The program is facilitated by Deacon Mastalish and Sr. Caroline Castellini. It is open to anyone and also provides a resource and follow up to those responding to the diocesan Catholics Come Home initiative.
“Our ministry is primarily one of being open and listening to those who attend, not being judgmental and to answer their questions or concerns,” said Deacon Mastalish. “We use videos, discussion and handouts to address their issues. Each session is different, depending on the needs of those attending, so we remain flexible in developing our programs.
“This has been a rewarding ministry, especially seeing people who return to the church and become active participants and leaders in parish ministry,” he added.
Holly Meyer, coordinator of religious education at St. Bernard, was once a participant in the “Returning Catholics” program. Meyer had left the church following anguish caused by members of the clergy.
“There had been some very unkind things said by two different priests in our diocese,” she said. “It was very hurtful to me and my son. I felt discouraged about coming to church.”
Meyer points to the birth of her first granddaughter as the reason she took another look at the church. She was aware of St. Bernard’s program, so she sought guidance.
“I wanted to know how I could get past the words of someone else,” she said. “I really learned that it wasn’t God abandoning me. He had always been there. I went through the program and joined St. Bernard Parish.”
Meyer later saw a bulletin announcement regarding preparation for any children who had missed a sacrament.
“At that point, I knew why I had returned to the church,” she said. “I needed to see that my 5-year-old granddaughter was baptized.”
Parish volunteer efforts led to increased involvement.
“The director of religious education felt that I had a gift working with children,” said Meyer. “That fall, I became a catechist. The following summer I worked with vacation Bible school. In 2008, I was commissioned through the diocesan Lay Ministry Formation program.”
“Returning Catholics” can help anyone who has issues with the church, she added.
“You are accepted where you are,” she said. “Everyone listens to your concerns and is non-judgmental. They explore your feelings with you and help you understand how you can get past your hurt.”
Meyer has served as a part of the “Returning Catholics” team. She gives witness talks about her own experience in coming back to the church.
“You don’t have to say anything at the meetings if you don’t want to,” said Meyer. “It’s up to you how much you share. Not everyone goes through the program and immediately joins the parish. It may take people awhile. God works in his time. People will be returning to the church through Catholics Come Home. We need to welcome them back. Sr. Caroline and everyone involved with (Returning Catholics) are so open and welcoming.”
What: Five-week program from people who have been away form the church for any reason to take another look.
When: First session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 2.
Where: St. Bernard Parish Center, Green Bay.
Registration/Information: To register or for more information, contact Deacon Larry Mastalish at (920) 468-4922 or Sr. Caroline Castellini at (920) 468-4811.