Among the tenets of the landmark gathering of Catholic leaders this past summer in Orlando, Fla., the term “radical hospitality” came to the forefront.
For Msgr. Jack Costello of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, the term perfectly described the feel for which the parish has been striving over the past few years: not only hospitable, but radically so.
Almost a year since the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” radical hospitality has taken root at St. Peter; it’s obvious inside the church vestibule en route to Masses or other sacramental events. An addition in 2003 to the exquisite 1953-vintage church, the vestibule had previously been used as just an entry way, a place to walk through upon entrance or pick up a bulletin on the way out.
“The gathering space had chairs and tables but they were spread out and around the perimeter,” said Kevin Stillman, parish director of finance and operations. He credited Msgr. Costello as the “driving force” behind making the vestibule more welcoming and warm.
Under the guidance of Msgr. Costello and the design sense of long-time parishioner Sue Darby, the space has been transformed into a warm, inviting and welcoming area, similar to a hotel lobby … with a concierge table to boot. Small seating areas feature comfy chairs and tables with either floor lamps or end-table lamps for ambiance and rugs under foot for comfort, where families and other parishioners gather to kibitz.
The concierge table features information about all of the parish ministries, giving parishioners or parish newcomers what Msgr. Costello called “one-stop shopping.” Newcomers may register for the parish and get additional information about the school or ministries. A large monitor constantly refreshes with new content about the parish.
Parish staff are at the table, ready and willing to answer questions and offer guidance. And best of all, the concierge approach approach allows the parishioners or newcomers to get information they need on Sunday when they’re at church.
Parish staffers on hand when most people come to church … that’s radically hospitable.
“We discovered that people come into church and ask how do we register, but before we did this, we’d say, ‘our office hours are 8:30-4 Monday through Friday, so come back then,’" Msgr. Costello said. "Now, we can say, ‘Let’s take care of it and do it right here. They’re coming to Mass anyway; why not do this extra when they’re here anyway.”
Before the convocation, the vestibule had similar furniture for gathering, but needed the concierge table and lighting ambiance to complete the feel.
“At the convocation, we really talked about how to extend warmth and be welcoming,” Msgr. Costello said. “The Church’s buildings need to say it, too; not just the words. We need to design our buildings to have that sense of warmth. We really need to be more inviting.”
So, St. Peter settled on the hotel-lobby approach.
“We decided it needed to become more like a hotel lobby,” Msgr. Costello said. “When you go into a hotel lobby, you say, ‘I want to stay int his place.’ It has a warm feel. And when you stay at a hotel, where do people meet? You say, ‘Let’s meet in the lobby.’ And where do you ask, ‘Where’s the best restaurant in town?’ At the concierge desk.
“Now, people can come here and register, get information about the school or anything going on in the parish, who to call and what to do. Like a hotel lobby, the most important thing is a sense of welcoming and warmth. That’s what we tried to do with this space.”
Parishioners have given the space the thumbs-up, including a kindergartner who exclaimed to Msgr. Costello, "This is like home!"
“He just couldn’t believe it was in a church,” Msgr. Costello said, with a laugh.