Fruits of Small Group Discussions
FOCUS ON THE PAST
Question 1. After seeing the video, remembering the way things used to be, what stands out for you about St. John’s history?
Of course, there was great diversity of answers here, because everyone present for these discussions had very different memories. Some, for instance, remembered the church as a college chapel, as a church without a steeple, as a church built for expansion. Others remembered the seven marble altars used for pre-Vatican II Latin masses sodalities convening in candlelight procession from all over the city, singing the “Army of youth” song. Still others recalled a living neighborhood, the presence of Creighton prep school, and the wonderful “Tre Ore’ services every Good Friday.
But there was also considerable commonality of memory too. Many people viewed St. John’s as the anchor and spiritual center of Creighton University and even of Omaha. It’s dual role of parish church and college chapel was recalled, as well as the fact that it is a church built on the traditions, values, and spirituality of the Society of Jesus – “the home of the Jesuits, but my spiritual home” as well. “St. John’s has a rich history we can honor and build upon.” The people who gather there and the priests who serve are what d4efines St. John’s, rather than the structure of the building. A renewal has to be that of living stones, of us, in continuity with parishioner’s ands students and Jesuits going back over 100 years.
Is it a happy accident that the church was mistakenly dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, rather than to St. John the Baptist? The former Saint seems to fit the kind of humanistic and intellectual spirit and outreach of the heart St. John’s has always sought. Not the herald’s voice crying in the wilderness, but the divine pen that wrote: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands…the word of life…made visible.” (I John 1:1-2) St. John’s has always been a place off personal testimony, lived experience, and shared witnesses to the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives and in the world.
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT
Question 2. What draws you to St. John’s?
There was a surprising amount of agreement here. Even though a few people mentioned convenience (worshipping where I work having lots of masses to choose from, frequent confession times) as a factor, most spoke of the high quality of the liturgies and homilies, and the openness, spiritual breadth, and universality of the Jesuit tradition. There is a unique spirit at St. John’s, coming from the Jesuits that often captured people when they were students, causing them to return as adult parishioners desirous of continuing to be nourished in their faith and spirituality, enlightened by the solid intellectual tradition. At St. John’s one can discover the Gospel, learn about the Christian way, and experience a deep sense of community.
Many also spoke of the feeling that “all are welcome here, even those who may not feel at home in other parishes.” St. John’s is small enough to care for individuals, but inclusive and diverse enough to represent the universal church. People like the mixture of students and parishioners, of having a college campus within the parish. “It feels right here, people want to be here.” It is experienced as a place of freedom, freedom to be oneself, to here the call to service and justice, to use one’s gifts for others. People generally appreciate the pastor and all the priests who preside at liturgies, but a few had concerns about the recent loss of some of the better homilists. They really like the liturgies, the homilies, the music and the fluid community they find here. St. John’s is vibrant and alive.
Still others mentioned as positive factors the variety of celebrants, a sense of belonging and family, the non-judgmental and open approach to people and issues, clear and honest breaking open of the word, great respect for and full participation in the Eucharist, fresh idealism of students, powerful student liturgies (e.g. The Mass of the Holy Spirit), the call to critical and creative obedience to the church authority as appropriate for adult church members, and what a wonderful place St. John’s is to prepare for and celebrate Christian marriage. “St. John’s draws me because of what it is not…”
Question 3. When do you think St. John’s is at its best?
Again, there was surprising unanimity. Many people talked about the liturgies and homilies, with a special emphasis on Holy week and Christmas celebrations. The Easter vigil Mass on Holy Saturday night is the pearl in our liturgical crown. There is also a real sense of an ecumenical, inclusive, and social justice minded atmosphere that not only helps folks to celebrate and grow in faith, but to be raised in consciousness and mobilization for action – to do the works of justice, mercy, service, and love.
Many people also mentioned the Christmas Giving Project (Pine Ridge), the outreach to the poor of OTOC and St. Vincent de Paul, the generosity of all, and the special warmth, depth, and inspiration of both wedding Masses and Funerals. We are at out best when we are actually welcoming people for something special, when we are challenged to think outside the box about what our faith calls us to , and when we are reaching out to people and inviting them “to come and join us and be part of our community.” It is especially inspiring when students and parishioners come together for large gatherings and activities. There is a variety of consistent, satisfying liturgies and reconciliation service. The fact that people come here from all over town and the CSP people and IPF seminarians are present in the summer adds a lot. There is strong leadership, Jesuit and lay; and we are at our best when we take leadership within the Omaha community and proved opportunities to respond to community needs and social issues no one else is addressing.
Question 4. What do you value most about St. John’s?
Again, much convergence and agreement here: great homilies that describe discipleship in everyday life, genuine Ignatian spirituality, reverent and vibrant liturgies that energize even the very young, a strong and authentic community, and the integration of mind and heart, intellect and affectivity. Parishioners generally said things like. “We do not feel preached at “; “We don’t feel talked down to”: we are respected and treated like things, valued, faith-filled adults, and we are accepted as an adult praying community. We feel we are surrounded by spiritual people, and we are invited to share our gifts. “St. John’s is what other parishes in this area are not.”
There was also widespread valuing of inclusivity (of language too) and welcoming nature of the parish. Women appreciate all that is done to give them stronger roles in the Church. Easy access to small community membership (e.g. CLC groups) is also prized, and this adds to the over-all sense of community one feels in the parish. St. John’s is a place of freedom, of comfort, of challenge, and a place to grow. It is a Vatican II parish, a parish that promotes a greater intellectual spiritual, and more adult future for lay Catholics. All in all, most frequently mentioned as of great value was the Jesuit presence, spirituality, leadership, partnership, and approach of sharing and reaching out to the community.
Question 5. What is a time when being part of St. John’s has helped you grow spiritually?
The answers to this question tended to be very personal and often mentioned specific Jesuits who made a lasting impression and had a deep impact: Frs. Tony Weber, Tom Lukasczewics, Bob Hart, Tom Halley, Tom Schloemer, John Schlegel, and the pastor Bert Thelen. The gist of all these responses had to do with occasions, events, relationships, homilies or celebrations that were life-changing or deeply comforting and consoling: weddings, funeral Masses, occasional awesome homilies, Fr. Bert’s 9/11 Mass homily, being part of the CKS group, Fr. Schlegel’s commitment to beautify the church and the campus, the extraordinary generosity of fellow parishioners, Easter Vigil Masses, and the RCIA program.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Question 6. What should the community of St. John’s look like in five years?
There was a tremendous variety of answers to this question. But a theme or a thread can be identified by looking carefully at all the responses. It goes something like this: “Keep up the wonderful liturgies and homilies, but “grow the Eucharist beyond the Mass.” Or, as one person put it simply: “Increase the number of activities for parishioners outside the Mass.” Here I will group under certain topics the many suggestions that would concretize this theme.
A. Greater Integration of Creighton Student in the Parish Community and Life.
There was a strong sense, close to a mission, of the importance of getting students more involved in the parish, both for their spiritual growth and for the vibrancy of the parish. “Students should feel that they play a very significant role in the membership of St. John’s, “not just as guests while they are here. They should also be encouraged to take the experience of worshipping and serving in a Jesuit parish to their home and/or future parishes, thus extending the Ignation vision beyond this campus.
B. Growth of the Service, Social Justice, Neighborhood Outreach and Prophetic aspect of St. John’s