The late Father Patrick Peyton, founder of the Family Rosary Crusade, coined a phrase that has since become ubiquitous: “The family that prays together stays together.”
Those words, first spoken in the 1940s, are coming alive in a new way in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. That’s thanks to Families in His Presence, an apostolate dedicated to fostering greater devotion to, and love of, Jesus in Eucharistic adoration for families.
According to Laura Smrecek, one of the group’s founders, the inspiration for the family Holy Hours came to several moms who regularly prayed the Rosary together. “We thought it would be really nice to have Eucharistic adoration together,” says Smrecek, a mother of four young children.
The moms contacted Dick Boldin, leader of the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate in Milwaukee (online at RosaryEA.org). They worked with Boldin to create a new group within the Rosary apostolate that would promote Eucharistic adoration for whole families.
Smrecek says their apostolate had no problem getting the approval of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who was then archbishop of Milwaukee. In his letter of endorsement, the archbishop, who now leads the Archdiocese of New York, wrote: “What could be more appropriate than families gathering and visiting with Jesus? Truly, the family needs to allow Jesus to take root and permeate our daily lives.”
Families in His Presence held its inaugural event on the feast of Corpus Christi in May 2008. Father Antoine Thomas, a member of the Congregation of St. John in the Peoria, Ill., area, led the Holy Hour. Father Thomas is known around the world for his Eucharistic adoration program for kids called Children of Hope (ChildrenofHope.org).
Smrecek says she was “very pleased” when more than 200 people turned out for the kickoff family Holy Hour.
Since the first Holy Hour, Families in His Presence has hosted five more in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Each has been well attended, notes Smrecek. Hoping to make adoration more widely known, the group is looking to present these events in parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Families in His Presence first approaches a potential parish to host one of its Holy Hours by sending out an information packet. The folder includes a letter of introduction for the parish priest, a DVD and an outline of a sample Holy Hour. The group does all the work of organizing the hour of prayer — from finding a presiding priest to coordinating the reception afterwards.
All the hosting parish has to do is say Yes and open its doors.
According to the group’s materials, the actual Holy Hour could include the singing of traditional Eucharistic hymns, meditations and prayers, a decade of the Rosary and even a Eucharistic procession, all led by the priest. Younger children sit on carpet squares in the front of the church while the parents populate the pews.
Father James Kubicki, a Jesuit priest and head of the Apostleship of Prayer in Milwaukee, presided over Families in His Presence’s Holy Hour last November at St. Anthony’s Church. He says he found in the Holy Hour a source of great personal consolation.
“Not only were the kids very attentive and reverent, but their parents and others who remained in the pews were also very attentive, eager to hear what I was saying to their children,” Father Kubicki recalls. “I think this is one of the beautiful dynamics of the Holy Hour. It’s almost as if in talking to the children you have the parents’ undivided attention, as well.”
Smrecek says the children witness the power of the Eucharist to the grown-ups. “It’s amazing,” she says. “You picture these little ones wriggling the whole time, but it’s incredible how much they pay attention. We are teaching our children how to pray in the true presence of the Lord, and we are teaching the adults to become like children.”
With eight kids ranging in age from toddler to teenager, Chuck Wichgers, a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Greenfield, Wis., is always on the lookout for prayerful events that will inspire his children to stay on the path of holiness. He knows that is not easy these days, given the state of the culture at large.
When he first found out about Families in His Presence last year, he was certain he was getting an answer to prayer. He and his family have attended several of these Holy Hours.
“What impressed me most with these Holy Hours is the atmosphere,” Wichgers told the Register. “To have a Holy Hour where our kids are learning the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament as well as hearing about the lives of the saints is a welcomed event.”
Wichgers says that to have Holy Hours where families are gathered around the Real Presence is especially important in a time when so many Catholics either don’t know about, or don’t believe in, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Father Kubicki couldn’t agree more. “One of the best ways to teach about the Eucharistic presence of Jesus and to renew Catholics’ faith in that presence is to provide opportunities for adoration,” says the priest. “When we adore Our Lord present as the Church teaches — body and blood, soul and divinity — we put our faith into action.”
Smrecek says she has had nothing but positive feedback on the Holy Hours. She is especially touched by those for whom Families in His Presence provided their very first experience of a Holy Hour. “It’s exciting to know that this is their first one,” she says, “or their first as a family.”
Looking ahead, Smrecek says Families in His Presence is open to expanding its ministry beyond the boundaries of Milwaukee if that is God’s will. In the meantime, they are excited about spreading Eucharistic devotion one Holy Hour at a time.
“If seeds from Families in His Presence Holy Hours take root leading to the start of increased Eucharistic adoration at a specific parish,” says Smrecek, “we would be overjoyed to see Our Lord exalted as he deserves.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from
Green Bay, Wisconsin.