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By Father Frank Lawlor
Administrator, St. Mary Parish, Westfield
The following reflection first appeared in St. Mary’s Parish bulletin.
This weekend I celebrate my 60th birthday! I officially become an old man! Unfortunately for the past year or two I have been feeling very old and this calendar marker has simply confirmed the obvious. But this occasion has given me pause to look back a bit and to reflect on how I got to where I am. One of the realities of my life these days is waking up on many mornings with a simple question or a prayer (depending on the day)…How did I get myself here?
The answer is unquestionably the Holy Spirit and I urge all of you to spend time in your prayer talking to this third person of the trinity, asking for guidance and strength.
A little more than 6 years ago I was sitting on the top floor of one of the tallest skyscrapers in Boston wondering why I wasn’t satisfied in my work. I had two secretaries and a large staff and lived a life that I could have only dreamed of 20 years earlier. I was in charge of hundreds of people who generated 30-40 million dollars a year….but I wasn’t happy. I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance and oh boy did I get it. Be careful what you pray for. This Holy Spirit has an incredible sense of humor and I am certain he was roaring with laughter as he sent me back to my beginnings.
In late August of 1976 my parents dropped me off at a seminary in Baltimore, MD. It took me 38 years until I was finally ordained. I must be a slow learner. I have to have the Guinness Book of Records for the longest stay in a seminary. During those years I lived and loved and grew. The Holy Spirit was always at my elbow guiding me along a not so simple path. Thank God he got me out of the seminary when he did and allowed me to experience life. I would have been the most naïve, rule-book-toting priest that anyone had ever seen. During my “year off” to “think about things” I experienced the joy of marriage, the awesomeness of a family, the challenges of a business career and all of the roller coaster of emotions that go with each. I was present for the birth of my children, and sat next to my son while he successfully battled cancer. I also sat through endless dance recitals and t-ball games. I stayed up late waiting for my daughter to come home from dates and walked her down the aisle at her wedding. I have even visited my son’s office at the top of one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers. I have experienced the joys and tribulations of life in all of its vibrancy.
Now at sixty I find myself at a new place with new challenges. The road that began in the mid-seventies has now led me here to St. Mary’s, to a parish that I am both familiar with and learning about. I am excited about the prospects for the future and determined to do what I can to get us there. I am a lucky man.
The Holy Spirit and His sense of humor will continue to accompany me on this life journey. I really have no idea what the next intersection will bring but I am certain that by trusting in that Spirit and surrendering to His guidance we will all be okay. As I cross this “old-man” threshold I thank you for the trust and support that you have given to me and I ask that you pray for me and for each other so that we will all have the faith and courage to face the life that the Lord has planned for us.
By Laura Suttenfield
I am a 20-year-old Catholic woman and I always thought I knew what that meant. Have you ever heard of “the feminine genius”? I definitely had. Have you always thought it sounded kind of mushy, and never bothered to find out what it meant? I definitely took no action towards enlightening myself. I didn’t want to be associated with anything gross. Little did I know that the feminine genius was about to rock my world when I encountered women who didn’t only know what it meant; they lived it, and encouraged me to do the same.
The GIVEN Forum, sponsored by a group of women’s religious orders, seeks to empower women through faith formation and networking to be leaders in their communities. it’s what I and Claire Nauman, both rising juniors in college, and both from Belchertown, were able to go to from June 7 – 12 in Washington, D.C. this past month. The theme that shaped that particular week was: Receive the gift that you are, realize the gifts you have been given, and respond with the gift that only you can give.
The GIVEN Forum brings together 300 Catholic young women from every state in the country, all of whom possess skills, desires, and motivation to share their gifts and talents in the Church and in the world. Another hundred sisters from various religious communities joined us as mentors, small-group leaders, and facilitators. Every woman who was accepted received a complete scholarship to attend which covered all travel and meal costs, specifically intended to symbolize the Church’s encouragement of young women. The sponsor was the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, or CMSWR, and funded through the generosity of, primarily, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
The GIVEN Forum was focused on action. In the world, there are a lot of calls to action that perhaps stem from good desires but are arrive at the wrong conclusions (pro-choice? Anti-immigration?). What better to counter that than action rooted in prayer and in the enormous velocity that women have for their own God-given ideas and inspirations – all in service to others, and out of love? The 300 women in business, academia, communications, and sciences, are not the future of the Church. These women are the Church, and the New Evangelization is right now. We were privileged to listen to several speakers each day – including none less than: Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at George Mason University; Dr. Carolyn Woo, the CEO of Catholic Relief Services; Sr. Maria Theotókos Adams, SSVM, a beautiful speaker and educator; and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, a founding member of the Sisters of Life and the chairperson of the CMSWR, who before entering religious life was a professor of psychology at Columbia University, and who inspired the vocation of a priest in our diocese.
The GIVEN Forum was beyond inspiring, but the point of writing this article is not so you, my brother or sister in Christ, can leave vaguely thinking that something happened that a couple of young women really liked a month ago. What have you been given by God? Do you realize that you are a gift? How much time do you spend in dedicated prayer, with just you and the Lord? How much time do you spend thanking Him for these gifts? How have you put these gifts to the service of others?
I now know what the feminine genius really means, and it’s nothing less than the unique capacity of women to give of herself to others. Edith Stein got a lot of love at the conference as a saint and a scholar particularly interested in what it means to be a woman of God, and the quote on the cover of the 100+ page binder that was handed out to all of us as we checked in perhaps says it best. “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”
I had the opportunity to go to confession during that week, and the priest called me to reflect on the Forum’s mission statement – to realize the gift that I am, the gifts that I have been given, and to respond with the gift that only I can give.
The priest asked me, “What is the gift only you can give?” I responded, “Myself.” He said, “Then start giving.”
Read more about Laura’s experience at:
By Stacy Dibbern
Stacy is the manager of the Annual Catholic Appeal and special projects. She and her husband, Jamie, were first-time volunteers at Camp Sunshine.
What did you do on your summer vacation? Isn’t that the question we are asked most when we return from a week’s absence? Well, this year, my husband Jamie and I volunteered at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine. Camp Sunshine is a camp that serves families of children with life-threatening illnesses. The unique thing about Camp Sunshine is that the whole family attends camp together- sick kids, siblings, parents, and in some cases, grandparents, all without paying a penny. Each family is sponsored by generous donors.
The session began on Saturday morning with the arrival of camp volunteers. There were about 80 volunteers for our session- Oncology week. Volunteers came from as far away as Florida and represented families, schools and church youth groups. They ranged in age from 16 to one couple in their 60s. Many of the volunteers were camp families at one time.
As “rookie” camp volunteers, Jamie and I were unsure what to expect. We had applied for volunteer positions in early spring and knew a few people who had worked at camp before, but as with anything new, we were a little nervous preparing for camp.
Upon arrival, we were met by Carol, a camp staff member, who gave us our room keys and name tags. We were rather early (many of our family and friends joke about how we are always early!) so we found our room and unpacked. We were told that we might be sharing our room with other volunteers so we chose the room with two beds in it, leaving the bunk beds and the futon for anyone who might be joining us later. It turned out that we had the room to ourselves!
After unpacking, we still had time before the volunteer orientation so we decided to explore the grounds. What we found was a magical place- complete with a mini-golf course, climbing wall, “wishing pond” (more on that later!), lakefront beach, volleyball court, playgrounds and really cool outdoor kitchen. We were in love with the place and we hadn’t even met anyone yet!!!
At 11:00 the volunteers gathered in the dining hall for our orientation and assignments. Jamie was assigned to “Kitchen Crew” which meant that he was helping to prepare and serve three meals a day to more than 200 campers and volunteers. The Kitchen Crew consisted of three staff members and about 15 volunteers. I was assigned to the “Tot Lot and Nursery” which serves children from birth through 5 years old. I was going to be working one-on-one with a 4 year-old boy who has ALL (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia). I was a little nervous- would he like me?
Families started arriving at around 2pm and we were ready! There were volunteers assigned to help families with their luggage, greeting families, and many other activities. Jamie and I didn’t have a specific assignment so we decided to sit on the front porch and greet folks as they arrived. We heard harrowing stories of long car rides (it was Saturday of the July 4th weekend!!) and clogged highways but every family was all smiles when they jumped out of their cars.
Dinner was the first time we all gathered together- yellow shirts (volunteers) were told that if a camp family is in line behind you, that you should direct them to the front of the line. Many of the parents in the camp families weren’t comfortable with this “rule” but the kids loved it!! This mealtime ritual continued throughout camp and the parents got a little more comfortable with it (especially when there was ice cream for dessert!)
Each day, the Tot Lot & Nursery volunteers gathered in a pre-school style room complete with more toys, games and ride-ons than you could imagine. We had a fenced-in play lot outdoors that included a sandbox, swings, slides and houses for imaginary play. Our youngest child was 16 months old- he was so adorable!! We had a total of 9 campers in the Tot Lot.
On Tuesday, a group of three Navy SEALs and one Coast Guardsman completed the “No Man Left Behind” Challenge to raise awareness and funds for military families to attend camp. They headed off on bicycles at 8 a.m. from the front parking lot and biked 15 miles, then swam ½ mile, then ran 3.5 miles, then biked another 15 miles, then ran another 5 miles then swam another 2 miles, and finished off the challenge with a 5 mile kayak trip to the shores of Camp Sunshine. All completed in under 7 hours- these guys were so cool! Then they stayed at camp for the rest of the week just hanging out with the kids and playing Newcomb Volleyball, dancing, singing, whatever the campers wanted!
A typical day included parents dropping their children off at 9 a.m. in their groups and heading off to their own activities. Parents had group therapy sessions, challenge course activities and games such as Super Dooper Bloopers. At noon, parents would gather their children and head to the dining hall for lunch. The young ones (up to age 8) stayed with their families for “rest time” until 2 p.m., while the 9-12 and teens went back to their groups. At 2 p.m. the little ones returned for afternoon activities. Play-doh, movies, mini-golf or arts and crafts were the favorites. At 5 p.m., parents again retrieved their kids for dinner and whatever evening activities were planned. There was a masquerade ball on one night, fireworks on the 4th, a talent show and the Celebration night. Celebration night included launching “wishboats” on the pond. Children decorated their wishboats during arts and crafts time and on Wednesday night, the entire camp gathered around the wishing pond. This was a very emotional event- some of the families have children who are still receiving treatment for their various cancers. After the wishboat launch, we went inside for the Celebration Show- a time for each group to get up on stage and do a skit of some sort. The Tot Lot group sang Yankee Doodle while playing various instruments. Each group had a great time and got a standing ovation!
While saying goodbye was difficult- we had developed some very strong bonds with many of the camp families- Jamie and I knew that it would not be the end of our service to Camp Sunshine. We have already decided that we will give at least one week each summer to serve the wonderful families there. We also decided that our goal this year will be to sponsor one family to attend a session at camp, a $2500 endeavor. Upon our return, we reached out to family and friends asking them to consider making a donation to this very worthy cause.
The following is the homily for the Fifth Anniversary of the Establishment of St. John Paul II Parish, Southbridge, MA. and the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Notre Dame Church given by Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski.
2 Chronicles 5:6-10, 13-6
1 Corinthians 3: 9c-11, 16-17
Matthew 16: 13-19
Bishop McManus, Fr. Joyce, brother priests, deacons,
women and men religious and dear parishioners of Pope St.
John Paul II parish:
When Bishop Thomas Beaven arrived here in
Southbridge to dedicate this Church of Notre Dame, what
awe he must have felt to see such a beautiful church, an
astounding steeple that graces this town and an interior that
welcomed him to an antechamber of heaven. We gather
here today, one hundred years after Bishop Beaven
dedicated this magnificent church, still in awe of its beauty
and in awe of the great faith of those who have gone before
It was their sacrifices that built this church and it is a
physical representation of what was so dear to them as they
settled in Southbridge from their towns and villages in
France. Similarly, as we mark the fifth anniversary of the
establishment of Pope St. John Paul II parish, we thank God
for the love of our Catholic Faith that the Polish, Irish and
Spanish ancestries have brought to this area of Southbridge.
In the early part of the last century, immigration to this
part of Massachusetts was based upon the industrial works
that were so predominant here, the various mills and
factories that provided a living for families. The churches
that were established reflected the ethnic makeup of the area
and provided a touchstone for the people to have a
connection with both the lands from which they came and
the faith that was the fabric of their lives.
In the first reading from the book of Chronicles, we
hear of the great rejoicing of the Hebrew people when they
dedicated the temple built under the reign of King Solomon.
Not only did the people find that they had a home on earth
for God to dwell, but they themselves felt at home with God.
The Lord’s glory filled that temple and brought great joy to
The people of Israel. It was the fulfillment of God’s
Promise made in the book of the prophet Ezekiel 37:27,
“My dwelling place will also be with them; and I will be
their God, and they will be my people.” What greater
joy can we have than the abiding presence of God with us
In His covenant sealed with the Body and Blood of His Son.
When the sacrifice of Christ is manifested at each Mass, we
participate fully in the presence of God and not in a cloud,
but in the bread and wine, we are nourished and sustained
with this food for the journey.
Throughout his life, St. John Paul II was ever conscious
Of God’s presence to him, especially in the sad times of his
youth. As a young child, he lost his mother and later his
older brother; as a teenager, he lost his father. Who else did
he have but the God who gave him life and the Blessed
Mother to give him the mantle of her protection. After such
tragedy, he suffered through both Nazi and Communist
persecution that sought to obliterate both Faith and
Homeland. Yet, though all of this, he persisted in his
priestly vocation, gathered the young people to strengthen
their faith, accepted the will of God when he was called to
be a bishop at age 38 and offered himself sacrificially to the
Universal Church when he was elected Pope on October 16,
1978, the feast of St. Hedwig.
St. John Paul teaches us the importance of remaining
faithful, even in the most adverse times, to God who is ever
faithful to us. If anyone had the excuse to become
embittered at life, Karol Woytyla had many reasons. Yet,
his faithfulness to God allowed him to be for the world of the
late 20th and early 21st centuries, a Witness to Hope, as
George Weigel entitled his biography of this great saint.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples the question:
“Who do people say that the son of Man is?” It seems to be
a general question of curiosity.
After they give their answers, Jesus makes this a very
personal question, “And you, who do you say that the Son
of Man is.” Over these years, beginning one hundred and
seventy-five years ago when the first Mass was celebrated in
Southbridge by Father James Fitton, SJ, through the
churches of St. Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Hedwig,
Notre Dame, St. Peter, so many have sought to answer Jesus’
question with the response of their dedicated Faith. The
question that Jesus poses to His Apostles in the Gospel is
also asked of us. We seek to answer it, not only with our
lips, but by living as those redeemed in His Blood, following
Jesus’ invitation to us to live the Gospel. Our Faith is a
dynamic one; ever changing to adapt to the needs of our day,
yet rooted in teachings of Jesus. Our ancestors who arrived
in the United States as immigrants faced many challenges,
poverty, discrimination and isolation being but a few that we
know. Yet, it was their faith that carried them through,
rooting them in the values we hold dear as Catholics and
allowing them to thrive in this area. We, too, face our
challenges today. Secularism, apathy, a bias against
anything religious and I might add, Catholic are part of
our world of 2016. Yet, we celebrate the same Gospel that
enlivens our Faith, gives us hope and brings us closer to
our God and one another. As the presence of God filled
the temple of Solomon, so Jesus promised to be with us
always, even until the end of time. St. John Paul II, our
parish patron, gloried in this promise of Jesus and knew
that God’s promise to us would never fail. May we live
following this great saint’s example, filled with the Joy of the
Gospel and the light of Faith, to bring to the community of
Southbridge and beyond the hope that always goes before