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Parish walking pilgrimage

Wearing bright orange T-shirts with the word “pilgrim” lettered in black across the front, a dozen people from Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield embarked on a two-day pilgrimage to pray, listen to God and build community.
They began with a July 1 Mass at St. Joseph Church in Chester, celebrated by their pastor, Father Peter Y. Williams, who on July 6 will become administrator of that parish as well. Father James E. Zuccaro, current pastor, concelebrated.
The Springfield parish has dedicated this year to Our Lady, so the selected destination of the 24-mile walking pilgrimage is the replica of Mary’s House at Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer in Jamaica, where Sunday Mass was to be celebrated.
“We want to honor her and keep her in our thoughts” during the walk, Father Williams said in his homily. “We know Christ is our companion on the way, but we know we need her as well. … She gives us a great example of courage, to persevere.”
This is the second year parishioners of the Springfield Catholic church have undertaken a summer walking pilgrimage; last year they walked 40 miles from St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte to St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
During their walking time, pilgrims spend some time in silence, some in group prayer and some in private devotions.
There were five “rules” for the pilgrimage: Be quiet and listen to God. Change your heart and ask God for one thing to change. No complaining. Build community; talk to someone new. Look forward as redemption and resurrection are ahead.
“We hope to be an example of what true Christians should be like and not be afraid to share our faith and that we have love for God,” said return participant Paul Kimball, explaining what he hoped to witness as he walked to Jamaica wearing his “pilgrim” T-shirt.
“This is a walking retreat,” added his wife, Eileen. She also likes being outside, getting to know other people in the parish and the awareness of God’s presence at all times.
“It’s that feeling of community and joining with fellow parishioners and bringing praise and glory to God and pushing yourself beyond your normal limit,” said parishioner Lori Limoges, explaining her reason for participating in the pilgrimage for the second year.
The pilgrims – whose gear was transported for them by truck – planned to stay overnight at a campground in Winhall.
Other parishioners were to join them for segments of the pilgrimage.
“I feel proud to be part of this,” Limoges said.
Donna-Rae Grant, a parishioner on the pilgrimage for the first time, had one concern: the rain in the forecast. “But we have all our trust in Jesus,” she said with a smile.
  • Published in Parish

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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Father Williams built a tiny house

Father Peter Williams built himself a house that has all the comforts of home: a full kitchen, a bathroom with a flushable toilet and shower, a dining area, a living area with a drop-down television, a propane furnace and even electric radiant heat under the laminate wood flooring.
It’s all part of his towable, tiny house.
The brown cedar-sided house with brown standing-seam metal roof has about 160 square feet of floor space plus a sleeping loft and a storage loft.
Father Williams, pastor of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield, lives in its 5,000-square foot rectory, and though he’s not complaining, he quips, “If you want to know my preference, go look at the tiny house.”
Using plans he bought for the exterior of an 18-foot house and modified for 21 feet, he began the building project behind the church four years ago and finished it two years later.
Materials alone cost about $30,000, and he did most of the work himself.
Though he had basic knowledge of tools, he had never built anything, but thought he could – and should – build himself a tiny house.
When a friend first introduced him to the concept of tiny houses about six years ago, Father Williams admits he thought it was “crazy.” But he realized it would be perfect for a priest who can be assigned anywhere in the diocese; instead of selling a personal home to move to another assignment, he could just move the tiny house with him.
Also, the tiny house could be just right for retirement.
Father Williams, 56, had a liver transplant in 2012 and realized when he was in the hospital that he really does not need much in terms of a house. In fact, he can picture himself living in the tiny house when he retires, on five to 10 private acres somewhere in Vermont.
He is the sixth of 15 children; his family is originally from the Chicago area and moved to Vermont from Connecticut. A graduate of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Burlington in 1987.
When he was building his tiny house, Father Williams had many “untypical” visitors who stopped not only to see what he was doing but to talk about everything from faith, heaven and hell to their personal lives. The project was a way for him to be available to people in an informal way, not during office hours.
The tiny house – with its interior painted in light green and light blue with birch tree decals on one wall -- is now on a parishioner’s property in Springfield, and the priest goes there from time to time on days off. Staying in it, he said, “is like staying in a luxurious hotel room.”
It’s perfect for him: comfortable, peaceful and simple.
“I’d love to use it more, but it doesn’t fit into my life right now as much as I thought it would,” he said.
Last summer he built a camper on a trailer he can pull with his small Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck. “You need a really big truck to pull the tiny house,” which weighs about 12,000 pounds, he said.
Building his own house gave him a greater appreciation for tradespeople like carpenters, electricians and plumbers. “We really need people who know how to build things,” he said. “And they have a greater appreciation for me because I was willing to build my own house.”
Having practical skills “grounds you,” he added. “There is a lot of peace from working with your hands. You realize the value of labor.”
He enjoys watching television programs about tiny houses and especially likes the clever ideas for ladders to lofts and for storage.
When Father Williams built the tiny house, it was not his intention to focus on using less energy, but he likes that he spends only about $100 a year on energy costs for it, with its limited use. “It’s practical wisdom that if you don’t need to use a lot, don’t,” he said. “There is something about that that is very attractive to me.”

Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
  • Published in Parish

Dorothy Day's granddaughter continues mission of peace, justice, service to others

One of Martha Hennessy's first memories of her grandmother, Catholic convert and social activist Dorothy Day, is sitting on the lap of the "great story teller" and listening to the sound of her voice, her own ear close to her grandmother's heart. "I became aware of something greater than me and her, which I now interpret as my first awareness of the presence of God," said Hennessy, who lives in Perkinsville and in New York City.

Day was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and spent her adult life as an advocate for the poor and the rights of workers. In 2000 Pope John Paul II granted permission to open her cause for canonization, allowing her to be called a "Servant of God" in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

Having a grandmother who is a candidate for sainthood is "surreal," Hennessy said, acknowledging that it gives her courage but also trepidation that the "Church properly represent her as a U.S. Catholic in her devotions to Christ."

Hennessy, 60, is one of Day's nine grandchildren. Her mother, Tamar, died in 2008. Hennessy, who has three children and seven grandchildren, remembers how prayer sustained her grandmother: saying the rosary, attending daily Mass and reading the lives of the saints. She also found her spiritual path living in communion with the poor.

Hennessy, a retired occupational therapist, is a member of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield. She attended Springfield High School but dropped out then earned a GED and a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy from Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y.

Among the lessons she learned from her grandmother was the dignity of work. "Choose a vocation that is humane and productive to society and suits your skills and ambitions," Hennessy recommended. "I always understood we were responsible for our brothers and sisters. That's why I chose occupational therapy, a helping profession."

While living with the poor and volunteering at Mary House Catholic Worker shelter in New York City's lower east side she cooks, washes dishes and answers the door and the phone.

She has visited war-torn regions to meet and speak with people and has been arrested "not enough" times, she said, for acts of civil disobedience protesting nuclear power and nuclear weapons, war and torture, the use of drones and The Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

She gives about a dozen presentations a year at colleges and parishes talking about war, the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the results seen in Syria today. Day spoke clearly against World War II.

"Let's talk about U.S. aggression from over a decade ago and the sanctions that killed a half million Iraqi children," Hennessy said in a telephone interview from New York. "The situation in Iraq is untenable. Our (U.S.) invasion, occupation and bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombing of Yemen all have played a role in the situation we have in Syria today. If we bomb Syria, more people are going to die and the situation will get worse . . . . The weapons industry is what's fueling all this."

She called for Catholics – laity and bishops – to speak out against war. "The U.S. bishops and the U.S. Catholic Church play the most important, gravest role in stopping the slaughtering that is going on," she said.

Hennessy attended the U.S. bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore representing The Catholic Worker newspaper as one of its editors.

During a news briefing, she asked if the bishops would condemn the possibility of escalating war with Syria after the recent attacks in Paris. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops would approach the current situation in the Church's tradition of just-war theory, which among other criteria asks whether the damage inflicted by the aggressor is "lasting, grave and certain" and examines whether all other means to ending the aggression are "impractical or ineffective."

Archbishop Kurtz said the bishops would be in union with the pope's view and also "see war is not a solution to problems."

Hennessy reminded the bishops that two months earlier Pope Francis singled out her grandmother as one of four Americans who had made the country better in his speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. Besides Day, he mentioned the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Trappist Father Thomas Merton. Hennessy said three of the four names he mentioned were pacifists who favored nonviolence.

Coincidentally, when the pope was making this address, Hennessy was in the middle of a three day fast and vigil across the street from the United Nations with a group advocating their solidarity with the pope's messages about caring for the poor and the environment.

She said Day is an "exemplary example" of a life of heroic virtue. And through that example, people can look at their own predilection toward selfishness and violence.

"She talked about a revolution of the heart" and sacrificed, Hennessy said, noting that Day gave up Hennessy's grandfather, "the love of her life," because he was not Catholic. "In those days you could not be married unless you were married in the Church. He was not Catholic or interested in the institution of marriage. She gave up many things she'd have liked to have had like a husband and more children."

Hennessy called for Americans to sacrifice their standard of living, which, she said, relies on war making and exacts a "tremendous cost to the majority of the people" around the world, the environment and the planet. "The U.S. economy relies on war, which creates intense poverty and economic inequality around the globe."

"That's what we have to examine," she added. And the current Year of Mercy is a good opportunity to do just that. "The Door of Mercy will be open at St. Peter's Basilica and represent a new conversion, a new revolution of the heart, a new way of seeking reconciliation and coming back to Christ," she said, adding that Pope Francis is the "most viable leader we have now, and the Catholic Church can help lead the way to peace and reconciliation and justice and equality."

Catholics must also consider the question of military contracts, ask why money is being "poured into weapons" and promote the humane treatment of prisoners which "goes hand in hand" with the treatment of the mentally ill because "that's who is in our prisons," Hennessy said.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer, and Catholic News Service

Editor's note: A reader suggested Vermont Catholic run a story on Martha Hennessy. If you have an idea for a feature or profile, please e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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