This is a great story that can teach any priest, and any parish, how to get things done and make things happen. It’s the story of a young priest, Father Fredy Angel, who was assigned to a struggling mission parish, Queen of Peace, in Lakeland, Georgia.
From Emily Stimpson at OSV:
After taking stock of the situation, Father Angel got to work. The first thing he did was clean. “Everywhere I went, I cleaned,” he said. “The bathrooms, the classrooms, the rectory — I cleaned them so much that I got the nickname ‘Mr. Clean.’ But it was important that everything look beautiful.” At the same time, Father Angel tackled the problem of Mass attendance. Because having their children baptized was a priority for his parishioners, Father Angel leveraged that, announcing that he would baptize any baby, no questions asked, as long as the parents attended Mass every single week for three months prior to the baptism. Father Angel used local Catholics’ desire to see their children receive other sacraments in a similar manner. “Around here, we have a problem of parents dropping their children off to receive formation for First Communion or Confirmation. But then they disappear and don’t come back until they need another sacrament,” he said. To counteract that problem, the priest began requiring parents to stay at the church when they brought their children in for religious education classes. While volunteer catechists work with the children, from age 3 on up, in one place, Father Angel meets with the parents in another. He calls the meetings, “Ask Father,” and uses the time to catechize parents about the Mass and the sacraments. “We’re a Church of sacraments,” he said. “But we are losing the meaning of liturgy and prayer in our lives. We take them for granted. So, I explain all the little details — the oil, the water, the vestments, everything — so it will take on meaning again for people.” And it has. Over the past eight years, by God’s grace, Father Angel’s efforts have completely reversed the fortunes of the struggling parish community. In one church, Mass attendance exploded from 25 people to 200. Another saw its numbers grow from 40 to 250. In all the churches, weekend Masses became standing room only affairs, with people coming to church even when they knew that might mean standing outside in the hot Georgia sun.
Photo: via OSV