Zeal on Wheels

Catholics tend to associate parish missions with Lent and Advent, but any time can be a good time to invite a “missionary” to make the New Evangelization new again.

While Lent is the traditional season for parish missions, with Advent providing a fine alternative, any time of year can be a good time to invite a “missionary” to make the New Evangelization new again.

Just ask Father Chris Crotty. In the last year alone, the 41-year-old priest put close to 11,000 miles on his 2003 pickup truck and racked up another 10,000 frequent-flier miles preaching in parishes across this nation.

Father Crotty is a member of the Fathers of Mercy. Founded in France during the early part of the 1830s, this order was inspired by a charism to preach parish missions and retreats with an emphasis on the power of the holy Eucharist and confession.

“Parish missions are a call in our modern world to a renewal in the life of Christ,” explains Father Crotty from his order’s headquarters in Auburn, Ky. “The parish mission is the Catholic version of the Protestant big-tent revival.”

The preaching ministry of the Fathers of Mercy is nothing new, adds Father Crotty. It was the apostles, he says, who led the first such events as they went preaching the good news from town to town.

Father Crotty estimates that over the last 12 months he has preached close to 60 parish missions, nights of healing and Catholic conferences. Wherever he is, his message is one of Christ’s mercy and healing touch.

“In my book, the biggest healings are the [deliverances from] chemical and sexual addictions I have seen on the missions,” says Father Crotty. “The other awesome gifts I have seen are the thousands of souls that have returned to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of confession.”

Ripple Effect

Whether the healing is of a spiritual or a physical nature, Father Crotty is quick to point out, it is the work not of the preacher, but of the Holy Spirit.

“I am not a priest who is drooping in theology degrees,” he adds. “I am a basic priest who has a love for the Holy Spirit, and I believe that the Lord can work through the grace of holy prayer, the sacraments and sacramentals.”

In his seven years on the mission trail, Father Crotty has seen a threefold effect on those who attend a parish mission. First, he says, those attending often have a deep personal encounter with Jesus during the mission. Second, they yearn for more, and they want to go tell a friend about their mission experience.

That is exactly what happened to Jane Conrad and her extended family. Conrad first met Father Crotty three years ago at a Catholic conference in her home state of Indiana. She was impressed with the priest’s powerful preaching on the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. The mother of two has invited a number of family members to hear and see Father Crotty at various parish missions across the Midwest.

“There has been a ripple effect throughout my family,” she says. “The truth of this ministry has been people coming back to the Church, back to the sacraments and incredible peace and joy.”

Conrad reports that through Father Crotty’s ministry her sister experienced a profound emotional healing and her father came into the Church at age 86. Also, her husband of 25 years, along with a number of other men in the family, developed a new fervor for the faith after attending a mission.

“I have been amazed by their turnaround,” says Conrad. “It’s the Holy Spirit at work.”

Parish United

The healing effects of a parish mission are not limited to parishioners. Sometimes they reach out and touch entire communities.

Father Scott Woods at St. Peter Claver Church in St. Inigoes, Md., is well aware of this “exponential potential.” When he became pastor at this historically black parish last summer, he says, it was a church divided.

“The church was split between one group that was focused on the exteriors of the parish — the music, the preaching and Church history — and those who were there for the faith, the Eucharist and the sacraments,” recalls Father Woods.

That all changed when Catholic evangelist Richard Lane, the founder of the St. Louis-based Qorban Ministries (online at Qorban.net), brought his fiery preaching to St. Peter Claver for five nights last fall.

According to Father Woods, the parish had never had a Catholic preacher or priest give a parish mission. Instead, they would have a Protestant minister come in and give a parish revival.

“I told them that if we are going to continue to have a parish mission, we are going to have to have someone who can preach Catholic theology,” says Father Woods. “We have lost so many African-American Catholics to Protestant sects. I wanted to help my parishioners to grow spiritually, but in their Catholic faith.”

Some parishioners were skeptical and upset that their new pastor had broken with tradition. Even Father Woods admits that he was nervous that his new idea would fail. That was until he heard all the good news that was coming from the first night of the mission.

Father Woods says that, with a well-marked Bible in one hand and an equally noted Catechism of the Catholic Church in the other, Lane made the teachings of the faith and the importance of the sacraments come alive like never before for his parishioners.

“People came out so inspired,” says Father Woods. “I have never seen so many of our people from all age groups there. Every night the crowd grew. People were quoting Mr. Lane for weeks afterwards.”

By Their Fruits

The fruit from this mission is still blossoming throughout Father Woods’ parish. The priest has seen people return to the sacrament of confession. He has introduced Eucharistic adoration and has seen a growing number of new altar boys who are eager to serve.

And, already, the parish is planning to have Lane return for another mission.

Back at the Fathers of Mercy, Father Chris Crotty can’t keep up with the number of new requests he’s getting for parish missions. He is thankful for all the positive feedback he has gotten from parish after parish. In fact, he says, he can’t recall a single serious complaint.

For those who think that a parish mission is just for the highly pious or the “holy rollers,” Father Crotty’s message is clear: “Get out to a parish mission and meet Christ in his Spirit,” and you’ll “have a personal encounter with Christ the Wonder-Worker.”

The promise applies not just during Lent or Advent. It holds its integrity all year.

Eddie O’Neill writes from

Green Bay, Wisconsin.