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Solar projects update

Last year St. Peter Church in Rutland was the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to install solar panels to generate electricity. Then came St. Peter Church in Vergennes, where the solar panel system went online Jan. 10.
“Caring for the land and our atmosphere were vital to the health of our animals and in turn to us as a family,” said Father Yvon Royer, pastor o the Vergennes church, who grew up on a farm in Newport Center. “Anything that we can do to either not pollute the land, water or air goes a long way in maintaining the health of what God has given to us.”
The parish had been getting four Green Mountain Power Corp. electric bills: one each for the church, rectory, parish center and thrift shop. The annual total electric bill was about $5,300.
Utilizing the sun to help create the electricity used at St. Peter’s will help reduce those costs. “By the spring our solar panels will be creating enough electricity to take care of all of our electric needs here at St. Peter’s,” Father Royer said.
The solar project at St. Peter’s in Rutland was part of ongoing parish efforts – that included weatherization of the rectory and installation of energy-saving LED light bulbs -- to conserve both energy and funds and is “in line” with Pope Francis’ call to care for “our common home,” the Earth, said Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor.
The panels produce electricity for the friary, saving about $220 to $260 a month, depending on the time of year.
But not only do the solar panels bring a financial benefit, they provide clean energy. “We are protecting the Earth around us,” Father Houle said.
He will continue to advocate for reducing carbon footprints by following in the footsteps of the founder of his Franciscan community, St. Francis of Assisi, “who saw all of creation as a gift from God and became the patron saint of ecology as he attempted to show us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”
Father Houle is also pastor of St. Alphonsus Ligouri Church in Pittsford where solar panels to provide electricity for the church, rectory and parish hall are to be installed as soon as weather permits, he said. “There should be considerable savings,” he said.
Father Houle encourages other parishes to investigate the possibility of using solar energy, especially when grants are available.
This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

Father Yvon Royer's call to priesthood

Father Yvon Royer’s ministry as a priest was shaped by his experience growing up on a farm as part of a large family.
“Farming has taught me a lot of lessons that I have carried into my ministry,” said the pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol. These include the value of working hard and the importance of taking care of what one is responsible for: people and property.
Farming helped him to be practical in his approach to all situations and to be able to see that like the land needed to be cared for -- tilled, stones removed and given proper nutrition –- people’s relationship with God needs attention.
Father Royer, 54, has been influenced by the image of the Good Shepherd and by exposure at an early age to the reality of tragedy.
The son of Andrew and Bertha Royer, he was born in Newport in 1963, the second of five children. His mother died suddenly at the age of 55 in 1993; his father remarried and lives in Derby with his wife, Annette.
In 1975, when young Yvon was in the seventh grade, his father became seriously ill and was not able to work for more than a year. Then a cow broke some of his ribs, and he lost an eye through a farming accident. “Each incident left my father unable to work for a period of time, and we [Father Royer and his two brothers] just took over” the farm operations, Father Royer said.
He first lived on a farm in Holland and then on one in Newport Center.
“My parents believed that if we were old enough to go to school then we were old enough to do chores,” he said. “Thus starting in first grade my brother and I, (we are what is known as ‘Irish twins’ because we were both born in the same year) were responsible for cleaning and feeding the heifers for both morning and afternoon chores.”
By the time they were 10 they were responsible for milking the cows and rose at 5 a.m. They did chores until it was time to get ready for school; after school they went to the barn until about 7 p.m. to do the evening chores. “I never really minded doing chores except on Sunday evenings when I would have rather been watching football,” he said.
During the haying season his two brothers and he worked in the fields during the day and then decided who was going to continue to work in the fields and who would take care of the chores. “I did most of the baling. Back then we would end up with around 20,000 small square bails that we would put on an elevator into our hay barn above the livestock which consisted of 70 milking cows and 50 heifers,” he said.
Father Royer attended Newport Center Elementary School until seventh grade when he discerned that he might be called to the priesthood. He transferred to Sacred Heart Elementary School in Newport and graduated from Sacred Heart High School; both schools are now closed.
He graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester with bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy.
Upon graduation he entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa and earned a diploma in pastoral counseling; he was ordained a priest in 1990.
The Royer family farm was called “The A&B Farm & Sons,” the initials of his parents. The farm was sold in 1996, three years after his mother died. “Before we sold the farm, we sold the rights of the land to Vermont Land trust which would help ensure that the land could remain as farmland and not be developed. It has sold again, and it is still a working farm,” Father Royer said.
Two of his brothers own their own farms nearby.
Attending Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport was always a priority for Mr. and Mrs. Royer. “If we were not able to get to the early Mass on Sunday then we knew that we would be going to the later Mass,” Father Royer said.
Two experiences led him to become aware of the importance of his relationship with God. The first was when he broke his leg during a ski outing in the fifth grade. “In the six weeks that I was not able to do chores, our religious education class was working on what prayer was,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, I am forever grateful that I did break my leg because it allowed me the time to foster my relationship with God through my prayer life. That relationship has never wavered.”
The second experience was his father’s illness in 1975. “Because I felt comfortable with God, I told Him that if He healed my father I would become a priest. He is still living, and I am a priest. I really wonder what God was thinking as He listened to my offer.”
His parents, the family’s practice of the Catholic faith and their connection to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church all influenced his vocation. And now, as a priest, his greatest joy is found in the many opportunities that he has to share the joy of God’s love in his many one-on-one interactions and via the classes he teaches as a parish priest.
“The greatest challenge is to help our parishioners recognize that despite our hectic lives a connection to one’s parish family is needed,” Father Royer said. “We need to know that we are truly part of a bigger plan, a plan that is part of God’s mission for us. Being part of a faith community helps us keep this as a focus. We have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to all that God has created.”
He currently serves as dean of Addison County, a member of the Presbyteral Council and a member of the College of Consultors. He is the chaplain for the Daughters of Isabella and the chairperson of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He has served churches in Rutland, Chittenden, Burlington, Derby Line, West Charleston and Newport and was assistant chaplain at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont.
Asked for his advice for a young person considering a call from God to religious life or priesthood, Father Royer responded: “A lifetime of happiness will only be found when we say ‘yes’ to God’s plan for us. Do not let fear stop us from saying ‘yes’ to God’s call. Who is it that we should desire to please more, God or society? I would also say that as a priest we receive many blessings and honors because of our priesthood, but our desire to answer God’s call should always be focused on the desire to be of service. May we learn to follow Jesus’ example of how we are to love, serve and forgive as Jesus has done for us.”
Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

Vermont Catholic parishes actively involved in social justice ministries

Mindful of the words of the Lord: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn 13:35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to serve the people of this age successfully with increasing generosity. Holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resource, and joining forces with all who love and practice justice, they have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all people on the last day.
--"Gaudium et Spes" (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #93

A recent survey of parish social justice activities reveals that Vermont Catholics are serving others with untold generosity.  There are 73 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and more than 100 active churches.
From visiting the sick and imprisoned, to assisting the homeless to feeding the hungry, the people of Vermont parishes are contributing thousands upon thousands of dollars in volunteer services to people in need throughout the state. 
Based on the survey, 96 percent of responding parishes participate in feeding the hungry either by donations to a local food shelf, managing their own food pantry, serving meals at the parish hall or food drives. Most parishes support multiple ministries: 89 percent poverty; 83 percent illness/infirm; 66 percent homeless; 30 prison and 29 percent other. Parishes support and partner with more than 155 organizations throughout Vermont to volunteer, donate goods and money.

Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, said the various ministries parishes offer help people in the larger community “to know God’s love through the acts of our parishioners.”
Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Morrisville, Johnson, Hyde Park and Eden reaches out to persons in need through its SAM – Social Action Ministry – program, which provides assistance with things like rent, utilities, gasoline, food and phone minutes. Spiritual guidance is available also.
“We try to give them hope,” Mary Elfer said of those who seek assistance from the parish.
She is the parish ministries coordinator and considers assisting others as integral to her faith. “We are to follow the Gospel and practice our faith through works of love toward our neighbor,” she said. “Christ told us to help each other. We are supposed to take to heart those in need.”
The parish also works with local service agencies to meet needs.
Ted and Kathy Barrett of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg coordinate the twice-monthly senior meal hosted by the parish in partnership with Age Well, an agency that advocates for the aging population of northwestern Vermont.
Motivated by their faith and their desire to help others, they have been involved in the meals for about 10 years. “The seniors need a place to get out and meet other seniors,” Mr. Barrett said.
“We enjoy doing it, and they enjoy the camaraderie, the friendship,” Mrs. Barrett added.
The meal program serves about 20 meals at each dinner, and volunteers include parishioners and community members.
In addition to a free bingo game, “there is a lot of chatting, telling stories and reminiscing,” Mrs. Barrett said.
Many parishes are involved in providing gifts to persons in need at Christmas. At St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center, for example, a food project provides about six to 10 families with food and fruit boxes/baskets that include a ham or turkey and a gift card for additional needed items.
“God calls us to love our neighbor,” said Laura Wells, coordinator of religious education and coordinator of the Christmas food and fruit boxes/baskets. “When we open our heart to Christ…we are happy and … want to serve our neighbor.”
The parish collects food all year for people in need, but during Advent, the collection is used specifically for the food and fruit project.
“People are so good” about helping others in need, Wells said, noting that the Christmas food project is but one of the social justice works in the parish.
One of the important social justice ministries at St. Michael Parish in Brattleboro is St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Pantry. Healthy noontime meals are served four days a week, and a food pantry helps those who need food to take home. About 17,000 meals a year are served there.
St. Brigid’s is nearly 35 years old, and throughout the years faith has motivated many of its volunteers. “We are compelled to care for the poor because God demands it,” said Volunteer Coordinator Carolyn Pieciak.
But it is important to point out that as much as varied parish charitable works assist people in need, they also give volunteers a broad selection of ways to “give back” or to live out their faith.
“The old adage that ‘it is in giving that receive’ is made very true through the opportunity to share of one’s self through these different ministries,” Father Royer said.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
-- Mt 25:34-40

  • Published in Diocesan

Vergennes parish to go solar

VERGENNES—Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church, had been wondering if the parish could go solar, and after he read an article in Vermont Catholic magazine about the first parish solar project in the Diocese of Burlington – at St. Peter Parish in Rutland – he decided to look into it seriously. It helped that at about the same time earlier this year Bristol Electronics in Bristol sent an advertisement about its solar business.
His question soon was answered: Yes, the Vergennes parish could go solar.
Now plans call for a solar array to be installed on the parish hall center in November.
“God was looking over us,” said Father Royer, who is also pastor of St. Ambrose Church in Bristol.
The parish currently gets four Green Mountain Power Corp. electric bills: one each for the church, rectory, parish center and thrift shop. The annual total electric bill is about $5,300.
None of the buildings use electric heat.
The cost of the solar project will be $73,145; $20,000 of that will come from a grant from Green Mountain Power and the rest from parish savings.
Father Royer estimates it will take 10 years for the parish to recoup the money by not having to pay the monthly electric bills. But because the solar array is guaranteed for 25 years, “we’ll get 15 years’ worth of free electricity.”
It is possible some of the savings will be used for youth ministry and evangelization programs, Father Royer said.
The project has been approved by the parish council and finance council, the buildings and grounds committee and the Diocese of Burlington. Approval for an 87-panel system is pending from the Vermont Public Service Board, the pastor said. That is a larger size than normal and thus needs special approval.
The smallest system the parish would get would be 60 panels.
“This is a green initiative. People are really supportive of green projects,” Father Royer said. “I’m happy we are able to do it.”
  • Published in Parish

Pastors recognize, appreciate, all who 'build up the Church' via lay ministries

Years ago there were six priests serving Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Putney and its West River Missions – geographically one of the largest parishes in the Diocese of Burlington. Today, Edmundite Father Fred McLachlan is the sole priest there. "I couldn't do it alone," he said, referring to the lay people involved in parish ministries.

Lay ministry is essential to the Church, especially with the shortage of priests. "Many, many lay people are involved in various ministries, and that enables me to do more of the priestly work. So together, the parish works," Father McLachlan said.

The situation is virtually the same in every Vermont parish: Lay people work in their parish – and beyond by visiting the sick and imprisoned, teaching, ministering to youth and assist with administrative tasks – to allow their priest to focus on his sacramental, liturgical and counseling work.

Their involvement is not solely a response to needs; it is part of their baptismal call.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth."

It also states that for lay people, evangelization "acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world."

Explained Father Timothy Naples, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Barton, Orleans and Irasburg: "We need more of (lay ministry) because not only are there things that lay people can do which don't require an ordained priest . . . there are may forms of community outreach and parish building that lay people can be more effective in than the priests. They have more freedom and opportunity to build personal relationships . . . and can have more quality time" with people.

The laity, the catechism states, can be called to cooperate with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community "for the sake of its growth and life." This can be done through different ministries according to the grace and charisms that God has given them.

Daniel Daigler of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Putney is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and brings the Blessed Sacrament to parishioners who are sick, in nursing homes or at home but unable to attend Mass. A former Cursillo lay director, he said it is his responsibility as a Catholic to "assist people in our community and help bring Christ into their lives."

He also is motivated by the fact that extraordinary ministers of holy Communion regularly bring the sacrament to his 88-year-old mother in New York, and his service is a way to show his appreciation to them.

"With the clergy shortage so severe, there is an awfully large load on our priests," he said. "They have to do the administrative part and also administer the sacraments," often – as in the case with his pastor – for the people of more than one church.

Priests' time is needed for sacramental ministry, and in many areas – like the Northeast Kingdom – that ministry is increasing as the geographic area for which the priest is responsible is increasing, thus making it more necessary for lay persons to do more non-sacramental ministry such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, overseeing emergency assistance, running soup kitchens and doing charitable works.

Robert Biegen of St. Peter Church in Vergennes is involved in prison ministry, a leader of a weekly Bible study/prayer group, a member of the Knights of Columbus, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and involved in pro-life ministry. "We are all part of a royal priesthood, and that includes the lay people," he said. "It's important we have ordained priests, but it's very, very important that the lay people get involved and exercise their faith," he said. "If I don't exercise my faith, is my faith really alive?"

Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, believes the Holy Spirit is working in the parish, and the lay people multiply it.

"They feel the call as well and take real leadership in the parish" in areas like pro-life ministries, prayer group and Cursillo. "They see their role as putting God's call into action to evangelize and show God's love for life," he said, emphasizing the importance of prayer: "We are called to pray, and they take that call very seriously. It helps them focus and do God's will not their own will."

Father Michael Augustinowitz is pastor of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier and North American Martyrs Church in Marshfield. Without laypersons involved in the various ministries of the parish, "most things wouldn't get done," he said. "For me to do all those things? They would never happen."

The lay people and deacons of the parish allow him to focus on the sacramental ministry and to offer counseling. "I can actually be a priest and concentrate on what I was ordained for: preaching, teaching and celebrating the sacraments."

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bishop Christopher Coyne will conduct a Holy Year of Mercy Vesper Service on Jan. 17 at St. Joseph Co- Cathedral at 3 p.m., recognizing the essential role of Lay Ministry in every parish throughout the Diocese of Burlington.

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