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Welcoming the Stranger View Comments
By Richard J. McCorry, D.Min.

Father Ed Doran, formerly of St. Gerard Majella Church, waves to parishioners after Mass at his current parish, St. Charles Borromeo, in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.

IN 2008, I VISITED St. Gerard Majella Church in the Diocese of Brooklyn in New York. The greeter warmly welcomed me and I took a seat. The bulletin had an entire column devoted to welcoming the newcomer and contained a coupon to fill out if one wanted more information about church membership. I filled it out and dropped it in the collection basket.

The pastor, Father Ed Doran, began his homily by asking anyone attending the church for the first time to please stand up to be recognized (certainly not according to the rubrics, but a nice touch, nevertheless). When I stood up, parishioners clapped and an usher approached me, giving me an informational packet about the church and its ministries.

“For my entire priesthood, I have believed in the importance of hospitality,” said Father Doran.

Following the petitions, the parish prayed “A Prayer for Hospitality” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) 2000 document Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity. As I was new, this was a strange prayer for me. I noticed people reading from the missal, which I started leafing through to find the proper page. The lady next to me noticed my struggle and, with a very warm smile, pointed to the back of the missal where the prayer was taped. It is one thing to be greeted by the pastor, but to have the person in the pew next to you make you feel welcome—now that gets your attention.

During the exchange of peace, many people approached me to welcome me to the parish. It was almost overwhelming. After Mass, more people approached and welcomed me, including Father Doran, who made a point of warmly greeting me.

This was already a “wow” experience of hospitality, way beyond anything I had previously experienced in any Catholic church. But then at 2 p.m. that same day, my phone rang. It was Father Doran personally responding to the coupon I had put in the collection, requesting further information about church membership. Clearly, this was a parish and pastor who lived the vision of Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.

“Hospitality is but one of the imperatives flowing out of our baptismal call, clearly mandated by Scripture, and is a present-day goal of our bishops,” says Father Doran, now pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.

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Dr. Richard J. McCorry is a nationally renowned presenter and the author of Dancing With Change: A Spiritual Response to Changes in the Church, published in 2004, and Company’s Coming: A Spiritual Process for Creating More Welcoming Parishes, published in 2008 (iUniverse, Inc.).

He created and led the pilot project mentioned in this article in the Diocese of Brooklyn and travels the country, working with parishes and dioceses to help them develop more welcoming parishes. He lives in Rochester, N.Y.



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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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