ALLOUEZ — When you walk into the day chapel at St. Matthew Church on a Tuesday evening, it seems at first to be more like a family gathering for Thanksgiving. There are warm hugs and welcoming handshakes; small talk about sports, the weather or a recent illness. But then there’s a peace that descends on the chapel as the prayer service begins.
The rosary or evening prayer group is led by any one of the members who begins by asking for prayer intentions for parish and family members, along with prayers of praise and thanksgiving. Jim Ball, one of the original members of the prayer group, leads the rosary but others chime in as well to lead a decade. The rosary is followed by the Mother of Perpetual Help Devotions and then closes with evening prayer.
This group of anywhere from 10 to 20 parishioners has been meeting since the Lenten season in 1999. Tom Schumacher, a 58-year parishioner and one of the group’s charter members, explains, “At the beginning, we had Stations of the Cross and said the rosary. When Lent was over we wanted to do something different. So we added the Mother of Perpetual Help Devotions and then evening prayer, which is a compilation of inspired prayers. The format is consistent every Tuesday and lasts about 30 minutes.”
Praying the rosary has always been the base or starting point for this group. Schumacher believes that while they have an appreciation for all types of prayer, “it’s the … traditional forms of prayer, like the rosary and novenas, that bind them. Regardless of what group you may be talking about, it’s the traditions that bind them together.”
One might conclude that these prayer warriors are one step ahead of Bishop David Ricken’s call to a greater focus on prayer life.
In his 2014 letter to the diocese, “Disciples on the Way,” Bishop Ricken talks about the importance of prayer. He outlines a six-year “mission map” for the new evangelization and formation in prayer and holiness is the first of three phases in a six-year plan.
“The call of the first two years, is to put first things first, which is all about establishing priorities centered around God; especially in our time, our talent and our treasure, our prayer, our service and our sharing,” says Bishop Ricken. “I would like to invite all the faithful in the diocese to take the next step in deepening our prayer lives.”
Amy Weiss, another member of the St. Matthew prayer group from its inception, talks about how simple, yet meaningful, this group’s purpose has become.
“We have been through 9/11, difficult elections, health issues, families’ trials and many other life struggles,” she said. “When you go regularly, as many of us do, you just know that you’re covered in prayer. You realize the peace and power through prayer.”
There are many examples of both longstanding and new prayer groups at St. Matthew. These include a charismatic prayer group, men’s and women’s prayer groups, a young moms’ group, monthly adoration and a “Christ Renews His Parish” group. All of these are listening to the call to prioritize prayer life.
The group does some interesting things to keep things fresh. For example, they will designate a week to bring a friend on the next Tuesday night or they celebrate the holidays with cookies afterwards. “We always hope for more in terms of numbers but the Holy Spirit does that. I’m thrilled that it is still going,” adds Schumacher. “While we have lost people through their moves or other life circumstances, and we’re blessed to have new people join in.”