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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.

Scholarship gift for woman attending Catholic college

Members of the Trinity College Class of 1968 will celebrate their 50th reunion this year and to enhance the celebration will present a one-time gift of $4,000 to a Catholic woman attending an accredited Catholic college or university. 
 
“While we came from different backgrounds and different educations … we had three things in common,” noted class member Mary Cheney of Charlotte. “We were women; we chose to pursue/attain an undergraduate degree; we chose to pursue this degree at a Catholic College.”
 
Trinity College in Burlington was a small, Catholic women’s liberal arts college founded by the Sisters of Mercy. It closed in 2001, but the Trinity College of Vermont Association of Alumni and Friends remains active.
 
“We are looking for a woman [to receive the gift] who is a reflection of ourselves 50 years ago,” said Carol Lyons Muller of Hinesburg, another member of the Class of 1968. “We wanted this gift to go to another woman who was reminiscent of ourselves.”
 
The objective of the gift is to encourage Catholic women to pursue their undergraduate degree within the community of a Catholic institution of higher education.
 
“The Catholic education came complete with excellent academics plus a phrase that we heard over and over [from the Sisters of Mercy]: ‘Don’t forget who you are and what you represent,’” Muller said.
 
Graduating high school seniors or adult students attending a post-secondary school for the first time are eligible for the gift. Candidates do not need to be from Vermont, and the school does not need to be in Vermont. 
 
The gift will be for the 2018-2019 academic year.
 
The $4,000 will come from Class of 1968 donors. “At our 45th reunion, about 20 of us were having dinner in downtown Burlington and talked about making the 50th a really big splash,” Muller said. “We decided then to raise money for a class gift. By the end of dinner we had about $300 seed money, and it has grown from there.”
 
Contributions have come from the class members, and in one case, from the brother of a deceased class member. 
 
The majority of the Class of 1968 received some form of financial aid from Trinity College; many of them were the first generation of their family to attend college. “We matured at Trinity; it gave us a solid foundation on which to build our adult lives,” Muller said. “We are heartsick that the school closed, but that’s history now. We want another woman to know that, while we are helping her, someone else helped us. If our dollars can ease her way, perhaps she can pay it forward when she is, as we are now, women ‘of a certain age’ and looking back at what was important.”
 
The application deadline for the gift is April 15.
 
For more information, to obtain an application or to make a monetary contribution, call 802-578-4601.

 
 
 

Obituary: Mary Markle McNamara

Mary M. McNamara died Dec. 16 at the McClure Miller VNA Respite House in Colchester. She was a former executive director of Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.
 
She was born in Burlington on April 7, 1941, the daughter of Ruth (McGovern) Markle and Ralph Markle, both of whom predeceased her. Her husband Dan, whom she married in 1982, predeceased her in 2005. She was also predeceased by her cousin, Judy Moriarty, in 2014.

Mary was educated in the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy from kindergarten through college at Mount St. Mary’s elementary and high school and at Trinity College in Burlington. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Trinity College and a master’s in social work from the State University of New York in Albany.
 
She began her social work career at the Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. in 1963, becoming executive director in 1998 and retiring in 2008. After completing her work for the Diocese, she delivered flowers for Chappell's Florist.

She is survived by her sister, Pat Markle, and nephews Josh (Elly), Seth and Ben (Carrie) as well as by extended family and friends.
 
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, Dec. 30, at 11 a.m. in the Sacred Heart Chapel at Mount St. Mary Convent, 100 Mansfield Ave., Burlington. Visitation will be prior to the service beginning at 9.
 
Burial will follow at Resurrection Park in South Burlington. 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Warming shelter at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral

St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Burlington is believed to be the first parish in the Diocese of Burlington to make space available for an overnight warming shelter.
 
The parish is working with Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington to provide space for 10 cots for homeless young persons from Nov. 6 until the end of March. The space in the parish hall is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week.
 
“Each of us is committed to serving the homeless population during the cold Vermont winters, and I am hoping that our first year in partnership will help to save the lives of young adults who would otherwise find themselves in jeopardy,” said Father Lance Harlow, rector of the co-cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parishes.
 
According to Mark Redmond, Spectrum’s executive director, the agency had 25 beds available to this young population of homeless persons, but that became insufficient to meet the needs. “We had a wait list, which is terrible,” he said, because that meant some youth had no place to get shelter.
 
It was his idea to approach the Catholic Church for help, an idea he said Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne met with a “green light” and referral to Father Harlow.
 
The co-cathedral space is being used for 17- to 22-year-old homeless persons who can access dinners at other sites and then sleep at the co-cathedral hall. Snacks and a light morning breakfast are provided there, but shower and laundry facilities are accessed at a nearby drop-in center.
 
“The beauty of it is we’ve got everything nearby, except the beds. The parish hall [has] that,” Redmond said.
 
Two Spectrum staff members are on duty until 1 a.m. at the parish hall, and one staff member stays awake there from 1 to 8 a.m.
 
“Those overnight hours will have a minimum impact on the church's schedule, and if there is a conflict with evening Masses, Spectrum personnel will come in at a later time,” Father Harlow said.
 
“I am happy to be able to collaborate with Mark Redmond at Spectrum and his staff who are doing excellent work with this [young homeless] population,” Father Harlow said. “It is very much a cooperative ministry. The church has the space and Spectrum has the personnel.”
 
Asked what the collaboration says about the bishop, rector and co-cathedral parishioners, Redmond responded, “It says they’re awesome.”
 
Many of the young persons the shelter will serve have lived in poverty or numerous foster care homes. “Most have lived chaotic lives,” are behind in their education, lack job skills and have low self-esteem, Redmond said.
 
Spectrum offers a variety of programs to help them improve their lives.
 
“I see great potential in each one of them,” said Redmond, a parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction.
 
“The Catholic Church is doing the right thing here,” he said. “It is in line with the corporal works of mercy” to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Parish

St. Joseph Co-Cathedral steeple

The unique steeple atop St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington has been removed, and a team of engineers and architects is studying the necessary work and cost involved in replacing it.
 
In 2010 the steeple was removed for safety reasons after church officials realized it was rotting and there was a risk that the 800-pound cross atop it could fall.
 
“Parishioners have contributed faithfully to this project for many years, and it will be a great source of local pride to have this very visible monument restored to the downtown Burlington skyline,” said Father Lance Harlow, rector of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parishes.
 
Proceeds from the sale of St. Joseph School also will be devoted to the construction and erection of the steeple.
 
The Champlain Housing Trust purchased the former Catholic elementary school on Allen Street for $2.15 million.
 
The steeple on St. Joseph Church was completed in 1887, constructed by Joseph Cartier, a local blacksmith whose shop was on North Street in Burlington. 
 
The steeple had a large copper ball in the middle and at the very top of the cross a cock, a scriptural reference to the cock that crowed at Peter's denial of Jesus. “This unique French-Canadian religious symbol is the only one of its kind on any church steeple in the Diocese of Burlington,” Father Harlow said.
 
The steeple was removed when it began to list to the side because of rot. “Because of the extensive age and weathering of the original steeple, a new one will be constructed to resemble the former,” Father Harlow said.
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

'It’s what you do with what happens to you'

Chris Waddell brought a simple message to students at Mater Christi School in Burlington: “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.”
 
Speaking from his wheelchair on the stage in the school gymnasium Sept. 13, one of the most decorated male mono skiers in Paralympic history told students in second through eighth grade that while no one is free of struggle, everyone has the opportunity to choose how they react to their challenges.
 
He said people can see themselves as victims or survivors, as overwhelmed or challenged, as alone or part of a team, as having only one strategy or as having many; the latter in each pair is what fosters resiliency, he said.
 
“Not being able to walk is the worst thing I could imagine,” said the Utah resident who is a graduate of Middlebury College.
 
In 1988 a skiing accident in Massachusetts brought his worst nightmare to reality; his ski popped off in the middle of a turn. He fell, broke two vertebrae and damaged his spinal cord.
 
Paralyzed from the waist down, he learned and achieved more than he could have imagined.
 
“This is the most powerful I’ve been in my life,” Waddell said, noting that he had to let go of “some of the things that tripped me up every day” like frustration and worry that could have prevented him from accomplishing his revamped goals.
 
He returned to college just two months after the accident, began mono skiing in less than a year and was named to the U.S. Disabled Ski Team a little more than two years later. With 13 Paralympic medals, he became the most decorated male mono skier in history.
 
“If I had never had my accident, I’d never have been the best in the world at something,” he told the Mater Christi students during his One Revolution Foundation’s Nametags Educational Program.
 
The program has been presented to more than 150,000 students in more than 550 schools throughout the United States and in Russia. Nametags does not focus on disability but rather the universal experience of challenge and the power of resilience.
 
Created by Waddell and resilience educator Donna M. Volpitta, the program centers on the message, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you” and people’s collective responsibility to create communities that allow people to thrive. It focuses on helping students learn that they have the power to make choices about how they are perceived -- the “nametags” they wear. In the face of adversity, they can choose resilience.
 
Friends have told Waddell they could never have done what he has done, overcoming the loss of his ability to walk and turning it into triumphs elsewhere.
 
“Inspiration comes when we hear the truth…that we all need to hear,” said Timothy E. Loescher, president/head of school at Mater Christi who introduced Waddell to the assembly. (They were friends at Middlebury College.)
 
He thanked Waddell for “helping us develop into the people we are called to be.”
 
Also a track athlete, Waddell is one of a handful to have won World Championships in both winter and summer. He competed in four Winter Paralympics, winning 13 medals and three Summer Paralympics, winning a silver medal in the 200 meters. In World Championship competition, he won a total of nine medals.
 
He was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and the Paralympics Hall of Fame. Skiing magazine placed him among the “25 Greatest Skiers in North America.”
 
In 2009 Waddell became the first nearly unassisted paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, using a specially made pedal-powered, four-wheel vehicle.
 
Patrick Walsh, 12, an eighth grader from St. Catherine of Siena Church in Shelburne, was impressed with Waddell’s tenacity and positive attitude.
 
For him, Waddell’s message mirrored the message of faith. “If you have a connection with God, you can get through anything. You can pray and feel better.”
 
Classmate Myla Altadonna, 13, said the message she would take from the presentation is “not to let anything get in your way.”
 
“Even when you have an obstacle, you can go on and do great things,” she added.
 
 
 
 



 
 
  • Published in Schools

‘Outcasts’ to be screened

On Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a special screening of “Outcasts” by Grassroots Films in the Grand Maple Ballroom of the Davis Center at the University of Vermont. “Outcasts” is a powerful new documentary from Grassroots Films that shows the work of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal as they serve the poor in some of world’s toughest neighborhoods. This moving film depicts the realities of life as experienced by drug addicts, women engaged in prostitution, people dying of AIDS, prisoners and others in desperate situations –- along with the efforts of the Franciscan Friars to share hope in Christ with them. 
 
In addition to the film, there will be time for questions for friars and one of the film’s producers and to learn about ways to get involved in outreach to those in need in the local community.
 
Prior to the screening, there will be a Holy Hour with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal at the Catholic Center at the university at 6 p.m.
 
The event is co-sponsored by Joseph’s House, the Catholic Center and the Catholic Student Association at the university. Tickets are required for the event and can be picked up at The Catholic Center, Davis Center and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
 
For more information, call 802-951-4290 or 802-862-8403 or visit outcaststhemovie.com.
 
 

Vietnamese devotion to the Blessed Mother

The Vietnamese Catholic community in Vermont has a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
 
“We were taught that when we have a hard time with something, you come to her,” explained Thao Vu, a native of Saigon who has lived in Vermont for 15 years. “She helps.”
 
Vu, now an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and religious education teacher at St. Mark Church in Burlington, said most Catholic churches in Vietnam have statues of Our Lady outside with a prayer garden: “Everybody is welcome to sit there and pray and be peaceful.”
 
About 150 members of the Vietnamese Catholic community gather monthly at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington for Mass celebrated by a Vietnamese priest from Canada who also hears confessions.
 
Vu, the mother of two daughters, said in Vietnamese culture mothers are highly respected. “She takes care of the whole family: Mom is the best!”
 
So it makes sense that Vietnamese Catholics revere the Blessed Mother. “The first prayer we have to learn is ‘Hail Mary,’” Vu said, adding that the rosary is a particularly important devotion as is praying the ‘Hail Mary’ for safe travels before taking a trip.
 
Thousands of Vietnamese Catholics from throughout the United States attend the annual Marian Days in Carthage, Mo., each August to celebrate faith and fellowship in honor of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary and in memory of their homeland.
 
Vu has never attended the event that has taken place since 1978 on the campus of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, but she hopes to someday.
 
“If you want something, you ask your mother,” she said, explaining why she asks in prayer for Mary’s intercession. “In my heart my mother has a special place. In [Jesus’] heart He has a special place for His mother. He cannot say no to her, hopefully.”
 
Originally published in the Summer 2017 Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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