Our Lady of Sorrows Parish is lit up in the hopes of bringing joy and hope to the neighborhood this Christmas — much like the arrival of the Christ child at Christmas.
The south St. Louis parish usually decorates the church grounds, but this year stepped it up with an elaborate display featuring tens of thousands of lights. Other highlights include an outdoor nativity scene with a wooden manger built by retired Father Andrew Sigmund and parishioners; a 30-foot “Tree of Hope” in the courtyard decorated with lights and ornaments; Christmas music through the courtyard; and decorated trees lining Rhodes Avenue along the side of the church, each sponsored by parishioners. Hot cocoa and cookies to go also are available on the parish rectory porch.
The display is open to the public nightly beginning at 5 p.m. and through the evening until Epiphany. It’s more than just something pretty to be enjoyed — it’s an act of evangelization, said pastor Father Sebastian Mundackal, who came to Our Lady of Sorrows three years ago.
“We’re trying to bring Christmas spirit and joy to the neighborhood,” said Father Mundackal. “This is a difficult time for all of us. Where do we turn to? Jesus is our hope, our joy, our gladness. He is the star that shines in the darkness. In the darkness of this world, He comes as a light.”
As parishioners gathered outside of the church after 5 p.m. Mass Dec. 19, drinking hot chocolate and admiring the outdoor nativity, a woman walking her dog in the neighborhood stopped to talk. She told them she was raised Catholic but didn’t have a church to which she belongs. Parishioners invited her to midnight candlelight Mass on Christmas Eve. She accepted the invitation.
“This is definitely a year we need this,” said Ann Garavaglia, who visited the grounds with her husband Tom, and fellow parishioner, Dominic Grana, after the 5 p.m. Mass. “We haven’t been able to stand around and talk like this for months. This is such a dark time of the year, and I love seeing Christmas lights — it brings together the light of Christ.”
Behind the scenes, Father Sigmund and Brad Trower, both of whom grew up in Our Lady of Sorrows, helped coordinate the effort, along with the help of the Men’s Club and other parishioners.
Father Sigmund was raised in Our Lady of Sorrows and returned to the parish when he retired in 2013. He oversaw the building of an outdoor stable for the nativity figures that parishioners donated. Father Sigmund said he remembers from his childhood an indoor nativity scene featuring a cave during the tenure of founding pastor Msgr. Bernard Stolte, “which many people say was more authentic than a wood stable,” said Father Sigmund.
Father Sigmund shared other memories of Christmases past, including school children dressing up as the Holy Family and presenting the infant Jesus at Mass. He also served as a subdeacon at midnight Mass when he was a seminarian. “This was before the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “It was the first time my parents saw me in vestments.”
Trower is a St. Louis firefighter who hung the lights on his evenings off of work, sometimes staying until the wee hours of the morning working on the project. He estimated there are roughly 20-25,000 lights; the Tree of Hope alone has about 3,400 lights.
“It definitely brings me closer to the Church,” said Trower, who put in about 100 hours working on the project. “This parish has been my home for 35 years. It’s always been a part of my life. Hopefully, in this time when people are looking for hope, they can turn to the Church.”
>> Lights of Hope
WHAT: A Christmas lights display bringing hope and joy to the neighborhood; other highlights include Christmas music and an outdoor nativity scene, featuring a stable built by Father Andrew Sigmund and parishioners
WHERE: Our Lady of Sorrows Church, South Kingshighway and Rhodes Avenue in south St. Louis
WHEN: Nightly beginning at 5 p.m. and through the night, until Epiphany. Hot chocolate and cookies to go are available on the rectory porch from 5-8 p.m. through Dec. 28. Visitors are welcome to drive by or park in the church lot.