Lenten missions popular in parishes across S.C.



Since Lent is a time of reflection and renewal for Catholics and other Christians, many faith communities in the Diocese of Charleston hold parish missions during the season. All of the missions are themed. Some are designed and implemented by the parish families themselves, but most are the products of specialist preachers and other experts in the field.

The best require a major commitment on the part of the parish members themselves. One such was “Blessed and Broken” at St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head Island. A team from Isaiah Ministries, Oblate Father George Knab and Rose Mary Dannelly, stressed the virtues of partnerships in their mission — and that included partners who formed a parish team to prepare for and help with the March 3-6 mission.

“It was an incredible commitment for the 45 team leaders,” said pastoral associate St. Mary of Namur Sister Kathleen Kane. “We started preparing last November.”

In the end, Sister Kane said, it paid off, not only in a deep, faith-filled week, but also in numbers. More than 200 participated in each of the four evening sessions, along with another hundred or so during two special day events for people who don’t drive at night.

On the Saturday before the mission officially kicked off, the Isaiah Ministries duo led a retreat for the parish team leaders, who were all volunteers except for Sister Kane. The parish workers shared stories about times of special faith in their lives and then witnessed to those times during the mission itself. The sessions of the mission were centered on the four energies of the Eucharist.

With a supportive pastor and brilliant music ministry, parishioners loved the mission and the chance for renewal, the nun said, especially the team leaders.

“One told me: ‘Now I feel as if I’ve made 40 new friends,'” Sister Kane said.

Partnerships were a big part of the mission at Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek also, but theirs involved a partnership of parishes. Divine Redeemer, St. John’s, St. Philip Benizi and Our Lady of Peace Mission all joined in to welcome Redemptorist Father William Maggs for a March 11-14 mission. Father Maggs brought with him many experiences from his 20 years in foreign missionary work. He now works full-time preaching parish missions.

Each participating parish hosted the missioners one night, according to Julie Yeager of Our Lady of Peace, although all the actual mission events took place at Immaculate Conception. It was the second year the parishes had joined to celebrate Lent together.

At the St. Thomas More Center, the parish that serves the Columbia campus of the University of South Carolina and its thousands of Catholics, the staff scheduled a series of lectures by prominent theologians. The lecturers included the Father Francis Kline, abbot of Mepkin Abbey, and Msgr. Thomas Duffy of St. Michael Church in Garden City. Father Kline is a renowned scholar and musician, while Msgr. Duffy is famous in South Carolina for his pithy editorials and letters-to-the-editor. His special interest is his opposition to the death penalty. The Lenten Lecture Series generated interest among the student population and in the Columbia community-at-large.

Down in Beaufort, the mission is scheduled for Holy Week. The pastor of St. Peter’s, Father Ron Cellini, knew of a Capuchin-Franciscan with a wide-ranging reputation for excellence and invited him to run the mission. Since the presenter is in such high demand, the usual interest in Lenten missions has been enhanced, according to early indications.

“We do a mission every year, but expect one of our best turn-outs this year,” said Barbara Stanley, director of religious education for the parish. “Father (Scott) Seethaler’s topics are compelling and hard-hitting.”

Father Seethaler is an itinerant preacher, who has done parish work and trained seminarians and served the poor at the Catholic Spanish Center in Washington, D.C. The priest also taught at Slippery Rock University. His sermons sell on audio and video, according to parish communicator Betsey Robinson, and his radio show airs six days a week in western Pennsylvania.

The St. Peter’s Lenten mission is themed: “Life is Difficult but God is Good.”

Up the coast in the Charleston area, Christ Our King Parish went with another presenter of renown: Sister Mary Laura Lesniak. Sister Lesniak served the Diocese of Charleston for many years and is now on the staff of the St. John Eudes Center in West Seneca, N.Y., a community near Buffalo. The charism of the center is putting on missions and workshops.

“It was a kind of back-to-basics kind of thing for Lent, almost a guided retreat,” said Mark Dickson, pastoral associate of Christ Our King. “It was very prayerful.”

Dickson said that Lenten missions are a tradition at COK and this one focused on the three duties of the season, prayer, fasting and alms giving. His parish goes through the effort of a mission as a gift to the parishioners, he said, and to the surrounding community.

Like the many other parishes holding Lenten missions, Christ Our King does it because, Dickson said, “Lent is a special time for spiritual renewal.” Thousands of South Carolina Catholics participate in the liturgies and penance services that are part of the mission concept. It’s one way of preparing one’s soul for the coming of Christ in Easter, Christendom’s most important feast and the nuclear celebration of our faith.