How to Build a Family-Friendly Parish

Growing the Church — One Family, Parish and Diocese at a Time

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“St. John Paul II taught us that without the family — the domestic Church — there is no Church,” said Father Luis Granados, parochial vicar at St. Mary Catholic Church in Littleton, Colo., whose parish’s theme for the past year has been “Toward a Family-Friendly Parish.” 

“We want to be family-friendly because God is family-friendly. He formed the people of Israel from the family of Abraham; he sent his only begotten Son to the family of Nazareth, and he has chosen the family as the place of the transmission of the faith.”


The Family

To that end, Father Granados and his fellow priests are making parish families their priority, which coincides well with the Knights of Columbus’ “Building the Domestic Church: The Family Fully Alive” in preparation for September’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The initiative encourages and instructs families in their role as the building blocks of the Church and society through catechesis and meditations.

Father Granados, who assisted with the development of the Knights’ initiative, is among several priests serving at the parish who hail from Spain and are members of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Discípulos de los Corazones de Jesús y María).

At St. Mary’s, the ministries of the parish are shaped around family ministry. Father Granados said, “The family is not a ‘sector,’ but the whole. The focus on family gives us a global approach. This means that whenever we touch the family, we are touching everybody.”

The focus on family is bearing fruit. “We have experienced great blessings,” Father Granados said.

Danielle Syrup, the parish and family life coordinator at St. Mary’s, coordinates and facilitates many of the parish’s ministries and has witnessed the fruits of the past year’s initiative.

“We have seen more families and family members taking steps to actively deepen their relationship with Christ,” Syrup said. “We have had many individuals of all states of life actively participate in helping to foster and nurture the dignity of the family through prayer, education and through offering their time to families in the parish. I have seen many parishioners, especially youth, make a more concerted effort to not only offer their time to help mothers who need assistance with their little ones, but also through catechesis in ministries of the parish. We have also seen some parishioners really take to heart the responsibility that we all have as Catholics to foster and nurture this dignity of family life through various efforts in the parish, but also in healing the relationships in their own lives.”


The Parish

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)’s research indicates that the number of parishes is decreasing, and in many dioceses, parish closings are a sad reality.

The parish is built in large part from the building blocks of individual families — and one program is helping parishes remain fruitful.

The Amazing Parish, a movement dedicated to helping parishes become strong and vital communities of faith, lists seven traits of an amazing parish.

“Vibrant parishes have a tremendous devotion to individual and communal prayer, fidelity to regularly and creatively communicating the orthodox truths of our faith, a desire for accessible and frequent reception to dynamic sacramental actions and celebrations and a hunger to live according to the commandments and beatitudes, including respect for life and service to the poor,” said Amazing Parish staff member Keith Borchers, a former diocesan leader of evangelization and catechesis and a current consultant to parishes, dioceses and apostolates. 

Littleton’s St. Mary’s is well on its way, according to that criteria, with its family programs and perpetual adoration, but there are many other parishes striving to become amazing in their own ways.

Sandwiched between Oklahoma City and Norman, Okla., the community of Moore is home to St. Andrew Catholic Church, the only Catholic parish in a fast-growing community. 

As the community grows, in spite of a number of devastating tornadoes in recent years, the parish of St. Andrew’s has also grown.

The parish fits the profile of a strong and vital parish, as defined by Amazing Parish. Ministries and groups that have had a place at the parish through the years include Renew (a program encouraged by the archdiocese to deepen faith), Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, a prison ministry, LifeTeen, a food-pantry ministry and an active youth group. Through the years, parishioners have gathered several times a year for potluck dinners, parish picnics, bingo and other family-friendly fare bringing parishioners together and cementing their parish family bond. 

But at the heart of the church is a dedication to what Borchers calls “indicators of vibrancy.”

The sacrament of reconciliation is available after every weekday Mass, by appointment and on Saturday afternoons. Wedding anniversaries are posted and celebrated. The chapel is available at all hours for adoration, and there are opportunities to participate in social-justice activities, youth activities and many other initiatives.

Father Jack Feehily, the pastor of St. Andrew’s, has built upon the foundation of the pastors who came before him.

“Each pastor has employed the gifts God has give them to bring the Good News to the people of this community,” Father Feehily said. “The people of St. Andrew’s have received that Good News in many ways, but especially by becoming a welcoming and hospitable community where all may feel welcome and blessed.”

The parish community enjoys beautiful buildings and grounds. “Everyone likes to have a lovely home,” Father Feehily said. “Our facilities show that we are eager to welcome people to our home. Our emphasis on well-rounded stewardship, which includes sacrificial giving, has resulted in more than adequate material resources to improve and expand our facilities. We are enjoying the fruits of generous stewards and benefactors.”

The parish has also served the community when tragedy has struck, whether natural or humanly caused disasters. The parish has opened its hearts and doors to victims of tornadoes and brought comfort to those affected by the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing north of Moore in Oklahoma City. 

This kind of outreach continued for Lent, Father Feehily said: “We [were] encouraging parishioners to give serious consideration to what it means to be an intentional disciple.”


The Diocese

Support families and parishes are dioceses, with their bishops serving as shepherds.

In the case of St. Mary’s and the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, then-Archbishop Charles Chaput welcomed the Disciples to Denver. As Father Granados recalled, “Later, Archbishop [Samuel] Aquila confirmed us in our mission at the service of the Church in the Archdiocese of Denver. We are very grateful for this trust.”

“At the end of our first year running the program ‘Toward a Family-Friendly Parish,’” our archbishop wrote a pastoral letter on the family entitled ‘Family, Become What You Are,’” Father Granados said. “We could say, ‘We are on the same page!’”

The Archdiocese of Atlanta is the third-fastest-growing diocese in the United States, according to CARA, due in large part to population migration. 

The archdiocese is increasing efforts to reach the Latino population and others. The archdiocese also participates in an Catholic-Orthodox Ecumenical Gathering and holds an annual Eucharistic Congress.


The Church

The strength of the parish community, with the guidance and support of the larger Church, can bear fruits that spread through the larger community.  

Ultimately, whatever families, parishes and dioceses choose to invest in, the point is to help the faithful grow in holiness and awareness of heavenly love.

In his Lenten message for this year, Pope Francis focused on God’s love: “God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us, and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us.”
And, in recent tweets, the Pope has emphasized evangelization — “A credible witness to truth and to the values of the Gospel is urgently needed and joy found in Christ.” — and joy found in Jesus: “Jesus came to bring joy to everyone in every age.”
This is what St. Mary’s in Colorado is striving to do.

“At St. Mary parish, 2015 Lent [was] a school of prayer,” said Father Granados. “During this 40 days, we [invited] the parishioners to walk from the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the water of the baptism of Easter.”

The parish  offered “daily meditations for the parishioners in a book called From Ash to Water. We want to offer concrete and simple materials to pray. At the same time, we will keep our ‘Toward a Family Fully Alive’ program. … It is a joy, because Pope Francis has started his catechesis on the family during general audiences, and he is preaching about mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, so we are on the same page.”

Emphasized the priest: “The general idea is to walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem … and we will transform Calvary into a beautiful garden.”


Laurie Barrows writes from Colchester, Vermont.