One spring evening two years ago, Patty Flynn and her husband, Bill, set out to take part in an experiment: a dinner Patty Flynn had set up for a group of fellow parishioners who didn’t know each other at the home of a host they hadn’t met.
It was the launch of the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (GWCTD) parish program at St. Joseph Church in West St. Paul, Minn.
Flynn deemed it a success. “I remember how excited I was on the way home,” she recalled.
Dinners at two homes that night — including the one the Flynns attended — were the beginning of what has become a popular way for people in the parish of 1,900 families to get to know each other.
“It’s bringing together people who maybe attend different Masses who wouldn’t know each other otherwise,” said Father Michael Creagan, St. Joseph’s pastor. “But it’s also brought together people of different age groups and those who are both married and single.” Father Creagan has hosted and attended the dinners.
The concept began when Patty Flynn was discussing how to build community with a parish council member and she recalled her son telling her about a dinner he attended through a Kansas City-area church, St. Therese Parish, which started its program 28 years ago.
After learning about GWCTD from Mary Wissmann, who formerly ran the Parkville, Mo., program, and getting approval at St. Joseph’s, Flynn found immediate support among parishioners.
“It’s just been really fascinating,” she said. “It’s been such a gift, really, to learn people’s backgrounds: where they’ve come from, what their lives were like growing up.”
Getting involved in GWCTD about 15 years ago, the Wissmann family found a foothold in the parish of 3,500 families. “When we moved to the Kansas City area, we moved away from family, and we knew not a soul here in the city,” said Mary Wissmann. “It really gave us a much smaller way to at least meet some people. And now most of the people that I know at church I have met through GWCTD.”
Bob and Nancy Lundquist were still new to St. Joseph’s when they decided to attend a dinner in November, and it has helped them meet other parishioners. “It’s easier to feel part of the parish when you know people,” Nancy Lundquist said.
Darlene Alleva and her husband, Tom, have attended dinners for two years. “For me, it’s just (about) getting to visit comfortably with other people in a home setting,” she said.
Tom Alleva added, “It’s people you see all the time, and you might even know their first names, but when you have supper with them, you talk more in depth about things in their lives. You get to know them better.”
The Allevas met the Lundquists for the first time at the Allevas’ South St. Paul home for dinner on June 9. The Lundquists also live in South St. Paul, and soon the couples were connecting mutual people and places.
Emily Kaszynski, who is single and in her 20s, enjoys the conversations and opportunity to meet fellow parishioners. Because she doesn’t always attend the same weekend Mass at St. Joseph’s, she’s glad she now knows several families at each Mass. “You recognize people at Mass, but you may not know who they are,” she said. “It’s just a way to get more familiar with people and to learn more about the St. Joseph’s community.”
“We’re called to worship Christ together through the sacraments. We have a beautiful opportunity in our parish to spend time quietly with Christ in adoration, and that’s been a tremendous gift; but I think there was a real need for parishioners to gather and build community outside of those times as well,” said Father Creagan. “I think the format of the dinner has been allowing people to share things that they wouldn’t normally be able to visit about just passing somebody through a doorway or shaking hands briefly after Mass.”

Susan Klemond writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.