Even before the first riot, arson and looting after the death of Michael Brown, the Catholic response already was underway via Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson.
Parishioners returning from the Catholic Women's Recognition Ceremony in Manchester felt the parish had to do something in response to Brown's death the previous day, Aug. 9, 2014. But what?
The answer: prayer. Led by pastor Father Robert Rosebrough, the parish prayed the Rosary the next night at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Our Lady of Lourdes grotto.
Symbolic of that dark time, storm clouds drenched the area right before the evening gathering, but stopped just in time for the Rosary. Then, as the Rosary ended, a sunburst appeared in the sky, rays of sunlight streaming through clouds in the familiar pattern.
A sign? Perhaps.
Blessed Teresa Parish emerged from the dark time and took a clear path of inclusion, diversity and welcoming, and three years later, the future looks bright.
In praise and thanksgiving, the parish will gather again to conclude its "external journey," as Father Rosebrough calls it, by reprising the initial Rosary and subsequent Rosaries of 2014. The parish will host the Rosary at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, at Our Lady of Lourdes grotto.
"The internal training continues but the three-year formal training of moving forward is complete," Father Rosebrough said. "We've changed. I cannot put words to it, but we're not the same people we were three years ago."
Back then, Blessed Teresa hosted the Rosary each Monday for 12 weeks, but that represented only a small part of the parish's activities in the aftermath of Brown's death. There was an ecumenical prayer procession from the parish to Ferguson City Hall, a pilgrimage to former slave Father August Tolton's boyhood parish near Hannibal, Mo., monthly dinners at homes throughout the community, a three-day mission, Masses for peace and justice and more.
In addition, portraits of Servants of God Father Tolton and Sister Thea Bowman were added in the back of church, and blessed by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who made numerous trips to Ferguson for sacramental events and otherwise. Also, Blessed Teresa school installed a Saints Wall of Fame, which now features four former slaves — Blessed Peter Toussaint, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Martin de Porres and Father Tolton, as well as St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who ministered to slaves in Colombia.
Former slave Julia Greeley and Father Stanley Francis Rother will be added to the Hall this school year. Greeley, whose cause for sainthood has commenced, is the first lay person interred at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, and Father Rother was a priest from Oklahoma City who was martyred in Guatemala; he'll be beatified in September.
The diverse group of saints demonstrate the school's diversity, inclusion and welcoming demeanor, and has paid dividends in new families and baptisms. The parish has about 900 families and 2,100 parishioners.
"That tells me we're relevant and vibrant," said Father Rosebrough, who still gets expressions of concern from friends in other areas who believe Ferguson is "dangerous territory. They don't understand the gift of God's presence is being celebrated and affirmed here. I'm proud of our parish and our school."
Saints Wall of Fame at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
St. Andrew Dung Lac
* Fr. Augustus Tolton
St. Frances Cabrini
St. John Paul II
St. Josephine Bakhita
St. Juan Diego
St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Martin de Porres
St. Peter Claver
Blessed Peter Toussaint
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
St. Teresa of Kolkata
St. Vincent de Paul
* Julia Greeley
* Fr. Stanley Francis Rother
* Servant of God
>> Disciples of Peace & Justice
What: Rosary commemorating the three-year journey of discipleship after the death of Michael Brown
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21
Where: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish's Our Lady of Lourdes grotto