By Kenneth J. Souza
ACUSHNET, Mass. — Recently more than 200 people filled the gymnasium of St. Francis Xavier School in Acushnet.
What’s surprising on this particular Sunday evening was that it wasn’t for a sporting event or even a school dance — the group of parishioners had come together simply to share fellowship, a potluck dessert, and to pray the Rosary.
“To me, it’s just tremendous,” said Msgr. Gerard P. O’Connor, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish. “It’s not a big commitment — you can come for the Rosary and leave afterwards if you don’t want to stay around. I know sometimes people have things to do at home. I had one couple tell me they had their date night on Sunday, but they thought it was a great way to start their date night by coming to pray the Rosary first with their parish family. But others stay around and enjoy the social setting — as I say, it’s a great family thing.”
What began as the brainchild of parishioner Mary Cardoza — who first organized the informal “Rosary parties” about six years ago — has now grown into a parish-wide movement, according to Msgr. O’Connor.
“We would have a Rosary party at someone’s house on a Sunday evening and everyone would bring a pot luck dinner and then we’d pray the Rosary,” he said. “It was mainly led by the children, so it was a family thing. Then we’d have dessert afterwards. But they were limited because of the size of a house: some people have bigger houses than others and could invite more people.”
As this year’s centennial observance of Our Lady’s apparitions to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal was quickly approaching, Msgr. O’Connor and Cardoza began to talk in earnest about how they could get even more people involved in their monthly Rosary devotions.
“Our Lady gave many messages to the three children and the one message that repeats in many apparitions is pray, pray, pray — especially the Holy Rosary,” Mary said. “God wants us to intercede for each other, and by doing so with persistent prayer, God can change any situation.”
“The only place we could do that, really, was at our parish school,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “Our parish center is not that big. So that’s what we decided. We started doing them on Sunday nights at 6 p.m. back in November. We decided to skip dinner (and) we would just pray the Rosary beginning at six and then people could bring desserts to share and the kids could run around and play in the gym. It’s really turned into a general social time, which is great for a parish as well to bring all the people together.”
Having taken a brief hiatus in December for Christmas, the January Rosary party again drew more than 200 people, and Msgr. O’Connor said they plan to host one every month through October in observance of the Fatima centennial.
“We’ve been really enthused by it and we’ve been amazed with the turnout,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “We planned on the first one to have some water and coffee and we expected to get maybe about 100 people. Then 230 turned up! So now we know. Like everything, it all works out. And people seem to have a good time. I think it’s something we might carry on ad infinitum at this point.”
Although Msgr. O’Connor conceded that his parish has always had “a great Marian devotion,” he’s still been pleasantly surprised with the level of enthusiasm for the Rosary parties.
“Nowadays, to get 23 people to do something in a parish is tough, but 230 is pretty good,” he said. “We’ve always done Days With Mary, we promote the brown scapular, we’ve had first Saturday devotions, and we pray the Rosary every day as a parish. But when you see things like this happen, I think it’s a really powerful response in our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Given most families’ hectic schedules today and society’s current preoccupation with everything from social media to sporting events, it’s ever more important for families to take time to come together and pray, according to Cardoza.
“In my own family, I find urgency for intercessory prayer,” she said. “Some of my nephews and nieces are not getting married and of the ones who did, two out of the three Marriages ended in divorce. They are having children and some are not getting baptized and the ones that did get baptized will never see the inside of a church or learn any formal prayers. I do my best to invite them to come to church and they sometimes say they will come but don’t.
“We as a parish can stand in the gap and pray with a fervor and sacrifice that will bring God to do the miraculous. Here at St. Francis we want to take Our Lady’s advice and fight back with the power of the Rosary!”
“It’s just a good Catholic thing to do and it brings families together,” Msgr. O’Connor agreed. “Young and old would come and the priest would always be there to pray the Rosary and many blessings came out of this. Many people have told me they had prayers answered and it was generally a great thing.”
“I think it’s true what Father Peyton said: ‘The family that prays together, stays together,’” he added. “And I think it’s true about a parish family as well. We are supposed to be a family of brothers and sisters and we should all pray together — not just at Mass, but at other times as well. And this is all part of it.”
Msgr. O’Connor firmly believes that this communal prayer has already borne much fruit. Recently when a well-known parishioner became ill, he suggested the parish get together one night to pray the Rosary for her and the church was packed. Likewise, when they planned a special send-off for a new seminarian who was departing to begin his studies, a Rosary prayer and social gathering drew similar numbers.
“We’ve always had an active, involved parish and people always turn out to support these things,” he said. “It’s been a real blessing for our parish.”
To promote the monthly Rosary parties, Msgr. O’Connor put together a large postcard with all the dates that was distributed to parishioners and the families at the parish school.
“People tend to remember little things like that and will put it up on their fridge as a reminder,” he said. “There’s a pretty picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary on one side and then on the other you’ve got your dates of the Rosary parties. It’s good to have something to put up on your notice board, especially if you’ve got a family and you’ve got all these different things going with sports and everything else.
“I think if you offer them and promote them well, and you tell people about the power of this prayer, I think they’ll want to come.”
With a large contingency of Portuguese families at his parish, Msgr. O’Connor said he knew they would want to observe the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima in some way and the Rosary parties seemed a natural fit.
“There’s a lot of Portuguese heritage in our parish and I think we’ve got some individuals going to Fatima this year,” he said. “We don’t have a trip ourselves planned, but we’ll be doing some other things as a parish, especially in May and October.”
In the meantime, Cardoza hopes everyone will “seize this opportunity to pray as a parish, not only for ourselves, but also for our friends, families and neighbors to come back to the faith and turn to God so we can all enter His Kingdom,” she said.
Future Rosary parties at St. Francis Xavier School are slated to begin at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday evenings: April 2, May 21, June 25, July 16, August 13, September 17 and October 15. For more information, visit www.sfxparish.com.