Passing on the Catholic faith and keeping prayer at the heart of the family are the focus of the Catholic Grandparents Association chapter at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.
It’s what the founder of the worldwide association called “our vocation as grandparents.”
The Catholic Grandparents Association is an international organization that started in England and Ireland in 2002 by Catherine Wiley and is now in 60 countries. Nikki Mahn and her husband, Mike, learned about it five years ago and asked their pastor at St. Peter in Kirkwood about organizing a chapter.
They worked with Linda Doyle, director of adult faith formation at the parish, and Archbishop Robert J. Carlson to start the chapter, the first in the archdiocese. The association has grown from about five chapters in the United States five years ago to about 25 today.
Many grandparents, similar to Wiley, are looking to make an impact on their grandchildren’s faith. Some have adult children who don’t practice the faith and in turn have children who are
unbaptized and unschooled in the faith. The meetings and conversations often offer a forum to discuss these issues. “It’s a place of comfort and support, a place of caring, as well as prayer time and sharing great stories and ideas,” Mike Mahn said.
The Mahns aim to help grandparents with catechesis so they can have conversations with family members who don’t practice the faith, and are open to discussing it and some of their disagreements. Nikki Mahn explained: “We tell them (grandparents) you are not there to nag them or shame them into anything, but you’re there to listen and if you understand the catechesis of why the Church believes what it believes, you can offer the information and let it stay there. It’s unrealistic to expect instantaneous results. You have to be patient and persevere in prayer. We’re there as that partner.”
Mary McEvoy also is active in the chapter at St. Peter and its programs. “It’s a way of evangelizing to the younger generation, our grandkids, and maybe be a good witness to our children,” McEvoy said.
She cited a Mother’s Day program that highlighted the Blessed Mother. She enjoys hearing about other traditions, such as one from another participant who had a May crowning with her family. Another meeting focused on the Sacred Heart. “You kind of forget why we have this tradition of honoring the Sacred Heart, so it’s instructive,” McEvoy said. “It’s good for us so we can refuel and nourish our souls so we can share that.”
Guest speakers often appear at monthly meetings, and an annual pilgrimage for grandparents and grandchildren is held, often to historic churches in the archdiocese. The chapter holds an Advent program and celebrates Bambinelli Sunday, an event in which children bring forth a baby Jesus figure from their manger to the church for a blessing. A grandparents Mass in conjunction with the parish school is another of their activities. Other chapters have traditions such as May crownings, adopt-a-prayer-partner events, Stations of the Cross, book of remembrances, and more in conjunction with their parishes.
The chapter is a partnership with the parish, but does not place a burden on parish staff for their time or resources, the Mahns said.
The Mahns were excited about the establishment by Pope Francis of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which was to be celebrated on Sunday, July 25, with the theme, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Pope Francis states that there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. “Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones. Never forget this,” he wrote in a message for the day.
“It offers reassurance to grandparents and the elderly that they are valued and cherished by the community and the Church,” Nikki Mahn said.
>> Catholic Grandparents Association
The founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association, Catherine Wiley, was inspired in prayer to honor and thank Sts. Joachim and Anne through pilgrimages and an association to affirm grandparents and encourage them to embrace their vocation of passing on the faith.
Wiley organized the first National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, England, the last Saturday of July in 2003, on the feast of Sts. Joachim and St. Anne, parents of Our Lady and grandparents of Jesus. The pilgrimages have been repeated annually since, now held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland with as many as 10,000 participants.
To learn more about starting a Catholic Grandparents Association chapter at your parish, contact Nikki Mahn at (314) 799-2050 or [email protected]
>> Prayer for Grandparents
Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.
Look with love on grandparents the world over.
Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society.
Support them! As they grow older, may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardians of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions.
Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.
Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and role of grandparents.
May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love.
Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them.
Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!
Pope Benedict XVI