From Florida to Massachusetts, parishes throughout Holy Name Province marked the Lenten season with retreats, workshops, programs and activities aimed at preparing the faithful for Easter. Some were unique and others were traditional, but all of them provided the spiritual nourishment parishioners were seeking during this time of renewal and rebirth.
Pilgrimage, ‘Meating’ the Need and Collaboration in Allegany
In Western New York, St. Bonaventure Parish in Allegany, participated in a Vicariate Lenten pilgrimage, in which each of the six parishes in the group sponsored an originally composed and designed Stations of the Cross. In addition, the parish coordinated a communal Lenten sacrifice, “Meat the Need,” in which parishioners bring to church on Palm Sunday coins they were asked to accumulate during Lent for the Warming House, one of the country’s oldest student-run soup kitchens that serves more than 12,000 meals annually. The facility is operated in conjunction with St. Bonaventure University’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern and is staffed voluntarily by 300 SBU students and 100 community residents.
James Vacco, OFM, pastor, says this year marks the 10th anniversary that St. Bonaventure Parish is sharing the Easter Triduum with two parishes in Olean. It is a tradition, he says, that is enthusiastically received and well attended by congregations and clergy of the three parishes. Jim, who is vicar-forane of southern Cattaraugus County, will preside at the Holy Thursday liturgy at St. Bonaventure, which will also feature the preaching of Fr. Patrick Melfi, pastor of the Olean parishes. They will reverse roles at the Easter Vigil at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. On Easter Sunday, St. Bonaventure will host the sunrise Mass at 6:45 a.m. on the lawn adjacent to the parish school building.
Workshops and Kindness on a Lark at the Shrine
Every Tuesday during Lent, from March 5 through April 9, at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Mass., William Sawyer led a Lenten workshop titled “Why We Worry and How to Stop It – With Help from Jesus.” The six-week program was held in a classroom at the church on Arch Street – providing an opportunity for spiritual nourishment during lunchtime to office workers and visitors in the downtown Boston area. Sawyer, who has a master of arts degree in spirituality and ministry from Boston College, also led last year’s Lenten workshop at the Shrine, when he spoke on the topic of how focusing on others can change one’s life and propel the Christian spiritual journey.
In addition, Stations of the Cross were led by Daniel Murray, OFM, at 12:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday during Lent in the first-floor church. Parishioners and visitors of the Shrine looked forward to a weekly bulletin column by Paul Bourque, OFM, titled “What a L.A.R.K.!” – the acronym for Lenten Acts of Random Kindness – in which he combined practicality and wit to provide suggestions for random acts of kindness, as well as a Lenten meditation and views from others on St. Francis of Assisi. In one of his columns, Paul recommended calling an elderly relative or helping someone down the stairs with a baby stroller. His advice also included being good to one’s self. “The act of forgiveness helps heal a person’s body as well as heart, mind and soul. You may think forgiving helps the other person, but in fact, it helps you both,” he said.
Journey Through Lent in Hartford
For parishioners at St. Patrick-St Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., Ash Wednesday began a 90-day journey leading through the seasons of Lent and Easter, and the eventual conclusion with the feast of Pentecost. The parish’s adult faith formation ministry designed several opportunities during this period to help parishioners make time for God and for entering into the season of conversion, reconciliation, renewal and change. Some of these opportunities included a twilight Lenten retreat, a presentation by Thomas Gallagher, OFM, that offered discussion, reflection and prayer.
More than 60 guests attended “Lenten nourishment” – a weekly program following the noon Mass that offered spiritual nourishment by guest speakers and presenters through the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry. A. Francis Soucy, OFM, presented a series, “Psalms of Lament,” that examined the literary characteristics and general themes of the psalms as Hebraic poetry to deepen the appreciation of the Psalms as prayer. A daylong Lenten retreat is being offered on April 13 at Mercy by the Sea Retreat Center in Madison, Conn., by Frank Sevola, OFM, to help participants “step away for one day from the ordinary schedule of life and devote time to spiritual growth.”
Lenten events at the Hartford parish are being rounded out by a discussion on “Being Muslim in America: An Honest Conversation,” in which a diverse panel will reflect on April 23 about what it means to be Muslim in the context of Islam in American history and present day. An evening of reflection, titled “Finding Strength in the Weakness of My Cross,” provided the opportunity for reflection, quiet prayer and discussion in the context of each individual taking up their cross and following Him this Lent.
Prayer Styling and Making Ashes in North Jersey
On March 3, parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua in Butler, N.J., prepared for Lent in a unique way. They brought last year’s palms to church and participated in the ritual of burning the palms, whose remnants were then used to mark their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. According to Annette Miller, the parish’s director of formation, St. Anthony’s used the Lenten season to expand parishioners’ understanding of prayer. Every Monday, parishioners attended presentations about “Styles of Prayer,” learning about different styles such as Lectio Divina, a guided meditation on St. John the Baptist, and a Seder supper, according to Richard Husted, OFM, who says that most people think of prayer as a singular experience.
“Our purpose with ‘Styles of Prayer’ during Lent was to open for people a variety of possibilities. One of the most common styles of prayer for most is the prayer of petition, which we experience during Mass in our Prayer of the Faithful,” Richard said. One of the sessions was titled “Prayer for Peace in a Violent World,” which was presented by the parish’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation team. “We took time to reflect on the many forms of violence in our world. It was a time to bring to God in prayer those issues that stand out to us as Franciscans trying to be instruments of peace,” Richard explained. A Lenten parish mission, from March 27 to 29, was led by Casey Cole, OFM, on understanding the Franciscan perspective on creation, sin and grace. Like other parishes, St. Anthony’s offered penance services and Stations of the Cross.
Tea with Jesus, Music Encounter, Afternoon of Prayer in NYC
In New York City, St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street had a number of distinct programs and activities in preparation of Easter. The most unique was “Tea with Jesus: Lenten Scripture Sharing” – a scripture sharing and reflection exercise on the Sunday Lenten Gospels. Sponsored by the St. Francis of Assisi LGBT and Young Adult ministries, the one-hour sessions were held every Sunday during Lent in the Clare room, where, of course, tea and light refreshments were served. Participants then attended the 5 p.m. Mass.
Another program, “Encounter: Lenten Prayer and Music Experience,” offered a performance of song, story and prayer in the upper church, inviting the faithful to risk encountering Jesus in the blessing and bruising of daily life. At San Damiano Hall, people spent a Lenten afternoon of prayer with William Beaudin, OFM, who offered two retreat conferences meant to deepen and broaden the perspective on the crucifix of Jesus. The afternoon retreats included communal prayer, time for personal reflection, and Mass.
Soup, Stations and Students in Triangle
In northern Virginia, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle parishioners gathered every Friday at the parish center dining facility for “soup and stations” – a 6 p.m. soup and bread supper, followed by Stations of the Cross in the church at 7 p.m. This fellowship and prayer event involved various ministries, with lectors leading the stations and a different group sponsoring the supper each week – among them the friars, parish council, secular Franciscans, and religious education. The parish is planning musical Stations of the Cross for Good Friday, which will be dramatic readings and musical meditations presented by the parish music ministry.
John O’Connor, OFM, pastor, said that a highlight of the season has been the Lenten reflections of the parish school’s first and fifth-grade students, whose images on “prayer, penance and amazing love” are displayed on classroom and hallway bulletin boards. To help parishioners prepare for Easter, the parish offered a full calendar of events: 18 small faith communities that met weekly at parishioners’ homes, including a 55+ small faith group ministry for seniors; Christ Life, a program in which parishioners met weekly to share a meal and a faith experience; parish communal penance services and “The Light Is On,” a program in which a friar was available every Wednesday evening for confession opportunities, and a Lenten fish fry sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Special display cases in the church were stocked with free booklets on daily Lenten meditations.
“The simple soup suppers are popular because they help families teach their children the value of sacrifice and simplicity in Christian living,” John said. “Praying the Stations of the Cross is vital as well because it helps parishioners focus on the upcoming message of Holy Week and Easter. The small faith groups provide families with opportunities to meet fellow parishioners and experience the richness of faith sharing.”
Perspective on Women of Jesus’ Time
At St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C., Lent began with a stripped-down church, ashes and solemn processions, according to Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor. “Each Sunday, a particularly quiet penitential rite was accompanied by preaching to inspire a real turn of heart and cast out sin and despair,” Patrick said. During the fourth week, parishioners were afforded a unique presentation on the first of a three-night parish mission. Actress Olivia Woodford provided perspective on the women present at the time of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. “Her imaginative and dramatic portrayal of the thoughts and feelings by the three Marys, Veronica and other unnamed women was vivid and deeply moving,” said Patrick, noting that the parish will cap the mission with a reconciliation service and “enter into the Triduum with great anticipation of new life.”
Other activities at the Greenville parish included: Stations of the Cross every Friday, led by parish deacons, which, according to Deacon James Williams, is a longtime parish tradition; Stations of the Cross exclusively for students, K3 to 6th grade, of St. Anthony School, led by Tito Serrano, OFM, who created a special book for all of the students to help lead them through the stations; a parish men’s club-hosted annual Lenten fish fry every Friday evening – a time of fellowship that reaches beyond the parish and into the Greenville community. Susan Cinquemani, the parish’s communications director, said a friend from a nearby Baptist church, moved by the fellowship and inclusiveness, asked the men’s club to host the event throughout the year.
Sharing Lenten Journey, a Giving Tree, Women of Jerusalem in Tampa
At Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., George Corrigan, OFM, says the Lenten opportunities for parishioners and the local community ranged from traditional activities, like Stations of the Cross, to unique programs such as a Lenten giving tree. “During the Lenten season, our parishioners are asked to look deep into their hearts and find ways to draw closer to Christ. Each Lent,” explained George, “instead of ‘giving up something,’ we ask them to consider ‘doing something’ for others in the community. Parishioners respond to the challenge by participating in the women’s council giving tree, which is adorned with tags associated with a designated charity – with this year’s beneficiaries including Catholic Relief Services, Heifer International’s Mission, and Apostleship of the Sea of the U.S.”
George said parishioners also enjoy participating in small faith communities that meet in different homes to share faith and their Lenten journey. The simple soup suppers are popular, not only because of the delicious food prepared by the parish’s ministry groups, but also because they provide parishioners an opportunity to gather in community, share a simple meal and move to the church to pray the Stations of the Cross. One of the Lenten season’s highlights is the tradition of inviting the parish for an evening of meditation and reflection centered on the women of Jerusalem.
“Through word, music and meditation, we look at Jesus’ journey to the Place of the Skull from the eyes and viewpoint of the women whose lives had been impacted by the words and actions of Jesus,” George said. “It really has a deep impact on those portraying the women who followed Jesus, as well as the attendees.”
In the words of Cheryl Cabrera, who has participated in the production for three years: “It allows witness to the heartfelt thoughts and emotions of those women present at the time of Jesus’ sentencing and crucifixion. The actual solemn event can be very personal, not just for me and the other participants, but for those who come to witness it.”
— Stephen Mangione is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas provided research this story.
- “What Is the Warming House?” – March 3, 2017, The Bona Venture
- “Social Justice at Forefront of Lenten Activities” – March 22, 2018, HNP Today
- “What Are You Giving Up for Lent?” by George Corrigan, OFM – March 14, 2017, HNP Today