In Love and On Message

St. Boniface Church in Lafayette, Ind., is not a place solely to attend Mass each Sunday. It is a place to fall deeply in love with God. And that has everything to do with its youthful pastor, Father Tim Alkire.

So says parishioner Annette Wilson. “He has such an enchanting and engaging way of relating his love for God,” she says. “He encourages us to develop that relationship with God ourselves.”

Although Father Alkire presents this message often from the pulpit, it is delivered more strongly through the opportunities he provides parishioners to worship — and the emphasis he places on the traditions and sacraments of the Church.

“You could do something every night at St. Boniface,” Wilson explains. “We are able to extend our love of God through whatever works for us.”

Both Annette and her husband, Terry, who joined St. Boniface a year and a half ago, say their first Holy Thursday Mass was one of the most memorable services they have ever attended. “[Father Alkire] had such a passion for what he was doing,” says Annette. “He took all the words and Scripture and ritual associated with Catholic Masses and really made it come to life in a reverent and inspirational way.”

“It took 2½ hours but we never once considered that because the whole experience was so moving,” adds Terry. “It captures your attention and focus in a way that more modern Masses and shorter services without attention to detail and preparation don’t.”

Father Alkire is a hometown boy, born and raised in Lafayette as a member of St. Boniface. He attended the parish school. In fact, he attributes his vocation, in part, to his second-grade teacher, Sister M. Rose Ellen. His current parishioners perhaps have her to thank for the theme that resonates throughout St. Boniface today. “She was instrumental in teaching [me] how to fall in love with Christ,” says the priest.

The nun, he adds, explained who was in the tabernacle, and why. “As a priest you can hold Christ in your hands,” says Father Alkire. “This is as close as you can be to God or heaven. As a tiny kid, when Sister explained that Jesus lived in the tabernacle, I thought it would be great to live in there with him. The next best thing would be to be a priest.”

Vocation Hothouse

Since 1994, the parish has seen 20 young men and women leave to discern a vocation. Three already have become priests, one will be ordained in 2007 and several of the women have joined religious orders throughout the Midwest.

Some parishioners would attribute this to Father Alkire’s tireless promotion of religious life, but he turns the credit over to God. “It is the fruit of the adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist,” he says. “We shouldn’t be seen as a vocations factory, but as a little oasis where people have the luxury to spend time with him, speak to him from the heart and fall in love. He will do the rest.”

St. Boniface offers weekly Eucharistic adoration and Benediction on Sunday evenings and nocturnal adoration on the first Friday of every month.

All Catholics should have an authentic devotional life centered around the body and blood of Jesus, Father Alkire says. Yet intellectual formation is equally important. Accordingly, the parish just completed a Lenten mission and has embarked on a series of talks based on the Mass.

“The New Evangelization includes taking what God has given us spiritually and intellectually and bringing it to the schools, to the university and to the workplace,” says Father Alkire.

St. Boniface’s youth group, called the Knights of the Immaculata after the organization founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, is one example of how this applies in real life.

“The youth Knights basically have a goal of being Mary’s knights on earth with the sole purpose of bringing souls closer to Christ,” says parishioner Thomas Haan, a freshman at Purdue University.

The group meets on Sunday nights and participates in a variety of apostolic works. Currently, they are working on spiritual bouquets for Pope Benedict. “We also go on little raids where we are armed with Miraculous Medals,” says Haan. “We go door-to-door handing out medals, telling the history and why we are at their doorstep.”

As the Wilsons attest, Father Alkire stresses tried and true Church traditions, from Eucharistic processions to Marian devotions.

“There was a mindset at a certain point that these things are old-fashioned and we needed new forms of renewal,” says Father Alkire. “It would be folly to take things the Church has given us that are beautiful and filled with grace and toss them out.”

The result can be seen in the fact that the demand for the sacrament of confession has grown. Initially confessions were heard for one hour a week, but now priests are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and first Fridays, when they begin at 7 p.m. and sometimes stretch until after midnight.

“When people need Jesus and want Jesus,” says Father Alkire, “we have to provide Our Lord to them.”

St. Boniface has a vibrant Hispanic community — thanks, in no small part, to Father Alkire’s fluency in the Spanish language.

“To hear the Mass in English is good, but there are many people who don’t understand it,” says Luis Salazar, a parishioner since 1982. “When I have talked to many of them, they say it is very touching that he does it in Spanish.”

St. Boniface addresses parishioners’ temporal needs as well as spiritual. To meet a pressing medical concern in the Hispanic community, the parish hosted a health fair on April 2 that primarily focused on prenatal care. “We are working very hard to come up with an initiative to provide prenatal vitamins for people who cannot afford them,” says Father Alkire.

Parishioners marvel at the tirelessness of their pastor. “Many priests would not have the energy or willingness to be up past 10 o’clock on a Sunday night with loud, obnoxious kids,” says Haan.

When asked about his seemingly boundless energy, Father Alkire says: “I say to God every day, ‘I give this day to you. Whatever you give I accept.’”

                   

Monta Monaco Hernon writes from La Grange Park, Illinois.

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