An Easter Message to Our Glenmary Partners In Mission
"Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back.... On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth,the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here....'" —Mark 16:2, 4-6
Often new Catholics are welcomed into the Church and receive the sacraments of initiation during the Easter Vigil, one of the most beautiful Church liturgies.
In my years as a priest, I have learned that people find their way to the Church following a variety of paths-some direct, some indirect. I am humbled by every conversion story I have heard. Recently I was talking about this very thing with Father Don Tranel, and he shared with me a story of a family's journey to the Church that continues to humble him to this day.
In 2006, Father Don arrived in Logan County, Ark., to serve as the first resident pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption mission in Booneville. Although the mission church was established over 50 years earlier, it had been quite a while since a priest was assigned as a full-time pastor.
After his arrival, one of his first tasks as the new pastor was to meet the people of the county, especially the inactive Catholics. But despite our best efforts, we don't always reach every Catholic living in our mission counties! He told me of the embarrassment he felt when, after residing in the county for some months, he learned of the death of Stan Campbell, an inactive Catholic who lived just a mile from the church in Booneville!
In retrospect, Father Don says it was his encounter with Stan's family during their time of grief that eventually led the entire family to join the Catholic Church. God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways!
When Father Don became aware of Stan's death, he immediately visited the Campbell family to pray with them and offer his support and that of the entire parish family. His outreach and thoughtful visit made a deep impression on the family, especially Stan's wife, Deborah. She asked if Stan's funeral could be held at Our Lady of the Assumption. Father Don was more than happy to accommodate the family's wishes. On the day of the funeral, Stan's family and many friends packed the small church. I'm sure for some in attendance, this was the first time they were ever in a Catholic church!
After the funeral, Deborah contacted Father Don and told him she was interested in joining the Church! In addition, her daughter and grandchildren, who had been baptized as infants, were interested in renewing their faith. And this domino effect didn't stop there. Deborah's son-in-law also joined her in the mission's RCIA process after seeing how warmly the rest of his family members were welcomed into the community.
Father Don moved from Booneville last summer when the mission was returned to the Diocese of Little Rock for continued pastoral care. But the emotion and joy that were part of the Easter Vigil liturgy when Deborah and her son-in-law were received into the Church remains with Father Don and inspires him in his ministry today. And Deborah continues to say joining the Church was the best thing that ever happened to her.
I hope we can count on you to help provide the resources needed to keep the Catholic Church strong and vital in rural areas of the United States. When we return a mission to a local diocese, our missioners move on to other mission areas where the Church is not effectively present. Once in a new mission county, missioners begin the work of calling a Catholic community together, loving it, nurturing it, and encouraging its growth-growth you make possible.
I pray that you, like the Campbells, will be guided on your faith journey by the light of the Risen Christ!