As we bask in the Easter light, it is fitting to reflect on the great and immense graces granted by God during the past Lenten season. At the novitiate, we are particularly grateful for the fruits of our pilgrimage and mission to Wauchula, Florida.
Taking up the Tradition of Parish Missions and the Examples of the Lives of the Saints
Our Directory of Popular Missions calls us to follow the Gospel missionary command: “to go to the whole world.” This is explained and lived by many saints. Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort calls for a “renewal of Christianity in believers”. Saint Alphonsus Maria of Liguori writes that “the end of the missions (is) the conversion of sinners”. In our own times St. John Paul II teaches that the popular Mission “is effective when…it impels to conversion, that is to say, the return to the truth and to God’s friendship.” After a period of prayer and study about missions during the novitiate, we were given the grace of a mission to live out the Gospel call!
At the end of February, the Mistress of Novices and the whole Novitiate community traveled to central Florida to help at our mission at St. Michael’s Parish in the town of Wauchula located about an hour southeast of Tampa (Diocese of Venice). The week-long mission was the first one to be held by our Religious Family at that parish which is staffed by IVE Priests and our apostolic SSVM sisters. The mission was preached by Fr. Javier Ibarra, IVE, who was joined by the IVE male novices.
Pilgrimage to the South
The first adventure was traveling to the mission! The two-day drive included reading the lives of the saints and watching the landscape change from the pine trees of the Carolinas to the Spanish moss farther south. We stopped in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, to spend the night at a Benedictine priory.
The following morning we went to the outskirts of the city to visit the Carmelites, who received us for breakfast and a visit.
Next, we made a pilgrimage along the way to America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565 and is the site of the first Mass and mission in our country.
Fr. Javier celebrated Mass for the SSVM and IVE novices at St. Augustine in the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, asking Our Blessed Mother’s intercession for the fruits of the mission.
Finally, we were warmly greeted upon our arrival in Wauchula by the sisters, priests, and many families and friends. Each year many of the youth from St. Michael’s have come to Washington, D.C., for events, so it was nice to finally visit them at their own parish.
Mission Days in Wachula
After taking a couple days to adjust to the place, we began the Lenten Mission with the Sunday Masses, greeting the parishioners and inviting them to the events for children, youth, and adults. We had the great blessing of the visit of Bishop Frank Dewane who came to celebrate the opening Mass and to encourage the parishioners as we began the Lenten journey.
During the mission, the novices assisted the community of sisters who run a catechism program for 900 students! We ran the retreats for their first communion and confirmation classes along with helping out in the parish’s food bank.
Certainly, a highlight was Ash Wednesday, when the whole church filled many times for the families to attend Mass and receive ashes.
Daily Schedule of the Mission
We began each morning with the Rosary at dawn. Here parishioners joined the missionaries, and we walked through the streets praying and singing. Next, we had Eucharistic Adoration and Holy Mass. Then came many house visits to bless the homes, to inquire if the family members needed to receive the sacraments, and to invite the faithful to pray at the parish’s 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration chapel.
As a core aspect of the mission, our teams visited about 200 houses. Conversations opened up that helped many people return to the sacraments—especially the sacrament of confession. We concluded the mission by a Eucharistic Procession through the neighborhood surrounding the parish and then by the Holy Mass.
Closing Mass and the Mission Cross
During the closing Mass, there was a special celebration for an elderly woman, Maria. Dressed in white, she came forth to receive four sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion and marriage!
After the final mission Mass, there was a blessing of the wooden mission cross, which was built by parishioners and painted by one of the SSVM novices, with the mission motto: “Save your soul!” This calls us to continually remember the value of each soul and the need for eternal salvation.
We give thanks to everyone who made the mission possible. We particularly thank the priests at St. Michael’s, Fr. Fabio Schilereff, IVE, and Fr. Agustin Bollini, IVE, and the sisters from our convent, Mother Gema, SSVM, Sr. Assumption, SSVM, and Sr. Regina Apostolorum, SSVM, for their generosity and charity in hosting the mission and most especially for their example of missionary spirit.
We give thanks to God for all the blessings of this Lenten season, especially the fruits of the Holy Mission, as we continue to pray for the community of Wauchula, Florida.
Community of the Novitiate of St. Kateri Tekakwitha