Families must be properly fed in order for them to keep coming back to church, said Father Jack Siefert.
And he’s not talking about the coffee and donut variety, either — although St. Mary Magdalen in Brentwood offers that regularly on Sundays after Mass. Rather, the pastor said the key to being a vibrant parish is giving people the tools they need to live their faith and to share that with others — starting with the sacraments.
“Feed the faith — I am telling you,” he said. “That’s first and foremost. Do that as best you can, as often as you can, and I think the rest in time flows.”
Several more changes have recently happened at the 106-year-old parish, which is in a prime location at the corner of Brentwood Boulevard and Manchester Road — a busy crossroad that is highly visible and easily accessible. A noontime weekday Mass is popular among the workday crowd. In 2018, the parish began offering another weekday Mass Mondays through Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. Father Siefert said additional confession times have been added.
“People are drawn to that,” he said. “They want it, and to be able to provide it for them as often as you can — plus the adoration chapel — it is those things, that’s the foundation.”
There have been other recent changes, including some new ideas being infused into a three-year-old family faith formation program aimed at Parish School of Religion families, but with the intention of connecting all families in the parish. Jen Meehan earlier this year was hired in 2018 as director of the program, which provides catechesis for children in non-parochial schools and their parents online during the school year and on Sunday mornings twice a month, something different than the typicalweekday PSR program in most parishes.
“That’s the core of their catechesis — that’s where they’re learning the basics of the faith and Mom and Dad are learning alongside,” Meehan said. At the first session, she held a listening session for parents and asked them this: “Why are you here? Why is faith formation important to you? What do you want them to learn? What do you need to raise your kids in the faith?”
An added twist to the program are Family Sundays, held several times during the year and open to all families in the parish as a way of building community among school and PSR families. Also included are parishioners whose children are now grown. The morning features a hands-on activity and catechesis. The most recent one held in December in the church basement included making Jesse Tree ornaments, with a lesson on the biblical events leading to Jesus’ birth.
The Amato family, whose children attend school in the Rockwood School District, were looking for a program in which they could participate in the catechesis with their children. Mom Ellen Amato searched online for parishes in the archdiocese and came across St. Mary Magdalen’s program. At the Jesse Tree activity, the Amatos sat across from Carlos Mejia and two of his daughters, who attend St. Mary Magdalen School.
Mejia said it’s been apparent the ways in which parish leadership has been working to better connect families as one parish community, including through service projects, such as making blankets for foster children through Good Shepherd Children & Family Services; and a buddy program that pairs school and PSR families together. “We’re all just trying to raise our kids in the faith,” he said.
Teresa Mancuso loves seeing families coming together to deepen their understanding of the faith. Mancuso, who has a grown son, has attended several adult faith formation sessions at the parish, including one in which Meehan spoke about the spiritual works of mercy.
“That was the first time I heard her speak and she was so dynamic,” Mancuso said. “And I’ve always wanted to make a Jesse Tree when (my son) was growing up. He’s 34 now. So I will take the kit home and do them myself. She has some great ideas about what do do with everybody — adults and children, families. Look at this.”