Sr. Jacque Spaniola, adult faith formation director at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Two Rivers, said that the parish has been holding social gatherings after all four of the weekend Masses. Cookies and juice are served at the Saturday and Sunday evening Masses while coffee and donut holes are offered after the Sunday morning Masses.
“We have announcements before Mass welcoming guests and we tell them that we would like to get acquainted,” she said. Guest cards were created and placed in the pews. Guests are asked their names, contact information and whether they are visitors, new to the area or a “Catholic coming home.” They were also asked if they wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith.
In the church gathering space, a guest table featured pamphlets on topics such as annulments, evangelization and discovering Catholicism. Brochures were created, showing photos of various parish activities, along with times, locations and contact information about programs and events.
Sr. Jacque said about nine people filled out guest cards and five people registered with the parish. Other people have taken materials home. She said it’s impossible to measure the impact of the outreach efforts, but people have responded positively to it.
Another benefit of Catholics Come Home has been increased involvement of regular parishioners, said Sr. Jacque.
“I think the socials after Mass are helping people, especially with the (parish) mergers,” she explained. “More people are standing around and visiting, more than before. Even for our own parish it has been a very good experience. I have about 45 people who signed up to help me. That right there was a good builder of sociability. It has enriched our parish.”
At Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere, Catholics coming home have been welcomed by Norbertine Fr. Tim Shillcox, Deacon Michael Vander Bloomen and other parish ministers who wear CCH nametags. A guest table in the gathering area has provided literature welcoming people to church and answering questions about the faith.
The parish distributed three bulk mailings to every household in the neighborhood, said Fr. Shillcox. The mailings invited people to special “Lenten Wednesday” services, to Holy Week, Triduum and Easter services, and to a Pentecost and parish picnic event in May.
The Lenten Wednesday gatherings turned out to be popular attractions.
“One (service) has been for folks to come and discuss reasons why they’re away” from church, said Fr. Shillcox. The event attracted about 45 people. A discussion on marriage, divorce and morality issues attracted about 200 people, including 75 high school students. Two sessions focusing on “how to forgive the church” brought in about 100 people.
Last Wednesday the parish held a healing Mass “hoping for the healing of relationships within and among ourselves as Catholics,” said Fr. Shillcox. A Lenten penance service was also held, with 10 priests offering the sacrament of penance.
The pastor said gauging the success of his parish’s efforts is difficult, but he believes it has had an impact. “I think so, modestly,” he said. “I’ve had an increase in requests for folks to come and talk one-to-one.”
He sees the work of Catholics Come Home continuing into next Lent, with the RCIA program taking in new candidates and catechumens and adult education programs for those wanting to learn more about the faith.
When the Catholics Come Home initiative was launched in February, the Department of Education’s young adult ministry invited young adults to serve as young adult ambassadors in parishes. The ambassadors were charged with welcoming young adults back to church.
At St. Peter the Fisherman in Two Rivers, Jacina Thiele, who serves as religious education coordinator, was coordinator of her parish’s young adult ambassadors.
“Our primary job is to wear the blue diocesan CCH T-shirts or a blue T-shirt with our parish logo whenever we attend Mass,” she said. “After Mass we hang out by the CCH resource table in the gathering space to answer questions and pass out materials.”
According to Thiele, the group’s efforts have paid off. At one Mass, she approached a young couple she did not recognize. “I introduced myself and asked if they had any questions,” she said. “It turned out that this young couple had just moved to our community and the wife was interested in the RCIA program. They have since joined our parish and she is working with our pastor on receiving the sacraments.”
Thiele said the CCH initiative has also been a way to get young parishioners actively involved in the parish. “That’s a huge step, tapping into the enthusiasm of the young adults that are a part of our parish community who may not otherwise be involved,” she said. “Slowly the young adult community is growing and expanding. I think that is what CCH is all about. We’re not expecting people to come flooding in, but to slowly be reawakened in their faith, with a renewed desire to share with others the journey of faith.”