Young Discerners See Impact Glenmary Has Made
by Pat McEntee
Associate Vocation Director
Three young men participated in a Come & See retreat hosted by Glenmary June 15-18 in western Arkansas and Oklahoma. This mission weekend gave them the opportunity to see the impact Glenmary has made while serving in those mission territories. To some, the timing of this trip may have seemed a little less then ideal since, earlier in the month, Glenmary had officially returned the four missions in Arkansas and Oklahoma to the care of their respective dioceses (Little Rock and Tulsa).
However, for those who understand Glenmary's work, the return of missions isn't troubling but joyous, because it means the missions have grown and matured into parishes. Glenmary returned the four missions in June 2012. And all four of these parishes, which the group visited, are thriving in their respective dioceses.
Three high-school-aged students—Thomas, Luke and Joseph—met in Ft. Smith, Ark., and were guided on the retreat by associate vocation director Pat McEntee, vocation counselor Father Vic Subb and seminarian Ambrose Wanyonyi. However, in the Glenmary way, the group didn't remain stationary but spent most of the time with people in the area.
On Saturday evening the group visited with parishioners Carmalita and Jim Braith and their family, sharing a cookout and fellowship. Sunday was a marathon of Masses—one English and two Spanish—beginning in Luke's home parish in Booneville, Ark., Our Lady of the Assumption. The church was bursting at the seams with people as Father Ravi Rayappa Gudipalli celebrated his first Sunday liturgy as the new pastor.
After Mass and fellowship with parishioners, the Glenmary group traveled on to St. Andrew Parish in Danville, Ark. This parish is an excellent example of a success story: during Glenmary's nine years of service, the community was able to build a new church that can hold several hundred people and is filled regularly for Masses. Father James Melnick is the new administrator for the parish, and he celebrated the Spanish Mass that day.
On Sunday evening, the group arrived at Glenmary's former mission in Heavener, Okla., where another large crowd greeted us at Sacred Heart Parish. The current worship space is a renovated storefront that is still under construction, because the congregation has grown so much that one store wasn't large enough. Two years ago while Father Don Tranel was pastor, a dividing wall was knocked down in order to double the size of the worship space.
Each of the mission stops gave the discerners on the retreat an opportunity to see the uniqueness of the parish. "I enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere shown by the parishioners," said Thomas. "Danville gave me this different feeling, because I had never attended Mass in Spanish before this one. The choir seemed very alive, and I could feel the spirit they have for God. It seemed like their being there was not a chore for them but a privilege."
That is a typical sentiment in Glenmary's mission areas, where people truly see it as a privilege to attend Mass. If Glenmary had not opened its mission doors, many of these Catholics could not participate fully in their faith. Those that have gone without the ability to practice their faith don't take for granted that the sacraments are available to them. Therefore, they thank God for the opportunity and participate joyfully.
"Heavener was probably my favorite of the missions we visited," Thomas said. "I love the atmosphere." The group could readily see that the Heavener area was the poorest they visited. The downtown area has many abandoned buildings. Also, the people were dressed very simply. Still, there was a welcoming atmosphere and joy that permeated the building and the Sunday liturgy. After the Mass, parishioners gladly visited with the three students and shared many of their favorite stories about Glenmary.
Thomas also mentioned the impression that an older parishioner in Danville made on him. He is very generous in his offerings to support the church, while going without many of the typical comforts most see as necessary. He lives simply, eats little and does not own a car, but bikes or walks everywhere he needs to go. "At first I saw him as just a poor old man, but after learning about his love for the poor, I felt bad about ever judging him," Thomas said. "I call myself Catholic, but I am not sure I could give as much as he does."
Even after a Come & See retreat ends, the retreatants continue their discernment about religious life. The three high school students shared in a valuable mission experience and took with them memories of the people they met. In addition, they went away impressed by the mission of Glenmary. "I just think that Glenmary is doing good," said Joseph, "by bringing Catholic churches to places where there weren't any before."