Volunteers allow access to cathedral during weekdays

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | August 4, 2010

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral parishioners Vonda Jossart, left, Gail Kasperek, Joan Biemert and Elaine Simonet stand near the entrance of the Bishop Wycislo Center, which is adjacent to the cathedral. The Keepers of the Cathedral volunteers allow daytime, weekday visitors to enter the cathedral through the center entrance. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“This is an attempt on behalf of parishioners to have the mother church of the diocese open during the day so that people who are passing through or visiting the area can be able to come inside to see and to pray,” Fr. Girotti told The Compass.

“Many parishioners remember a time when a church was open all day and all night,” said Fr. Girotti. “They could come in the middle of the night if they could not sleep and the church would be open. They would come in and pray. Sadly, those days have passed.”

Today, he said, “you have these beautiful downtown parishes and they all are locked because of burglaries and break-ins.” (See related story on page 1.)

It was Bishop Ricken who challenged Fr. Girotti to find ways to make the cathedral more accessible to visitors.

“When (Bishop Ricken) was first talking to me about coming here, he mentioned that it sure would be great if the cathedral could be opened during the day,” recalled Fr. Girotti. “I prayed on that, thought about it and came upon the idea of getting a group of volunteers. The phrase I came up with was Keepers of the Cathedral. These people would donate maybe an hour or two every week and simply be at an entranceway to the Bishop Wycislo Center. This would be the only doors open because it is closest to the parking lot.”

In June, Fr. Girotti placed an announcement in the parish bulletin asking for volunteers. Eighteen people responded. On Monday, July 19, the Keepers of the Cathedral began welcoming visitors.

Serendipity paid a visit that morning, as the first guest was Bishop Ricken. He happened to be escorting out-of-town guests and their first stop was the cathedral.

According to Carol Joppe, Keepers of the Cathedral coordinator, volunteers are asked to be ministers of hospitality. A desk near the entrance of the Bishop Wycislo Center serves as their base station.

“They greet guests, ask them to sign in and if they are unfamiliar with the cathedral, direct them to the entrance,” said Joppe. “When they’re leaving, volunteers offer them a bulletin for church times.” As a precaution, Keepers of the Cathedral have access to a telephone and are given instructions on who to call if an emergency arises.

Fr. Girotti said Keepers of the Cathedral is one way the parish can display hospitality.

“There is a feeling in the parish where people now can just stop by to pray and to talk to volunteers,” he said. “There’s more life in the church.”

As word of the new initiative spreads, Fr. Girotti said more visitors, especially people who work downtown, will take advantage of the open door policy. He said the initiative may also serve as an example to other parishes that have been forced to lock their churches due to vandalism.

“Without putting a beautiful church in danger, having doors open so people can come to pray is symbolic to being open to the community,” he said. “It’s a small gesture that I think will bear rich fruit.”

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