GREEN BAY — Many of the faces have changed and recently, the day of the week changed, but over the past 25 years, the mission of Family Prayer Night at St. Agnes Church has remained the same. The weekly gathering provides a vehicle to spend time with the Lord in a prayer-rich environment.
Family Prayer Night’s origin dates back to October of 1990 when a group of people wanted to pray together and continue a special devotion to the Blessed Mother. Their inspiration included pilgrimages to Medjugorje, prayer at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wis., and a rosary rally at the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. The group began meeting in the Lobus Lounge at St. Agnes. By January of 1991, it moved to the crying room. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was added with the permission of Fr. Richard Getchel, pastor.
The group prayed the rosary, and a vigil candle rack was added to represent each family’s intentions. They outgrew the space, so on Jan. 15, 1991, Family Prayer Night was held in the church. Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Getchel and Norbertine Fr. Tim Shillcox. More than 800 people attended the Mass to pray for an end to the Gulf War.
Family Prayer Night was held each week on Tuesday evenings prior to a move to Mondays in November 2015. Two hours of prayer are scheduled. Each evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with the rosary and confession. Mass is celebrated at 7 p.m. Quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament follows the liturgy. Some continue praying the rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together.
A one-of-a-kind statue represents the devotion to Mary. The statue, “Mother of All Peoples, Mother of the Eucharist,” was a gift carved from wood by Leo Moroder of the Province of Bolzano in Italy. An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is also displayed.
Val Bessert, who facilitates Family Prayer Night along with Paul Defnet and Joan Ross, said the group is grateful for all “graces and blessings received for ourselves and families over the years and for all answered prayers.” She also offered thanks to Fr. Getchel, succeeding pastors at St. Agnes, Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki and Fr. Patrick Beno, for their support, and for the “many dedicated priests who have graciously served on our weekly Mass schedules.”
“I have a respect and appreciation for the fact that we’ve had such a longstanding devotion in our parish,” said Fr. Beno, current pastor at St. Agnes.
He added that he is also thankful for the Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at the church, which always draws a large number of people. The annual tradition at St. Agnes began in 1995 with a celebration sponsored by the Family Prayer Night group.
Defnet said that he first started with a family prayer group at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Green Bay. Bessert invited him to help at St. Agnes.
“Val is the driving force behind it. She is the lead,” he said. “We rotate nights. We make sure the volunteers, readers and (extraordinary ministers of holy Communion) are there. We make sure the priest is there. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of retired priests and priests in active ministry.”
Some of volunteers have been a part of Family Prayer Night for most of the 25 years. Ron Waldvogel, a member of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Green Bay, has been an altar server since the beginning.
“There are a lot of good people who are a part of it,” said Waldvogel, 80, who also serves at Mass at St. Philip. “We all do this together. There is a core group of 30 to 35. A lot of people have come and gone. We have a few young people, but could use more. It’s a gift from the Lord.”
Waldvogel arrives early to set up for Family Prayer Night. He credits his wife, JoAnn, for having supper ready at 3 p.m. so he can arrive at church by 4 p.m. The doors open at 6:10 p.m.
“I don’t get home until around 9 p.m.,” he said. “It’s a long night, but very enriching. I like to help out. I had a great mom. She taught me well. The Lord has been good to me and I appreciate the people.”
Family Prayer Night is a part of the Global Apostolate of Family Prayer Night Devotions, an international ministry to families, which provides resources (www.FamilyPrayerNight.org). Participants may come for all or part of the two hours of prayer. Some come for reconciliation. Others arrive in time for Mass.
The facilitators invite newcomers to attend, especially in response to Bishop David Ricken’s call for a deeper prayer life and to exercise mercy through prayer in this Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis.
“It’s been a great blessing in my life,” said Bessert, a member of St. Louis Parish, Dyckesville, and former member at St. Agnes. “We do feel like family. … It’s been a great strength for the people who come here. There are a lot of trials and tribulations in life. We pray for one another.”
“At the end of the day, you can be so tired from work, but when you go there, you feel a lot better,” said Defnet, a member of Resurrection Parish in Allouez. “You have to believe in the Holy Spirit. We will keep going to see what direction the Lord wants us to go.”