By Steve Neill Of The Catholic Virginian
While it is not unusual for a parish in the Diocese of Richmond to have a twinning relationship with a smaller parish, St. Michael’s in Glen Allen has entered into a strong relationship with three separate communities in which it financially assists its mission as well as shares fellowship through regular visits.
As it prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary in May, St. Michael’s is committed to its three missions. The first is what many consider their “sister parish” of St. Elizabeth’s, located in the urban Highland Park neighborhood in Richmond.
And, there is also a longstanding commitment to St. John the Baptist Parish in Dos Palais, Haiti, and to four small Catholic missions in southwestern Virginia.
“We are twinned with Holy Family Parish in Appalachia,” said Father Dan Brady, pastor, who explained that the designated term of parish actually includes four separate Catholic communities in Grundy, Pocahontas, Richlands and Tazewell. He had spent more than half his 33 years of priesthood (ordained in 1984) in the Appalachian region of the Diocese before being named pastor of St. Michael’s.
Father Brady travels to the Haitian mission once a year and St. Michael parishioners make visits to their mission parish Haiti twice a year.
Several parishioners have made multiple trips to Haiti, including Deacon Andrew Ferguson, St. Michael’s Director of Business Administration, who has been there 13 times.
“We talk about our trips as pilgrimages,” he said.
“We’re deeply involved in Haiti and go down to build relationships and do the same thing in Appalachia,” Father Brady said. “Building the relationship is key and real friendships evolve.”
“As a result of the strong relationship, we have helped with projects which include a clean water system and building a new school for students in grades pre-school through 9th,” Deacon Ferguson explained.
“We have an ongoing commitment to student sponsorship, support for teacher salaries, purchase of textbooks and supplies and a hot meal each day for the students.”
Father Elizier, pastor of the Haitian twin parish, visits St. Michael’s once a year.
Father Felix Amofa, an international priest from Ghana who is pastor of the four Catholic communities in Appalachia, will make his first visit to St. Michael’s in March.
The parish recently established St. Michael House in Tazewell which serves as a residence for St. Michael parishioners who regularly visit the folks of the four Holy Family Parish Catholic communities.
“People had been going down to southwestern Virginia so often that staying at motels for a few days had become a burden,” Father Brady said.
St. Michael parishioners have a solid friendship with St. Elizabeth’s, a predominantly black parish, with many families attending the one Sunday Mass there sometimes as often as once a month.
While Father Brady is canonical pastor of St. Elizabeth’s, Father James Arsenault, parochial vicar at St. Michael’s, normally presides at Mass there on Sunday at 9 a.m. and on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Located in northwestern Henrico County in a rapidly growing suburban neighborhood, St. Michael’s was first established in June of 1992. At that time there were 350 registered families. At last count, there are now 3,065 families.
There are five weekend liturgies, one on Saturday at 5 p.m., and on Sunday at 7:45, 9:15, and 11:15 a.m., and 5 p.m. The Sunday afternoon Mass is popular with teenagers and middle school students where the music is geared to the Life Teen and Edge models of youth ministry.
While the majority of the parish community is white, there is a diversity among those who worship at St. Michael’s.
“We have attracted the largest Indian Catholic population,” Father Brady said. “We have a moderate-size Filipino community and a small African community.”
Assisting Father Brady, Father Arsenault and Deacon Ferguson are Deacon David Nemetz, Pastoral Associate for Pastoral Care, and Deacon Robert Griffin, who recently was assigned there last October.
“I’m the weekend help,” he said, smiling.
“Bob has stepped in with both feet,” Father Brady said of Deacon Griffin. “We have a lot of funerals, a fair number of weddings and baptisms almost every month. We have over 100 baptisms a year.”
St. Michael parishioners are generous with their time and talent.
“We have a very generous parish,” Deacon Ferguson said, adding that parishioners have an option of online giving through a system called WeShare in addition to traditional giving through weekly envelopes. Forty percent of the parish make their donations electronically.
“It smooths out the peaks and valleys,” Deacon Ferguson said.
There is an active Bereavement ministry coordinated by Pat Baskind which helps families when a loved one dies. When their funeral is scheduled the parish offers the family a reception in the parish hall after Mass. Parishioners prepare and serve the food and then do clean-up chores, lifting an additional burden from the family.
St. Michael’s has a columbarium with 480 niches for cremains. Already 350 niches have been purchased with only 130 remaining.
“Most of the funerals have parishioners who come for support even if they do not know the person who died,” Deacon Nemetz said. “Some have made connections with the family through the various ministries.”
Other signs of outreach are through parishioners who bring food and make donations to the food pantry at neighboring Our Lady of Lourdes parish.
The parish’s Human Concerns Ministry recently established what is called a Conference for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, “dedicated to help the poor and the suffering in our communities.”
The group is the first St. Vincent de Paul conference in the Richmond area. It seeks volunteers and gives training to members called Vincentians who provide assistance in the form of clothing, food, shelter, paying utility bills and transportation expenses.
One of the ministries of which St. Michael’s is most proud is the program known as JAM, an acronym for Job Assistance Ministry. Ed Landry heads up the ministry which has been meeting every Wednesday for several years.
“More than 870 people have jobs through this program,” Father Brady said, giving credit to Ed Landry for developing and sustaining the ministry which also gives moral support and encouragement to people who have lost their jobs.
“It’s a ministry of love for him,” Father Brady said.
Music is important at each of the five weekend liturgies. Tom Kaczmarek has been Director of Music at St. Michael’s for 23 years.
“We have an adult choir with 55 members,” he said.
Musicians are a key part of music which features accompaniment by bass, drums, guitar, flute and trumpet.
“We recognize that the assembly is the primary voice,” Mr. Kaczmarek said. “Everything we do is meant to encourage their singing.
“We have an eclectic repertoire with anything from Gregorian chant to the most contemporary music.”
The Music Ministry has performed three musicals – “Godspell,” “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man” and is making its fourth CD (compact disc) to coincide with the 25th anniversary.
Christian formation has classes and prayer groups offering something for all ages. Pat Mundy is Director of Faith Formation. Religious education classes for children are offered on weekday nights, but there is the Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the Sunday 11:15 Mass.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) always has a large number of candidates and catechumens who seek to enter the full sacramental life of the Catholic Church at Easter.
Among them this year is Corinna Muldowney, who had been raised an Episcopalian and made the decision to become Catholic without any pressure from her Catholic husband, Kevin.
She has been accompanied on her faith journey by their two children, Jack, 17, and Bridget, 15, who were baptized Catholic as infants and are now preparing for first Reconcilation, first Eucharist and Confirmation.
“I was the first one to express that I wanted to complete the sacraments,” Bridget told The Catholic Virginian, adding that she will receive Confirmation next year with her own age group.
Among the first parishioners is Virginia Nuara Hudert, a life-long Richmond resident.
“The parish started in May 1992 and I began coming here that summer,” she said. “While driving, I saw a sign which said ‘St. Michael’s Catholic Church at Short Pump Middle School.’”
The Saturday vigil Mass was celebrated at nearby Good Shepherd United Methodist Church until the first worship space was dedicated in 1996.
St. Michael’s has an active Knights of Columbus council. The Joseph P. Solari Council has 325 members. Greg Pitrone, Grand Knight, supervised a recent pancake breakfast in the parish hall prepared by the Knights who planned to have the same event the following Sunday at St. Elizabeth’s.
Other activities include a quarterly family bingo, fish frys on Friday nights during Lent and a spaghetti dinner in conjunction with the parish Advent concert.
“We’re the second largest council in the Richmond area and among the top 10 for membership in Virginia,” Grand Knight Pitrone said.
“Father Dan and all the deacons are very supportive,” he added.
Several events to mark the 25th anniversary have already begun.
“We had 170 at the first blue grass concert in the parish hall,” Father Brady said. “We’ve sold 120 tickets for the concert.”
As St. Michael’s prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the parish is building what is now known as “the Lake House,” behind the current church and parish hall, so-called because the site is being built beside a pond.
Already under construction, the 12,000-square foot facility will house an additional muti-purpose area, a location for the Knights of Columbus Joseph P. Solari Council, a family room, and a separate area for youth ministry activities.