Good Shepherd parishioners become ‘saints’ for a day

Ann Harris, a parishioner at Good Shepherd Church, dressed as St. Kateri Tekakwitha, for a Nov. 4 presentation on saints at the parish in the Portland neighborhood. Talking with Harris are Norma Higgins, a former parishioner of the old Church of Our Lady, and Jim Higgins, who was a parishioner at St. Cecilia Church. Those two parishes, along with St. Anthony Church, were merged to form Good Shepherd Church in 2009. (Photo by Ruby Thomas, Special to The Record)

Special to The Record

As the familiar lyrics of the old Christian hymn “When the Saints Go Marching In” floated in the crisp afternoon air, four people dressed as saints lead more than 100 Good Shepherd Church parishioners to Lehmann Hall for an event called “Soup and Saints” on Sunday Nov. 4 in West Louisville.

As the large group dined on bowls of homemade soup, four people acting as saints went from table to table telling the story of the lives of Saints Kateri Tekakwitha, Joseph, Francis of Assisi and Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Carolyn Denning, who is the religious education director at Good Shepherd Church, 3511 Rudd Ave., said the event was part of the parish’s effort to do intergenerational faith formation. Because there aren’t enough young people to form a children’s religious education group, she said, the parish has decided to bring all the age groups together and plan activities from which they can all learn.

“We wanted a community gathering that would be an opportunity to bring children, middle age people and older people together. We wanted it to do with formation, so they’d learn more about the faith, but not in a classroom setting or a lecture,” Denning said.

Jonathan Edds, who played the role of St. Francis of Assisi, thought this approach to intergenerational faith formation worked.

“It was a pretty good idea. Our church had not done anything like it before, but it was fun for the kids and adults alike,” Edds said. “We discussed St. Francis’ life before he became a holy person. Some of the parishioners knew a lot about St. Francis and I ended up learning about the saint from them, too.”

Jackie Phillips, a parishioner who attended the program, thought it was effective, especially for her young children.

“This was a neat event because it brought the different generations together,” she said. “My kids go to public school, so an event like this gives them the opportunity to grow in their faith.”

Jeanette Conway, a parishioner, thought the event served as a reminder that saints were once ordinary people.

“This event was very interesting and important because it taught us that these saints were people just like us. I didn’t know St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s history, but found out that she’d been through a lot including the death of her husband,” Conway said.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the founder of the Sisters of Charity and the first American- born saint to be canonized. According to A Catholic View, She was born in 1774 into an upper-class Episcopalian family in New York City. She was a wife and mother of five children, but she lived her life in service to others.

She became a widow after only 10 years of marriage. At the time of her husband’s death her family was staying with friends in Italy. These Italian friends taught St. Elizabeth about the Catholic faith and within only a few months she’d converted to Catholicism. She went on to become a teacher and opened two Catholic schools for girls in Maryland, and established a foundation of parochial schools in the
United States.

“This is the reason why it’s important to pray to the saints for intercession, because they lived lives like we did and they know where we are coming from,” said Conway.

Ann Harris, who acted as St. Kateri, said she welcomes every occasion to remember the saints.

“It’s good to recognize the saints not just in November, but all year long,” she said. “They are with us all the time, not only on All Saints’ day. They are always interceding for us.”

Harris said she felt a connection with St. Kateri, who was canonized last month. “I am part Cherokee and she was Iroquois. Our birthdays are only a week apart. She was baptized at the age of 20 and I was baptized at the age of 21,” Harris said.

According to Catholic Answer Magazine, St. Kateri was born in 1656 in New York to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin Christian woman. She was orphaned at the age of four when the smallpox epidemic wiped out her family. The disease damaged her eyesight and left her with severe scarring. Kateri converted to Christianity as a teenager due to the influence of Jesuit priests who brought the Gospel to her tribe. She was baptized Catholic at the age of 20, an act that angered her people.

She was persecuted, but her faith remained unshaken. St. Kateri was known for her intense love of God and her devotion to prayer and the Eucharist. She died in 1680 at the age of 24.

Phillips said these stories were a powerful reminder that we all have the opportunity to become saints. “These people took time to do some extraordinary things. Despite their struggles they always put faith first,” she said.

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