Volunteers from St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish reach out to 80-and-older parishioners, many of whom haven't been to church since pandemic
DEARBORN — Compared with 2020 and 2021, Palm Sunday Mass at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Dearborn might have seemed a bit more full this year. But not everyone was there.
So staff and parishioners of St. Kateri made a few house calls.
Following Palm Sunday Masses on April 10, volunteers grabbed bags filled with blessed palms, prayer beads, plastic Easter eggs filled with well-wishes, prayer cards and some artificial flowers to deliver to the parish's most senior members, letting them know they aren't forgotten.
“We started this whole (delivery) with COVID, when it became apparent that we had to keep contact with older folks,” said Fr. Terry Kerner, pastor of St. Kateri. “Grace Lakatos, our religious education and outreach coordinator, organizes parishioners in making these bags with addresses and phone numbers of some of our older parishioners.”
Volunteers assembled 170 bags to be delivered after the 9 and 11 a.m. Palm Sunday Masses. St. Kateri has a robust 80-and-over population, with elder parishioners living as far away as Novi and Livonia who of late have had difficulty coming to Mass.
The parish does something similar during Advent for parishioners 90 and older, appropriately named the parish's “90 and Nice” list, Lakatos said.
“Here at St. Kateri, we have a much older congregation than a lot of parishes; we have approximately 170 parishioners who are 80 years of age or older, some who are well into their 100s,” Lakatos said. “For Easter and Christmas, we want them to know their family at St. Kateri has not forgotten them. Many have not been able to return to church since COVID.”
Delivering the spiritual goodies allows volunteers to check in on older parishioners, asking them for prayer requests or other needs, Lakatos said. Those who receive the gifts often show their appreciation by keeping the goodie bags in a place of honor.
“We’ve seen these decorations show up on our parishioners’ doors; they keep them as door decorations,” Lakatos said. “I’ve seen the baskets as centerpieces; some have told us they put them in their prayer center at home and reflect on that when they do their morning or evening prayers.”
The Palm Sunday deliveries happened during a busy weekend for the parish. Besides a free-will breakfast to support Knights of Columbus councils in Ukraine and Poland, the parish announced it had raised $9,537.82 for the pro-life Lennon Center in Dearborn Heights this Lent.
“This is a remarkable feat for a local charity to help pregnant women who decided to care for a child,” Fr. Kerner said. “We are a community helping each other, embracing everyone in the Body of Christ.”
The Easter bag outreach is a way for the parish to show older parishioners they are still part of the parish community, despite the separation that had grown since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
“For the bag recipients, they realize they are not forgotten, they are not abandoned, even though they are homebound, that they are not away from the church,” Fr. Kerner said. “Our deacon (Deacon Tom Leonard) does a wonderful ministry to many seniors, bringing them Communion. But when we do this, we have parishioners find out they live just down the street from some of our homebound parishioners, and they didn’t know they existed, let alone they were in the parish.”
Therese Terns joined Marilou, Marcelo and Maximillian Orduyo in delivered baskets to neighboring Beaumont Commons, a retirement community where a small group of St. Kateri parishioners meet to pray the rosary on Tuesday nights. Fr. Luke Iwuji celebrates Mass on Sunday afternoons.
“This is such a resilient community that comes together for prayer every Tuesday,” Terns said. “This is who we are St. Kateri. We have many retirement homes and senior communities in our parish territory, and this is where God has placed us, to care for our elders.”
Terns and the Orduyo family delivered the bags to the seniors, including Josephine Demps, who told the Orduyos that she grew up in the same Dearborn neighborhood where they now live.
Lakatos said the Easter bag delivery reminded her of when parishioners and others visited her elderly mother before she passed away 10 years ago, letting her know the parish was thinking of her.
“The people of the parish and the people of the neighborhood reached out to her, checked in on her, and that's the best benefit of a program like this,” Lakatos said. “It's like Jesus said: ‘I was hungry, and you fed me.’ By helping someone else, whether it’s a smile or a friendly face, you show they are not forgotten.”