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Church communities united in Christ

Parishioners of churches joined by the ministry of one priest are making their way toward greater unity by collaborating on outreach projects.
In Essex, for example, members of Holy Family/St. Lawrence and St. Pius X parishes came together as the Essex Catholic Community to help their neighbors — both parishioners and non parishioners — through Serve Our Neighbor Day.
The project, begun by Holy Family/St. Lawrence parishioners, takes place in the fall and spring to help people with chores like small home repairs, window washing, raking and gutter cleaning. Most recently about 125 volunteers spent a day on 24 projects.
“An event like this brings us all together,” said John McMahon, a project coordinator who is also the Holy Family/St. Lawrence faith formation director.
Teams for the projects are made up of members from the difference churches so parishioners get to know one another. “It’s a lovely expression and breaks down barriers,” he said. “It’s part of the process of bring the churches together … mobilizing the parishes to joyfully serve people in need.”
It can be challenging to bring two distinct parish communities together, each having its own identity and traditions.
“When I arrived at my two parishes they had their own distinct way of putting God’s call to us ‘to love thy neighbor’ into practice,” noted Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol. Though much of that distinctiveness remains, the parishes do offer free community meals once a month, open to both communities. “We are feeding on average 275 people per month between the two of them,” Father Royer said.
Edmundite Father Charles Ranges is pastor of the three Essex churches, two in Essex Junction and one in Essex Center. “Essex is really one community and all of the students go to the same high school,” he said. “The churches are close together and people attend all three of the churches.”
The parishioners served on “Serve Our Neighbor Day” are generally elderly and unable to do this work themselves. The day begins and ends with prayer and reflection and the work is done in the name of Jesus. 
“The work has been enhanced by joining forces and is advertised as an event of the Essex Catholic Community,” Father Ranges said.
Other activities on which the Essex Catholic parishes work together are “Essex Eats out,” a monthly community dinner, collecting food for Heavenly Pantry in Essex Junction and the Essex Jericho Underhill Food Shelf. 
And as they prepared for Christmas, all three churches had "giving trees" and baskets with food that was given to needy families. "The attempt is to have a unified message at all churches so we are united in our charitable activities,” the pastor said. “Bringing the good works of both parishes together is a ‘work in progress,’ but I know that we are going in the right direction since when united we can accomplish more.”
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Addison County Catholic Youth Ministry

BRISTOL-- The mission of Addison County Catholic Youth Ministry is to create a community to support the growth and education of the next generation of Catholics through fellowship, study, service and activities.
It serves the parishes of St. Peter in Vergennes, St. Ambrose in Bristol and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Middlebury with different programming and events for youth of all ages. This includes monthly family nights, bi-weekly high school nights and monthly middle school nights.
“We are striving to reach our youth where they are at, which means going to sporting events and recognizing their achievements, having active social media accounts and listening to their requests,” noted Emma Kalamarides, youth minister.
Addison County Catholic Youth Ministry has sent groups to the Vermont Catholic Youth Serve and Steubenville Conferences last year and will again this year. Youth also are involved in Totus Tuus, a summer program for children. Recurring events include games, a discussion on a topic of living out the faith and prayer.
“We have tried on integrate a mix of prayers throughout our meetings which include spontaneous prayer, meditations, the rosary, Stations of the Cross, Adoration and group intentions,” Kalamarides said.

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.

Ironing out refugees' needs

As the volunteer group Rutland Welcomes continues to prepare for the arrival in Rutland of 100 Syrian refugees, members George and Cheryl Hooker are ironing out one of the details.
They are seeking to acquire an iron for each household.
Mr. Hooker spoke about the project at Masses at St. Peter Church in Rutland, where he is a parishioner, on the weekend of Jan. 7, and the need for the irons has been expressed in the parish bulletin. “There are many who have voiced their opinion that they would like to assist the refugees in some way. At this point, whether we agree or disagree with their arrival, the fact of the matter is, they are coming,” a notice in the bulletin read. “Many of the Rutland churches in the area, as well as many people from the Rutland community—some of whom are our parishioners—have already come forward to assist the people of Syria in various ways.”
As mentioned in the bulletin: “As a faith community, will we see the face of Christ in these refugees? Can we show mercy—the face of Christ—to these our brothers and sisters? Can this be an opportunity for us to put the corporal works of mercy into practice by seeing the face of Christ in these people? By reaching out to them in prayer, and through our assistance to them, might we be evangelizing the love of God and His mercy?”
According to World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to a violent civil war that began in 2011; 4.8 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and in Egypt.
“This is an opportunity for us as Christians, as Catholics, to be accepting,” said Cheryl Hooker, a parishioner of St. Peter Church in Rutland and a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes. “It’s the right thing to do. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
She is hoping to raise enough money from the church collection to buy 30 irons and plans to purchase them locally.
The Hookers are co-chairs of the Set Up Committee of Rutland Welcomes, a volunteer network of several hundred people that works with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Mrs. Hooker said irons are one of the items the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program suggested as part of helping the refugees set up their new homes.
She praised the St. Peter Parish Council; Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin Father Thomas Houle, pastor; and Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne for supporting the collection and the effort “to bring people who are suffering here so we can help.”
As of Jan. 10 no Syrian refugees had arrived in Rutland, but Mrs. Hooker hopes two or three families will arrive by the end of the month. 
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