In the papal visit to the United States in September 2015, Pope Francis urged Catholics to “meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be,” just as Jesus did with His disciplines about 2,000 years ago.
“He urges them to go out, … again and again, go out without fear, without hesitation,” the pope said in the homily at Mass in Madison Square Garden. “Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people.”
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish has taken the pope’s message to heart, literally meeting parishioners where they are — at their homes in and around O’Fallon. In the past nine months, Assumption catechists have logged about 150 visits to parishioners’ homes — whether Parish School of Religiounor school families, avid or lapsed parishioners, semi-regular or Christmas/Easter parishioners.
Catechists are working through the parish roster of registered Catholics, who number 9,890 among 3,307 households and make Assumption the archdiocese’s third-largest parish in size and households.
Under the leadership of pastor Father Mitch Doyen, Assumption continues to strive and build on "radical hospitality." Father Doyen described “the mission of the parish and direction of the parish … as rock solid” when he came aboard in June 2014.
“As a parish, we’ve grown substantially,” he said. “There’s something really wise that they have done from 2000 through 2014. The parish grew from 800 families to 3,300; they were very intentional about it, and we had a significant commitment to our ministries.”
About a year after Father Doyen’s arrival, parish leaders began contemplating and talking about the next step, asking, “’how can we grow our connections with each other, not only in numbers but also intimacy with Christ?’” Father Doyen said. “How are people moving in discipleship, not just if they’re coming to Bible study or the Bishop (Robert) Barron series last fall? Has that person come to anything else? Have they signed up for a retreat? Have they committed to service?”
Home visits not only help put names to faces for Sunday Masses or parish/school events, but also allow the parish to put its best foot — and ministries — forward. In the home visits, parishioners have a chance to express interest in volunteering for ministries such as hospital visits or communion calls.
“We hear the people’s stories and what they’re looking for,” Father Doyen said, adding that initial and follow-up visits will help the parish “get systems in place to help us stay more connected. … As many ways as we can connect, that’s what we’re trying to encourage.”
Connections at home
Melinda Kruper connected with the Koenig family on a recent evening home visit. The parish’s director of religious education, Kruper makes visits herself (as does Father Doyen) and manages about 20 catechists for the home visits, which are set up in advance — either by a household reaching out or from a cold call by the parish. The Koenigs live about two miles from church, and Misty and Jason Koenig’s three children attend the parish school — Sam, 13, in seventh grade; Ethan, 9, in fourth; and Maria, 5, in kindergarten.
With three children in grade school, they have an active schedule: practice and games in basketball, soccer and volleyball for the boys and dance for Maria. The school’s “Catholic identity” ranks highly for the parents, who moved into the parish after Ethan’s birth.
Regulars at weekend Masses and school events, Misty and Jason would like to see more school families at Sunday Mass, though it’s a plus to see teachers in church. After a teacher greeted Sam at Mass several years ago, Misty let him know how special it was, telling him, “You have no idea how lucky you are to have such awesome teachers that you see them at church on weekends, to have that connection between school and church.” Sam responded as any youngster would, with a quizzical look that said, “Oh, Mom!”
Kruper and the Koenigs visited at the dining room table, discussing school, parish life and faith. Sam enjoys writing, which allows him “to be open about himself.” Ethan, who likes reading, showed Kruper a St. Christopher medal and a Sacred Heart statue that he had inherited from his late grandfathers. Maria tried her hand at assembling a goodie from Kruper’s gift bag — string and beads to make a Rosary.
After about an hour of visiting, Kruper led them in a Hail Mary, then bid the family farewell. She and the Koenigs parted with a new-found familiarity.
“Now we’ll be able to say, ‘Hello,’ to each other at church,” Kruper said.