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.