Having recently posted an item on what’s wrong with American parishes, I thought I’d post a story about someone who is doing something right. A paper in Erie profiles a priest who is helping to rejuvenate a parish, and part of his effort includes preaching:
Monsignor Henry Kriegel spent a decade in California parishes where famous people went to worship.
He’d spot Hollywood legends Dolores Hope, Loretta Young and Jane Wyman sitting in a pew.
The Schwarzeneggers occasionally dropped in for Mass.
Barry Manilow and Merv Griffin were seen.
The Catholic priest would run across other stars, maybe Matt Damon, in a store or restaurant.
But it wasn’t home.
“I just love being back in Erie,” Kriegel, 68, said.
The priest who spent time in parishes with celebrities is somewhat of an attraction himself in the town he returned to in 2009. His homilies, delivered in a deep voice that fills a sanctuary, draw praise, and St. Patrick Church, one of the two inner-city Catholic parishes he pastors, has experienced increases in members and money since he arrived.
“His Masses are interesting,” said St. Patrick member Katharine Filutze, 21. “I find myself listening sincerely.”
At St. Hedwig Church, where Kriegel also presides, members call him “charismatic.”
“His sermons are outstanding,” said Judith Pentz, 69, whose grandparents helped found St. Hedwig.
“He is keeping us afloat,” she said.
St. Hedwig is the smaller of the two parishes, with fewer than 100 families, Kriegel said. Many members are elderly or widowed, he added. On a recent Sunday there, he welcomed not quite three dozen people, none of them children, to Mass. There was no music; the organist was out sick.
Ray Nowosielski, 55, whose mother is the organist, said, “We don’t have too many younger people.”But the members who remain are devoted to the Polish parish that celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and has a silver-and-gold icon of the Black Madonna with Child. They call St. Hedwig “home,” describe members as “family” and return to worship there even after moving from the neighborhood.
They might volunteer at St. Patrick events but want to keep their own St. Hedwig identity.
“We hope to be here for another hundred years,” Charlotte Mabie, 71, said…
…The parish has a full-time music director and a choir and welcomes the Erie Chamber Orchestra for occasional concerts.
Music attracts people to a church, Kriegel said, adding that where people go to worship is no longer determined by where they live.
“People go where they find something that appeals to them,” he said.
He acknowledges that he and his preaching are part of the attraction at St. Patrick, but he also said people love the grand building with its life-size hand-carved Stations of the Cross. The church will turn 175 years old in 2012, and Kriegel wrote a book about its history that is due out soon.
A parish needs three things, he said, and St. Patrick has them: a vibrant faith community at the core, good quality music, and preaching.
He puts seven to eight hours into the Sunday sermon he delivers first at St. Hedwig and then at St. Patrick.
“I try to aim for a seven-minute homily,” Kriegel said. “I just think it’s the most important thing I do.”
In a recent talk on love and marriage, the priest, whose parishioners said he’s known to enjoy a good beer, said that people will say, “I’d love a cold beer” or “I’d love to put that jerk in his place.”
“We use the same word to describe a thirst … and an act of revenge,” Kriegel said.
Then he described a woman whose husband had Alzheimer’s disease. She went every day for seven years to eat lunch with him, hold his hand, tell him what their children were doing.
“That’s love,” Kriegel told his parishioners.
There’s much, much more. Read it all.