed in the 900-year tradition of our order, the Norbertine Fathers live a common life of liturgical prayer and care for souls. Their life at St. Michael’s Abbey is organized according to prayer of the Church: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. “Seven times a day I praise You,” says the Psalmist, and by chanting together the prayers of the Divine Office, Norbertine canons “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”
For more than 60 years, the Norbertine Fathers have served the Christian faithful in Southern California, “lifting high the Holy Eucharist over the miseries and errors of this world” (St. Pope John Paul II). The community’s apostolic ministries are many and various, but they all find their source in a common life of prayer and fraternal charity. To learn more, visit stmichaelsabbey.com.
By ANDREW HANSEN
How many people can say they locked eyes with a saint? The year was 1984, just two years after being ordained to the permanent diaconate. That’s when something happened to Deacon Benedict Hoefler that has stuck with him since. He was serving as a deacon during Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with now Pope St. John Paul II. As the pope was about to elevate the Body and Blood of Christ, Deacon Hoefler says the pope’s eyes locked with his.
“When Pope John Paul II looked at you, he looked right into your soul,” Deacon Hoefler describes it. “To me, that moment in my mind translated to the pope ‘saying’ that ‘you’re here at the altar with me, but when he elevated the Body and Blood of Christ, you’re here at the altar with Jesus.’ I have never forgotten that.”
Another powerful moment then happened just minutes later. After distributing holy Communion, while purifying the vessels, Deacon Hoefler remembers looking up and seeing now St. Mother Teresa.
“I thought, ‘I am standing between two saints! Holy cow! What a privilege this is,’” Deacon Hoefler said.
Another powerful story that is engrained in Deacon Hoefler’s memory involves a man who had not been to confession in 50 years. Deacon Hoefler was visiting a nursing home when he met the man.
“I asked him if he would like to go to confession,” Deacon Hoefler said. “The man replied that he would ‘burn the priest’s ears off.’ I told him I know a priest who has served for more than 55 years who could hear his confession.”
After arranging the confession, the man went, seeking forgiveness from God. Deacon Hoefler later found out that just two days after the man confessed his sins for the first time in 50 years, he died.
“Those are the kinds of things you don’t forget that make a big impression on me,” Deacon Hoefler said.
While the permanent diaconate has made a “big impression” on Deacon Hoefler, on Feb. 13, Deacon Hoefler realized just how much of a big impression his ministerial work has had on people. At Holy Family Church in Athens, dozens of parishioners, friends, and family — some from hours away — came to Mass to celebrate the anniversary of his 40th year as a permanent deacon. His son, Msgr. David Hoefler, Vicar General for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, was the celebrant. The day was filled with emotion, laughter, and smiles as the first permanent deacon of our diocese looked back over 40 years.
“I thought about becoming a priest when I was younger as I had three uncles who were priests,” Deacon Hoefler said. “They made a big impression on me.”
But, after marriage and four children (three daughters and one son), priesthood was not going to happen. After moving from Iowa to Rockford in 1972, Deacon Hoefler met a man in their permanent diaconate program. Thinking you needed an advanced degree, but finding out that was not the case, he says he immediately became interested. Then, after talking about it with his family over the next couple of years, Deacon Hoefler remembers his family simply saying, “Go for it.”
Deacon Hoefler was ordained in 1982 in Rockford. The Hoeflers later moved to Springfield in 1993. Deacon Hoefler has served at St. Aloysius in Springfield, St. John Vianney in Sherman, on the Deacon Formation Team, and presently at Holy Family in Athens.
“I’d have to say being with the people is my favorite thing about being a deacon,” Deacon Hoefler said. “It’s the people that are in the parish that allow me to be who I am. They give me the privilege of serving them.”
By ANDREW HANSEN
CASEY — When Debra Ross of Casey came to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield in February of 2021, during the Rite of Election, she said she was so nervous, that if you simply tapped her shoulder when she was standing, she would have fallen over. These nerves became most apparent when Bishop Thomas John Paprocki ratified, with his signature, the enrollment of names of the catechumens in the Book of the Elect. Ross was a catechumen at the time, someone who is unbaptized.
A few weeks later at the Easter Vigil at Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon, Ross was fully initiated into the Catholic faith, receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy Communion from Father John Titus.
“To feel finally a true feeling of worth, God’s presence, cleansing, a marriage — whole!” Ross said, describing what she felt that day.
The journey to Catholicism was a long road — 66 years. Raised Pentecostal, Ross had some connection to Catholicism with family on her mother’s side being Catholic. She remembers her family taking her to Mass, but “No one truly explained what the Mass was.”
Despite feeling drawn to the faith, she says what held her back was that she didn’t want to disappoint her family and not understanding what everything was about.
Decade after decade went by, but after each year, the nudge to become Catholic became stronger. So, Ross stopped by Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon and met their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) team who answered questions, provided her materials to learn more about the faith, but most importantly, Ross said that the team was always there for her. While going through the RCIA process, Ross thinks back and now laughs because of what surprised her the most.
“How much I felt at home, Ross said. “I guess I also really had a Catholic core and really did not know it!”
As she learned more about the richness and treasures of the faith, Ross says she developed a devotion to Mary and St. Michael the Archangel. “It’s such an honor to talk to her,” Ross said. “I feel safer with St. Michael.”
Today, the retired mother of three girls is enjoying time with her nieces, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, going to Mass, and spending time at her parish. When she looks back over her journey to the Catholic faith, what stands out the most to her is a simple five-word answer.
“Why it took so long.”
Debra Ross has a conversation with Father John Titus, her pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon. At the Easter Vigil last year, Ross received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and first holy Communion from Father Titus.