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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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Cigars and Stories

It was a warm, dry Thursday evening, and the fire in the pit next to Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield was burning almost lazily. Five men, including the pastor, Father Peter Williams, relaxed around it, telling stories punctuated by deep, hearty laughs.
It was the July men’s meeting for “Cigars and Stories,” though only a couple had a cigar.
“This is relaxing,” said parishioner Dennis Pine. “I look forward to it,” added Father Williams whose idea it was to gather the men to relax, get to know one another and share their wisdom.
He occasionally smoked a pipe, but when he saw a computer ad for Immaculata Cigars, he was intrigued because of his devotion to St. Maximilian Kolbe, founder of the Militia of the Immaculata, a worldwide evangelization movement that encourages total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a means of spiritual renewal for individuals and society.
He bought a box of the cigars, made by Ave Maria Cigars, but then wondered what he would do with them. So he decided to share them with the men of the parish.
The monthly, 7 to 9 p.m., May through October gatherings around the campfire began last summer and are open to all men. “The purpose is gathering. And keep it simple,” Father Williams said. “We [men] don’t often socialize unless we have an event. This is a social event.”
He hopes by participating, men of the parish will get to know one another better – “which is invaluable” – and appreciate the wisdom of the older men. “It’s an exchange of wisdom,” he added.
Men are encouraged to “come with a story;” and although they don’t have to be funny, “it helps if they are,” Father Williams said with a laugh.
Stories have centered on topics like family, travel and camping.
But Father Williams is open to questions, and the gatherings of about a half dozen men are times when they can seek answers to questions about the Church or their faith.
“This is a nice getaway … to hang out,” said parishioner Dave Prunier who contributed a story about “German festive coffee.”
“We all get along, and this is a way to continue to get to know people in the parish,” he said.
Asked why he attends, parishioner Pierre Peltier exclaimed, “It’s our penance,” and the other men roared with laughter.
Parishioner Tony Klementowicz said he enjoys the camaraderie and the comfortable atmosphere around the fire. (If it rains the gathering is moved indoors.)
Pine is hoping the group will meet around the campfire at least once in the winter.
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Cable ministry of Deacon Blicharz

Even though he was granted “senior deacon” status about three years ago because of debilitating spinal stenosis that makes walking difficult, Deacon John F. Blicharz continues his role of service to the Church through his cable television program.
His 30-minute monthly program, “Sharing Thoughts,” is recorded in the kitchen of his tidy Bellows Falls home, a two-foot crucifix from the former Sacred Heart Church visible behind him.
The program is “about our faith in general,” he said, and topics have included the Knights of Columbus, World Youth Day, the Holy Land, prayer, purgatory and the right to life.
Aired on Fact TV Channel 8 in Bellows Falls, the cable access program can be seen four times a week. Its purpose, Deacon Blicharz said, is “to spread the word of God and to show forth our faith.”
Deacon Blicharz – of Polish descent -- grew up “across the river” in North Walpole, N.H., but was a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Bellows Falls – a Polish parish -- until it closed in 2004. A graduate of the former Bellows Falls High School, he attended St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake, Mich., affiliated with Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary there. He studied at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore for two years before returning to the Bellows Falls area.
He and his wife, Jane A., have been married since 1972 and have two adult children, Stephanie and Timothy – both graduates of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. -- who now live in the Boston area.
Deacon Blicharz, 70, is a retired office worker for James Oil in Bellows Falls.
Burlington Bishop John A. Marshall ordained him to the permanent diaconate in 1982, and he served both in the Diocese of Burlington and in the Diocese of Manchester, N.H, in a church just about a mile from his home on the other side of the Connecticut River.
He said he was called to the permanent diaconate because of his love for the Church and because though the Lord did not call him to the priesthood, he could still serve the people of God. “I’ve always been involved in the Church,” said the former longtime high school religious education teacher.
When Father Lance Harlow – now rector of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Co-Cathedral parishes in Burlington – was pastor of St. Charles Church in Bellows Falls, he asked Deacon Blicharz to be on his cable program, “Curious about Catholicism.”
The deacon was on the program three times, discussing the permanent diaconate in Vermont and Sacred Heart Church.
“My family was deeply rooted and involved in Sacred Heart Parish,” he said proudly.
Now a parishioner of St. Charles Church, Deacon Blicharz is committed to uplifting the Church, particularly through his cable program. “Faith is fragile, like an eggshell,” he said. “Unless you’re really grounded in it, you could lose it very quickly.”
So when Father Harlow asked him to take over the cable program in 2011, he agreed. “It was a good way to show the faith by continuing the show,” the deacon said.
Lamenting that the country has become more godless, Deacon Blicharz said he hopes through the program “people get a better grasp of who Jesus Christ is, Our Lord and savior.”
Describing himself as a “people person,” Deacon Blicharz said the program has uplifted him because being unable to serve as a deacon on a regular basis because of his leg problems “broke my heart.”
But he emphasizes that the program is not about him. “It’s about Jesus Christ using me to put forth what needs to be said to the people about our faith.”
Topics for future programs include Our Lady of Fatima, prison ministry and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).

'Success' is more than fundraising

When Shannon Tran, assistant director of appeals and operations for the Diocese of Burlington, considers a parish’s “success” during the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, she looks at more than the amount of money raised to help fund the various ministries of the diocese.
“I look at it from all angles,” she said: the total funds raised, the total number of gifts, the efficiency in running the campaign, the timeliness of completing it, cost savings and leadership.
With all that in mind, she said, “There’s something going on that’s right” in the annual appeal efforts of St. Anthony Parish in White River Junction.
Participation by registered parishioners in 2014 was 36 percent throughout the diocese. In 2015 and 2016 the percentage was 38 percent. In 2014, 28 percent of registered parishioners at St. Anthony’s participated, with the percentage increasing in 2015 to 40 percent and in 2016 to 41 percent.
Last year the parish’s annual appeal goal was $41,745 with pledges totaling $34,337. Of the 347 households, 145 contributed. The average gift was $236, just above the diocesan-wide average of $226.
Similar success was measured at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Windsor, which shares a pastor with the White River Junction Parish. Last year the Windsor parish’s goal was $21,898 with pledges totaling $23,974. The average gift was $228. Of the 271 households, 105 participated.
Tran said both parishes have been on an “upward trend” with a focus on performance, attitude and community building.
“I’m encouraged. We’ve done well, and I am optimistic we will meet our goal” during the current annual fundraising campaign, comment Father Charles R. Danielson, who has been pastor of the two churches since last year. “I encourage people to do the best they can and try not to get hung up on the goal. This is our opportunity to help support and advance the work of Christ in the Church in Vermont.”
The annual appeal, formerly called The Bishop’s Fund, supports numerous ministries of the diocese including Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., Catholic education, parish religious education, vocations, seminarian education and prison ministry.
Tran said one way parishes can complete the campaign more quickly, efficiently and cost effectively is to capitalize on the in-pew segment of the campaign in which parishioners make their donations and fill out their pledge cards at Mass, eliminating the need for costly mailings and follow up.
More and more parishes are emphasizing this phase of the campaign: Before 2014 only 600-700 donors used the in-pew method; now there are 3,600 pledges received through in-pew efforts – 30 percent.
Father Danielson invites his parishioners to carefully consider their contributions and encourages use of the in-pew option for giving, emphasizing the “convenience and ease of it.”
He speaks highly of Deacon John Guarino, “a constant presence” in the White River Junction Parish, and says that Windsor parishioners appreciate having a resident pastor after a hiatus of a few years.
He hopes people will get more involved in parish life. “There are a million things clamoring for our attention [in general], so it’s nice when people say, ‘This is my parish and I want to help.’”
And when parishioners are invested in their parish, they can better understand how the Bishop’s Annual Appeal benefits them, Tran said -- through support of database management, safe environment programs, human resources, evangelization, religious education, liturgy and youth ministry, for example.
“I look forward to continuing to grow the parishes I’ve been entrusted with and continuing to grow into active, faith-filled communities within the diocese,” Father Danielson said.
-- Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Teen church music director

Ask anyone at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Lowell about Olivia H. LeBlanc’s musical talent and you’re likely to hear a chorus of praise for the volunteer music director.
“She has a wonderful voice, and we are lucky to have her” to lead the music at Mass, commented parishioner Gail Sicotte.
“Music makes the Mass more spiritual. We’re lucky to have her,” echoed parishioner Anne Cote.
Besides her musical talent and her dedication to parish music ministry, what makes Olivia noteworthy is her age: She is 17.
“It’s excellent to have someone that young who is willing to commit herself” to leading music on Sundays and holy days, commented Father Roger Charbonneau, a senior priest of the Diocese of Burlington who celebrates Sunday Masses at St. Ignatius Church. “I don’t think we would have music without her” because of the small size and older membership of the church.
The daughter of Andre and Sara LeBlanc has been a member of St. Ignatius Church all her life, and she enjoys attending Mass. “I feel peace after I’ve been,” she commented.
A couple years ago she was asked to take responsibility for music at Mass when the previous music director left, and at first she hesitated. “I was nervous,” she said. But after praying about it and realizing that her participation in theater and chorus productions would help her in the church role, she accepted.
“It feels good to share that gift from God,” Olivia said. “We need to share our gifts to build up the Church.”
Entering her senior year at Lake Region Union High School in Orleans, the Lowell resident – a soprano – sings in the school chorus, Select Chorus and Treble Ensemble. She participates in drama productions and throws the shot put and discus on the track and field team.
Olivia also plays the flute in the school concert band and the saxophone in the jazz band. In addition, she plays the clarinet, some keyboard and a bit of trumpet.
“Music is relaxing,” she said. And the songs at church “are prayers” that relax her and help her feel closer to God.
As church music director, she selects the songs that will be sung – sans organ accompaniment. She studies the readings that will be used at the Mass – “you have to understand them” – then makes her selections for the entrance, offertory, communion and recessional songs, which she often begins at Mass with a note from a pitch pipe “so I know what key the song is in.”
“Music brings more life to Mass,” Olivia said, adding that music is important to young people. She would like to see more of them at church and encourages parents to take them.
Though she does not have a favorite liturgical composer, she is a fan of country music, especially Carrie Underwood. And she likes Christmas carols, particularly “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night.”
A clerk at a local store, Olivia is a member of the Encountering Jesus Catholic youth ministry group in the Lowell/Troy area. She would like to attend college and study music with the hope of becoming a music teacher.
“Music helps us praise God,” Father Charbonneau said.
  • Published in Parish
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