Three years ago, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics worldwide to dedicate Twenty-four Hours for the Lord. His urging, issued during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, was meant to provide a more precise focus upon the sacraments, devotions and teachings of the Church, especially those pertaining to mercy.
Pastoral leaders in the Stevens Point Deanery saw in the Holy Father’s proposal the potential for a line-up of worship and catechesis involving parishes across the deanery and spanning the 24-hour timeframe of the weekend in Lent identified by the pope. The result was the first Mercy Marathon in 2016, which, beginning Friday night, included Mass, Stations of the Cross, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Taize prayer, fish fries, a communal celebration of the anointing of the sick, opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation, a lunch and presentation and a series of movies addressing the theme of mercy. It all culminated Saturday evening with many parishes offering the Lord’s Day Mass of anticipation.
The participation and communal response was positive enough to warrant a second 24-hour celebration in 2017 — Mercy in Motion: Pondering Peace — with a similar line-up of sacraments, prayer, movies and food. And on March 9-10, 2018, the deanery’s 16 parishes collaborated a third time as area Catholics participated in “Return to Mercy: Blessed Are You.”
Continuing to offer this Lenten series of diverse, but faith-centered, opportunities seemed only natural, said Father Dan Hackel, dean and pastor of St. James Parish, Amherst and St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish, Fancher. “From the first year,” he said, “24 Hours for the Lord gave Catholics in our area a chance to celebrate their faith with people from different parishes and to pray and experience different churches. Doing things together in different places seems like a good thing.”
The Stevens Point Deanery encompasses all of Portage County, which is in the northeast part of the diocese, as well as St. Wenceslaus, Milladore, which is in Wood County. The deanery includes a mix of rural and urban parishes, several founded more than 100 years ago, and two founded within the last 15 years. As is true in other parts of the diocese, the majority of the deanery’s pastors serve more than one parish, although three parishes have pastors who serve one parish.
In addition to vibrant parishes and all that goes with parish life, two rural parishes — Sacred Heart Parish in Polonia and St. Adalbert in Rosholt — operate schools, and all of the deanery parishes offer support to Pacelli Catholic Schools, which offers education and programming for children from infancy through high school. Another significant presence in the deanery’s Catholic schools and parishes for more than a century have been the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, whose motherhouse is in Stevens Point.
Twenty-four Hours for the Lord is not the deanery’s only collaborative effort. For several years, common celebrations of the sacrament of confirmation have been held in the fall and spring involving all parishes. Beginning next year, all young people of the deanery will be confirmed in two liturgies celebrated on one November Sunday. The confirmation Masses are celebrated at St. Bronislava Parish in Plover, which is well-suited in terms of seating and parking.
“We can become so parochial as Catholics and focused almost exclusively on our parishes,” Father Hackel explained. “Our deanery confirmation celebrations help our young people, as well as some of us older folks, to realize that the Church is more than my parish, and it gives us a strong witness of the larger Church, even in our rather small geographic area.”
By Larry Sheckel