APPLETON — Some retired priests, brothers and sisters will be warmer this winter thanks to families from the Inter-Parish Religious Formation program of St. Joseph and St. Mary parishes.
Families from the two parishes gathered Wednesday, Jan. 6, at St. Joseph Church to create quilt squares that will be turned into lap quilts by quilters at St. Mary Parish. When finished, the quilts will be presented to some of the retired religious in the area. This likely will include retired priests at St. Fidelis, the retirement home for the Capuchin community that ministers at St. Joseph Parish.
The project was part of the Epiphany Family Night. It focused on what it means to search for and follow Jesus — just as the Magi did on that first Christmas. Families gathered in St. Joseph Church for a prayer service, led by Fr. Bill Swichtenberg, St. Mary pastor. That was followed by Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man,” presented by Andrew Russell, director of religious education for the two parishes.
The fictional story was made up about 100 years ago, Russell began. “From it, we get a good picture of Jesus.” He went on to tell the story of “Artiban,” who was set to join three of his friends and head to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus, who he heard was to become King of the Jews.
Artiban had three jewels he was going to present to the baby’s parents, Mary and Joseph: a blue sapphire, a red ruby and a white pearl. He had to meet his friends at the temple in Babylon within 10 days. That meant he had to hurry, but on the way he sees the body of a man. He thought the man was dead, but then the man’s hand reaches out and grasps his. After prayer and deliberation, Artiban stays to help care for the man until he recovered enough to move on.
By the time Artiban gets to the temple, Russell continued, his friends are gone. Artiban sold the sapphire to buy a camel and supplies. Weeks later, he arrives in Bethlehem only to find that Jesus’ family had moved on to Egypt. He learns this from a frightened woman who is cradling her baby and fearing for the arrival of soldiers who are there to hunt down infants. The woman and baby hide and Artiban gives the soldier at the door the ruby and convinces him no one is home. The grateful mother is weak with relief.
Artiban made the difficult trip to Egypt, but didn’t find the king. He spends the next 33 years searching. Though he found no king, he found many more people to help. Some were poor, some needed clothing, some needed food. He makes one last effort in Jerusalem, arriving to find a crowd waiting for three people to be crucified. Two were robbers; one was someone who claimed to be King of the Jews. Could it be? Had he finally found his king? Artiban would offer the pearl to save the king, he thought.
At the city gates, he finds a girl being sold as a slave. Artiban, now so close to finding the king, looks into the eyes of the girl. Helping her would be an act of love, he thinks, and hands over the pearl. At this point, as the skies darken and Jesus breathes his last earthly breath, Artiban hears a quiet voice say, “Artiban, you have been a good and faithful servant.” So, concludes the fictional account of the Fourth Wise Man.
Fr. Bill returned to conclude the prayer service with a story about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and how she and her Missionaries of Charity helped the poor and dying.
“They practiced the Five-Fingered Gospel,” he said. He held up his hand and ticked off these five words: “You Did It To Me.” Every time someone does an act of mercy, they do it for Jesus, he explained.
“If you remember only one thing about the Gospel, remember this,” he told the students.
From there, the religious formation students and their families were dispatched to their assignment for the evening.
Peter Leitermann, coordinator of youth ministry, explained their task: Take a cloth square and design a picture or words that answer the question, “What do you cherish about the Catholic Church?”
“Ask yourselves what is the gift you give with this quilt?” They were asked to write their answers on the paper or on the square itself. The papers will accompany the quilt when it is presented to its new owner.
Claudia Zeamer, Neenah, and Georgia Crane, Appleton, sat at a table with their families. As they decided what to make, they asked: What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of church? Zeamer’s response was holding hands during the Our Father and Crane chose a design that says “Welcome to all.” Their moms helped with the design and artwork.
They turned their finished squares over to Kathi Ruh, a St. Mary quilter, who collected them to take back to her quilting friends. Ruh estimated it would take about 50 squares to make one quilt. Other squares showed crosses, chalices, hosts, churches and teachers. They held words about peace, helping the elderly, dedicated teachers and “thanks for your service.”
The St. Mary-St. Joseph religious education program has about 240 families, for a total of 425 students, who participate during the year. Most of the sessions are traditional classroom instruction. Each year, there are two family nights, Leitermann said. “We usually do one around Advent/Christmas and one at Easter or Lent. “This year we chose Epiphany because we wanted to show students that Christmas is not done with the birth of Jesus. The birth is just the beginning and we should give presents every day.”