It seemed an unlikely formula for success: using a “no commitment” angle. 

Deacon John Lorenzo wanted to expand Eucharistic adoration at St. Mark the Evangelist parish in Southwest Ranches, Fla., without committing people to a specific time slot.

Instead, he wanted people to start thinking more about Jesus, so he changed the way many people think about Eucharistic adoration.

“Just come and spend time with Jesus, even if it’s only for a few minutes,” Deacon Lorenzo told the daily Massgoers of St. Mark’s. “We’re starting a prayer group: ‘Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament.’”

The only requirement for membership was to have made their first holy Communion and to agree to come into the chapel at some time during adoration hours and pray.

The parish already had scheduled adoration times every Monday following 8am Mass until 8pm.

It was going to be expanded from after Mass until noon for the rest of the weekdays. Deacon Lorenzo made sure someone covered each hour, since Our Lord cannot be left alone in the monstrance, according to Church teaching. (The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated in its instruction “Certain Matters to Be Observed or to Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,” “The Most Holy Sacrament, when exposed, must never be left unattended even for the briefest space of time. It should therefore be arranged that at least some of the faithful always be present at fixed times, even if they take alternating turns” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 138).

Understanding that most people don’t want the commitment of an hour a week, he invited people to come for however long they could.

Everyone who joined wrote their names in a book and received a number and membership card.

Deacon Lorenzo was member No. 1, and Grace Lyn Fatt, who was in charge of the existing adoration schedule, was No. 2.

The expanded adoration began on the feast of the Ascension, May 21, 2009, with 32 names in the book.

Four months later, there were 1,000.

By December 2011, 3,000 people had signed up. Now, more than 4,600 members belong to the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament prayer group (4,696 at last count, in early February).

The 81-year-old deacon said none of this was his idea. “I felt Our Lord telling me to extend the hours of adoration, but he did not want me to put any restrictions on the length of time for visits,” he explained.

At the end of the week, he adds up the number of adorers and the minutes from the attendance sheet and publishes the total in the church bulletin, along with an inspirational blurb about the Blessed Sacrament. During the school year, an average of 325 hours is spent in adoration each week.


Let the Little Children Come

Children have been an integral part of this ministry. All of the parish children are invited to become members after they make their first Communion. The Catholic-school students in primary grades visit as a class for 10-15 minutes weekly. The sixth- to eighth-grade students visit for 30 minutes weekly, singing songs of praise to Our Lord, and the after-school religious-education students come as a class at least once every term.

As Deacon Lorenzo tells the children, “You don’t have to do anything, and Our Lord will be with you. He is there in front of you in our chapel as if he were on the cross.” He said that the kids believe in the Real Presence and often come to adoration on their own.

Lizette Lantigua, St. Mark’s marriage-ministry leader, was the third member to join the prayer group. “It is wonderful to see students come after lunch by themselves or with large groups of friends and just spend quiet time with Our Lord,” she said. “I truly believe this is what has caused many of our ministries to grow and new ones to blossom. Prayer and adoration unites us as a parish and keeps us going strong.”

“St. Mark is considered holy ground by our families,” added Shirley Sandusky, the school principal. “There is a peacefulness here. I believe that our students have a desire to attend adoration; it is not a responsibility.”

Anthony Coniglio, a high-school senior who has served for eight years as an altar server at St. Mark’s, visits the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament each week after teaching piano lessons in the adjacent parish center.

“I have been encouraged to visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament more frequently,” he said. “I am very grateful for Deacon John’s work,” adding that it’s helping him discern college.

Anthony’s mother, Gail Coniglio, led the welcome ministry at St. Mark for several years and said she witnessed a tremendous increase in new people joining the parish since the adoration attendance has grown. “Our parish is named for St. Mark the Evangelist for a reason,” Gail Coniglio said. “We have been called to evangelize, and the Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament prayer group can be an example to parishes across the nation.”

Deacon Lorenzo — who received help from his two sons in developing the website — hopes that other parishes follow in St. Mark’s footsteps.

Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.