Immaculate Heart welcomes prayers and players to Holy Cross Family Ministries

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

EASTON, Mass. — A towering statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that once stood silently sentinel outside the former Sacred Heart Church on Seabury Street in Fall River is now prominently displayed at the entrance to the Father Peyton Center and offices of Holy Cross Family Ministries.

“Father John Ozug, the rector at St. Mary’s Cathedral (in Fall River), came by one night to see the statue and he jokingly labeled her Our Lady of Seabury Street,” said Father Leo Polselli, C.S.C., chaplain of the Father Peyton Center. “The statue looks beautiful out there; I think it looks much larger here, too.”

The white plaster statue of Mary and her Immaculate Heart was recently added to the North Easton facility’s Washington Street entrance on the Stonehill College campus, perched on a pedestal at the center of a circular patch of grass also adorned with a sandstone bench that provides a peaceful place for people to sit, meditate and pray.

“When we closed our property in North Dartmouth, that bench was outside our main house on Tucker Road,” Father Polselli said, referring to the former retirement home for members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross that was shut down and sold last year.

According to Father Polselli, Father Wilfred Raymond, C.S.C., president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, liked it and had it brought to North Easton, with assistance from Deacon Thomas P. Palanza, who serves as a building consultant for the diocese.

“Deacon Tom can tell you that bench is priceless,” Father Polselli said. “He estimated it would cost in the tens of thousands (today).”

“When I first saw (the Immaculate Heart) in front of Sacred Heart Church, it struck me as an extraordinarily beautiful statue,” Father Raymond said. “We felt we needed a suitable statue to make the statement that Mary is an integral part to our ministry, and I knew this was it.”

The statue is just steps from the nearby Rosary walk, where a bronze statue of Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. — the famed “Rosary priest” and founder of Holy Cross Family Ministries — is also on display next to another recent acquisition from the congregation’s North Dartmouth property: a statue of St. André Bessette, C.S.C.

“St. André is a little dwarfed by the statue of Father Peyton,” Father Polselli said.

Other religious items that have recently been repurposed from Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River include a gilded Tabernacle and smaller Immaculate Heart statue that are now housed within the chapel of the Father Peyton Center.

These are all part of the changes that have been made since Father Raymond took over as president of the ministry two years ago, according to Susan Wallace, director of external relations for Holy Cross Family Ministries.

“One of the areas where Father Raymond has really made his mark is in the Spiritual aspects of the building,” Wallace said. “He’s made some not real significant but important changes in our chapel. I think it really changed the whole atmosphere. I think that’s going to be his legacy to this ministry — bringing us to the essence of it all, which is the Eucharist, praying for families and bringing families to pray together. He really has zeroed in on the essence of who we are and what we need to do.”

“I felt a little mixed about bringing the statue up here, because I know when a church closes, there’s always a sense of sadness and loss among parishioners,” Father Raymond said. “But I want to thank them and let them know that this statue now has a place of prominence and whole second life here, and we will always cherish it.”

In keeping with the mantra of Father Peyton — “the family that prays together, stays together” — Father Raymond has also implemented a research project at Holy Cross Family Ministries to “determine how families live together, pray together, and use media so we can be there with them and have a presence on social media,” Wallace said. “We have to be more digital — that’s the reality today.”

Ironically enough, the newly-added Immaculate Heart statue and the Father Peyton Center itself have become important points of interest in a digital realm that has nothing to do with prayer or family interaction: the Pokémon GO game that has become all the rage on smartphones and tablets of late.

“This building is a gym and (the statue) is a stop, so we’ve had this whole influx of people coming here,” Wallace said.

According to the rules of the virtual reality game, “gyms” serve as battle locations for king-of-the-hill type team match-ups while “Poké Stops” provide players with items such as eggs, “Poké Balls” and potions used to lure and capture the elusive Pokémon creatures on the screen.

Apparently the Pokémon GO game uses Google mapping technology to identify religious sites such as shrines and churches as its so-called “gyms.”

“It’s been great, though, because I was thinking these are people who now know we are here,” Wallace said. “If nothing else, they came and maybe the Holy Spirit touched them in some way while they were literally walking up and down that Rosary path looking for Pokémon.”

“I didn’t know anything about it, but (someone) opened the app and showed it to me,” Father Polselli said. “So now we’ve got all these people just driving by and stopping here (to play the game).”

“I finally had to download the game on my smartphone and I opened it up and I thought to myself: ‘This is crazy,’” Wallace added. “But it’s good — this is what we need to do. It’s where people are and you have to meet them where they are. If you can meet them where they are and draw them closer to Christ, hopefully that will draw them closer to the Eucharist.”

© 2020 The Anchor  †  887 Highland Avenue  †  Fall River, Massachusetts 02720