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Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Fugere Urban

Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.

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Remembrance Wall

Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman knows that funerals are “a golden opportunity to do some ministry, and we don’t want to miss it.”
 
That’s why he has taken the suggestion of Rita Dee, a parishioner of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington where he is parish administrator, to establish a “Remembrance Wall” on which persons who have had a church funeral are being memorialized for a year.
 
St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington, where Father Wiseman is also administrator, has a similar Remembrance Wall.
 
The first black walnut cross was placed on a wall near the vigil lights at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in December, and since then at least three more have been added to the space beneath a stained glass window of Jesus after His resurrection and next to a statue of St. Anthony of Padua.
 
The name and date of death of the person being remembered is engraved on a brass plate on the center of each four-by-six-inch cross made by parishioner John Fahey.
 
Family members of the deceased hang the cross on the wall at the end of the Mass of Christian Burial.
 
“It’s a way to connect to people with our faith,” Father Wiseman said. “Often we see people at a funeral and never see them again. This [Remembrance Wall] is a way to connect with people to come in and see their family member’s name on the wall.”
 
Dee brought the idea to Father Wiseman after experiencing a similar wall at Immaculate Conception Church in Glenville, New York, at her father’s funeral. “It was very consoling, taking the cross and putting it on the wall for everyone to see” and to keep her loved one in people’s memory, she said.
 
So far there have been only a handful of church funerals between the Bennington and North Bennington Catholic churches since the Remembrance Walls were begun, and Father Wiseman said reaction has been positive. “The crosses are beautiful, and the ritual of having the family put the cross on the wall is a plus too.”
 
The Remembrance Wall is a way for the parish to give honor to the person who has died, while the church funeral in general is a “chance for us to stop and look at what is important in life” and for people to console one another, Father Wiseman said. “It is an opportunity to embrace people who have lost a loved one and to let them know the Church is here to help them deal with the reality of death that has come into their life.”
 
Church “funerals are a chance to focus on your relationship with Christ and reignite people’s faith,” Dee added.
 
There were 23 church funerals at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in the 2017 calendar year.
 
In is 40 years of priesthood, Father Wiseman has never before seen a Remembrance Wall, and he encourages people to look at the crosses on the walls: “They are a real, physical presence of people’s lives.”
 
Plans call for a remembrance book to be added to a shelf near the crosses, which will remain in the church until the first anniversary of the person’s death when the cross will be given to the family at a weekend Mass near the anniversary date.
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Once a stranger, now a friend

Merida Ntirampeba’s first impression of St. Francis Xavier Church in Winooski was one of welcome.
 
She had left her native Berundi in 1993 and came to Vermont in 2004 after 11 years in an overcrowded refugee camp in Tanzania where threats and violence were not uncommon.
 
So after settling into an apartment in Winooski with her family, she wanted to go to church and was directed to the two-spired brick church on St. Peter St. “The first time I went to the church the community was welcoming. Everyone I met was so kind,” she said in Kirundi, her 24-year-old daughter, Claudine Nkurinziza, translating for her. Someone gave Ntirampeba money to help set up her new family home, another person offered her rides from church, and others helped her family with needed items like school backpacks.
 
Refugees bring to the parish an opportunity for grace, said Msgr. Richard Lavalley, pastor. They give members of the community the opportunity “to discover Christ in a new manner, an opportunity to see Christ — in a very real way — in need.”
 
In addition to helping this woman from Burundi, St. Francis Xavier Parish helps refugees and children of refugees in myriad ways from providing food and clothing, finding a place to live and engaging legal and interpreter services to providing scholarship assistance for children to attend Catholic schools and a cemetery plot for a dying man to ease his anxiety about where he would be buried.
 
It also supports the Catholic CARES Network.
 
“I do whatever I feel I am capable of doing,” said St. Francis parishioner Diane Potvin, the executive assistant to the pastor.
 
Clearly, she has extraordinarily capabilities as she escorts refugees — mostly from Africa — through their needs and requirements until they can function here on their own. She works closely with other agencies that are helping them.
 
“We do anything that makes them have a sense of self worth and that they are not alone,” Msgr. Lavalley said.
 
And the assistance is offered to Catholics and non Catholics alike. “The Gospel doesn’t say just take care of your own,” said Msgr. Lavalley, who was seen in local hip-hop trio A2VT’s video for their song "Winooski, My Town." (It is a tribute to the new home of three young refugees from Africa.)
 
There are about eight African families in St. Francis Xavier Parish, and numerous children have attended St. Francis Xavier School. Currently four Catholic students from refugee families are enrolled.
 
“Our Catholic values extend to everything we do, and the importance of charity and humility that comes with our faith is evident,” said Principal Eric Becker. “It’s important for us to be members of our Winooski community and see all the issues [refugees] are facing. We want to be good neighbors.”
 
Ntirampeba, 59, has given birth to 10 children; seven are still living — four in the United States and three in Burundi. She praises her parish for the help she and her family have received, both physical and spiritual assistance. This includes food, financial help, clothing and scholarships for St. Francis Xavier School and South Burlington’s Rice Memorial High School. Msgr. Lavalley baptized three of her children together.
 
“Only God knows how much the church and Msgr. Lavalley have done for me,” Ntirampeba said. “He is like a parent to me.”
 
She did not expect people here to be “so nice,” she continued. “I feel grateful and cared about. It’s supernatural for so much love.”
 
Her daughter, too, is grateful. Now working as an instructional aid at J.F. Kennedy Elementary School in Winooski, tries to “give back in any way I can.” Often that is by translating for new Americans and assisting with programs of Catholic CARES Network. “I never say no to them because they’ve done so much for us,” she said.
 
Her faith influences this attitude, and she cites the Gospel of Matthew: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
 
Her motto, she added, is “treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”
 
Ntirampeba offered her gratitude to the people of St. Francis Xavier Parish “because they do so much for so many people.”
 
St. Francis Xavier Parish, once mostly populated by Winooski’s French Canadian immigrants and their families, “is not Winooski anymore,” Msgr. Lavalley said. “People come from all around.”
 
And they are embraced.
 
 
 
 
 

Mass for African immigrants

As New Americans continue to resettle in Vermont, members of the Catholic community embrace them and help them to make the Green Mountain State their home.
 
This, they do in myriad ways including helping the immigrants find and set up homes, access social services and jobs, maintain their culture and practice their faith in meaningful ways.
 
For example, in Burlington, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral hosts Mass in French for members of the Francophile African community.
 
Father Lance Harlow, rector, celebrates the special Sunday evening Mass about once a month to help the participants preserve their Catholic faith and their culture. “They have a purity of Catholic faith through their culture but not affected by the Puritanism that affects most of Northeast America,” he said.
 
At a recent Mass, about 50 people — children, teens, working adults and the elderly — gathered in the front left section of the co-cathedral, many wearing clothing made of traditional African cloth and featuring designs of the Blessed Mother. They sang and clapped; some played instruments like drums and shakers, others made a “sound of joy” like a trill they called “bikelekele” or waved a scarf.
 
“It’s great. You get to get back to the same experience as back home. It kind of recreates that,” said Rachel Miyalu who left the Democratic Republic of Congo and came to the United States seven years ago, three years ago to Vermont.
 
“I like Mass in French,” said Gertrude Maboueta who came to Vermont six years ago from the Congolese capital of Brazzaville. “Father Lance teaches us in French because the French is our language.”
 
Father Harlow took French classes in high school and college and continues to take private lessons through the Alliance Francais.
 
He celebrates Mass in French and preaches in French, to the delight of the congregation.
 
“I am very, very happy,” said Claudine Nzanzu who came to Vermont five years ago from Democratic Republic of Congo. “This is a lovely Father, a good Father, who celebrates the Mass for us in French. He’s an angel to us.”
 
Most of the members of this congregation are from Democratic Republic of Congo, and their English proficiency varies, but they all appreciate Mass in French and its liveliness. “English Mass is not active. We don’t dance,” said Nzanzu who shook the rattle-like instrument and waved her arms in joy and praise during the Mass.
 
Ophthalmologist Jules Wetchi, 39, left Democratic Republic of Congo and came to Burlington in 2013; he works as a medical technician and is studying for a master’s degree in public health from the University of Vermont. He was active in his church in the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and formed the French-speaking Catholic community in Burlington.
 
A language barrier is often the first challenge New Americans face when they come to Vermont, he said, and that is especially difficult at Mass. So his goal was to create a community to help people maintain their Catholic faith and to be engaged in the Mass; the French Mass began in 2016.
 
The co-cathedral was the perfect place for the community to form, not just because Father Harlow speaks French — and can hear their confessions in their native language — but also because of its central location for Mass and other religious gatherings like the recitation of the rosary and Gospel study and social gatherings like post-Mass potluck dinners.
 
Wetchi, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion who speaks four languages, said finding a home in an historically French national parish, is especially meaningful for the French-speaking African community there which now numbers nearly 50.
 
“When you come for God, you need to be happy because God loves us and nobody loves us like God,” Nzanzo said. “This Mass is a blessing.”
 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Catholic Schools Week 2018

Catholic Schools Week 2018 will be celebrated Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 and will focus on the theme “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”
 
Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association, Catholic Schools Week is an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States. Schools typically observe the week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. Through these events, schools focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to the Church, local communities and the nation.
 
“Catholic Schools Week is a time to truly celebrate what makes us unique,” said Carrie Wilson, head of School at The Bishop John A. Marshall School in Morrisville. “There is so much joy in our schools, and we take the time during Catholic Schools Week to share that joy with each other and with the community. We are the best-kept secret in education, and we deliberately take time that week to shout it from the rooftops!”
 
Catholic schools in Vermont will celebrate Catholic Schools Week with prayer, service projects, outdoor fun, family activities, art exhibits, sports events, volunteer appreciation and dress-down days.
 
A special event for all schools will be a Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral with students from Catholic schools throughout the Diocese who will participate in different roles in the Mass including serving and singing.
 
Students from both Christ the King School and Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland will travel to the Mass to celebrate with other Vermont Catholic school students. “The two schools will also have a Mass at Christ the King Church celebrating the rich history of Catholic schools in Rutland and all that it means to be a Catholic community,” said Sarah Fortier, principal of both schools.
 
Other Catholic Schools Weeks activities include letter writing to seminarians, recitation of the rosary, luncheons and open houses.
 
 
  • Published in Schools
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