PONTIAC — When Fr. James Kean attended the Amazing Parish Conference last April, he knew the ideas presented wouldn’t be “one size fits all.
” Still, he approached the conference with an eagerness to learn and a willingness to adapt ideas.
Fr. Kean’s parish, St. Damien of Molokai in Pontiac, is a bilingual community with a small staff relative to other suburban parishes. St. Damien utilizes two different sites, St. Michael and St. Vincent de Paul, for Masses and activities each week.
“Amazing Parish came to us at the right time to help us take stock of how we’re doing things, how we could do them more effectively, and if we should be doing more,” Fr. Kean said.
Parishioner Denise Morgan volunteers in a variety of areas at St. Damien and attended the conference with Fr. Kean.
“For some of the ideas they talked about, I honestly thought we just didn’t have enough people or the kind of circumstances to make it happen,” Morgan said. “But we were inspired to go back and do what works for our own parish and our own situation.
”To begin, Morgan and the other members of the leadership team worked with Fr. Kean to redefine the parish mission statement to reflect more clearly the diversity of the community. The new mission statement is prominently posted on the home page of the parish website: “We at St. Damien of Molokai are a vibrant parish lived out in a multi-cultural experience. Following the example of our humble patron, we embrace the challenge to harmonize the diversity within our faith community in order to draw closer to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
”St. Damien hosts bilingual Bible studies, Spanish as a second language classes, and an annual celebration for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December. The parish offers three Spanish Masses each weekend and three English.
“We’re blessed to be a bilingual community,” Fr. Kean said. “The beauty of our parish is that we’re still maintaining a vibrant English-speaking community as well. We can meet the needs of both as we continue to bring them together. ”In addition to retooling the parish mission, the morning Mass time was moved 45 minutes earlier, to 8:15 a.m. The Mass is offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings at the St. Michael site.
After the Mass, attendees are invited to stay for 10 minutes of silent prayer and then recite a prayer to the Holy Spirit together.
“We wanted the Mass to match the life of our office staff so that they could attend,” Fr. Kean said. “We also wanted to focus on the spiritual life of our staff and parishioners by starting our day together focused on prayer.
”Morgan helps with setup for the morning Masses, making a point to greet people as they arrive and introduce herself to newcomers. She writes down prayer intentions of those who wish to share them.
“We’re like a family, and we reach out to those who’ve never been to this Mass. There’s a sense of community now that is noticeable,” Morgan said. “We had someone from out of town join us, and he said he’s never been to a daily Mass like this. We say hello to people. We give hugs. It totally changes your day to start it that way.
”As a result of the new approach, the parish has seen an increase in daily Mass attendance.
“A lot of people don’t know how meaningful daily Mass can be,” Morgan said. “It has been instrumental in increasing our prayer life as a parish.
”Fr. Kean and the leadership team continue to fine-tune aspects of the parish while remaining focused on the message of the Gospel.
“When you attend Amazing Parish, you have to be realistic about what you can do within the context of your own parish, but the beauty is that it gives us greater focus. It’s been a good boost for us,” Fr. Kean said. “For any of us who attended, it behooves us to ask ourselves, ‘Are we going to let this be just another program? Or are we going to challenge ourselves to take stock and see it as an opportunity to do more?’”