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Dwight Cartier, right, visited with Mike Kovac on Nov. 6. Cartier, who credits the sacrament of confession with turning his life around from drug use, assists at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Louis as an usher and server in addition to visiting parishioners at home.
Dwight Cartier, right, visited with Mike Kovac on Nov. 6. Cartier, who credits the sacrament of confession with turning his life around from drug use, assists at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Louis as an usher and server in addition to visiting parishioners at home.

Confession helped Dwight Cartier turn his life around

Enthusiastic, fun-loving parishioner focuses on the person he is today

About 25 years ago, Dwight Cartier developed a habit of walking into Dwight Cartier lit a new sanctuary candle at St. Anthony of Padua Church. A Secular Franciscan, Cartier is a sacristan for the church.

Welcomed and accepted

A retired nurse who grew up in Cleveland but lost his faith as a young adult, Dwight is now a Secular Franciscan and attends Mass six days a week. He serves as an usher and leads tours of the church. He prepares for liturgical celebrations by carefully arranging liturgical books, vestments and other items such as cruets, chalices, ciboria, linens, oils, processional crosses, candles and torches needed in the celebration of Mass.

Until problems with his back forced him to slow down, Dwight visited and brought Communion to sick and elderly parishioners at three nursing homes, about 30 people twice a week at one time.

Franciscan Father Mike Fowler, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, said the Franciscan tradition is to emphasize the sacrament of penance. “We have confessions every Friday, and pretty much the whole time we are busy. I’m humbled very much, especially with a lot of the young adults and married couples who have started coming here for confession. Anybody who says confession is dead or you don’t need to do it” is wrong, Father Mike said. “It’s amazing what that sacrament can do. It absolutely can turn lives around.”

At St. Anthony’s, Dwight said, “I was accepted there by people who I told my story to. I was welcomed like a person is welcomed at their home.”

He’s helped fellow parishioners by talking to their loved ones who’ve had drug problems, urging them to seek help. And he prays for them.

“Everybody knows my name,” Dwight said. “They come up to me and ask questions. St. Anthony’s is like a family home church to me,” he said.

His enthusiasm percolates when he gives tours of the church, a massive structure built in 1910. He stops and explains the murals of 24 saints, 21 murals of scenes from the lives of St. Francis and St. Anthony and six miscellaneous murals in the side nave. He tells the stories behind St. Anthony’s 32 stained-glass windows and numerous other features.

His favorite, Dwight said, is the mural on the west side of the sanctuary of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. “Very few people would ask to receive the pain that Christ received,” he said. “You don’t have that kind of sacrifice but can have that love.”

After Mass, Dwight Cartier talked with Sister MaryAnn Ugwueke of the Benedictines of the Lamb of Divine Will. Cartier, who credits the sacrament of reconciliation with turning his life around, calls confession the “lifeblood of the soul.”

Touching lives

Dwight’s friendships from the parish make his day. The Holy Trinity, he said, is “relational. All life is about the connections we make. When we die, it won’t matter how many people attend our funeral. It’s how many lives we touched, how many lives we became an instrument in.”

Ego is what keeps people from loving people, he said. “Ego allows us to go only so far because we feel we have to be protective of ourselves. … When you merge ‘I’ into ‘us’ and ‘we,’ then you have something.”

Dwight wears a cross on a necklace and invariably people comment about how much they like it. He gave the example of a person who greeted him at the store. “I took it off and put it around her neck,” he said, adding that she was joyous about the gift. “I asked her to promise she’d wear it. It’s a way of evangelizing.”

Dwight no longer visits shut-ins officially in a role for the parish, but he looks after several friends from the parish who are elderly or frail, often giving them rides to the doctor’s office or shopping and cooking for them.

At the home of friends Val and Mike Kovac, Dwight checked on them and reminisced about the years he and Mike brought Communion to nursing home residents, visiting each one twice a week. They laughed when telling stories about their visits, including being fearful of a parrot of a retired restaurateur, singing a parody to a woman they’d known for a long while and teasing a man they joked with by bringing a baby doll and pretending it was real.

Dwight pointed out how Mike and Val’s home in south St. Louis has numerous references to their faith, including photos of St. John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis. One room they call a “chapel” has a statue of the Sacred Heart that Mike repaired and various icons he created.

Dwight and the Kovacs have been inspired by many people they met or helped. They mentioned a man with physical impairments who struggled mightily to make it to Mass and a woman in a nursing home who grew closer to her faith from the visits and receiving Communion. “To receive the Eucharist is better than meeting the president or anyone else,” Mike said.

Dwight’s decision to follow through with confession was the turning point in his life. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has noted that “with Jesus, everything is possible. He desires to heal us every time we come before Him.”

Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso also cites the transformation. “Jesus meets us where we are, He knows our needs and He lifts us up in those times where we’re downtrodden and beaten down by the burden of sin,” Bishop Rivituso said. “In the sacrament of reconciliation, with the priest acting as the person of Jesus, He frees us of that so we can be truly living out the joy of missionary discipleship.”

Secular Franciscans

Dwight Cartier, who credits the sacrament of confession with helping turn his life around, says the confessional is “the best seat in the house.”
The Secular Franciscan Order was established by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago. Their purpose is to bring the Gospel to life where they live and where they work. They look for ways to embrace the Gospel in their lives and try to help others to do likewise.

The community of Franciscans pledges to live the Gospel message, following in the ways of St. Francis of Assisi. The saint exemplified virtues including obedience, charity, humility, poverty, simplicity and wisdom.

Secular Franciscans are individuals who live as married or single laypeople. They can also be diocesan priests and permanent deacons. They strive to live the virtues of St. Francis by using their individual gifts, given by the Holy Spirit, within their families, workplaces and even parish life.

Prior to profession, Secular Franciscans undergo formation, which generally takes about three years, sometimes longer, depending on the individual. There are several stages, including an orientation, which offers individuals an introduction to the community; inquiry, a formal period of initiation to learn more about the Franciscan way of life at a deeper level; and candidacy, a final period of initiation and immersion to prepare for the permanent commitment as a Franciscan.

After profession, Secular Franciscans continue their formation through monthly group meetings. They also are involved in several apostolates. The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order (Article 7) states:

“United by their vocation as ‘brothers and sisters of penance’ and motivated by the dynamic power of the Gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the Gospel calls ‘conversion.’ Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.

“On this road to renewal the sacrament of reconciliation is the privileged sign of the Father’s mercy and the source of grace.”


“Sacrament of Reconciliation” by Father Don Miller, OFM, from Franciscan Media,

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Rediscovering the Sacrament of Penance,”

Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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