How we face death reveals our love for life

Mt Olivet Selects-22

Gary Schaaf is the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries.

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect” – Pope Francis, Day for Life Greeting, July 17.

As the Executive Director for the Archdiocese Mortuary and Cemeteries, I have a unique vantage point from which I reverently watch people struggle with some of life’s most profound questions, including “What happens when we die?” On almost a daily basis, I see people dealing with the impact of losing a loved one, wondering what happens next. As though life were an ocean, death seems to propel many people into deeper waters.

What strikes me as obvious after watching these families grapple with the death of a loved one is the depth of loss that is felt by all families, regardless of the age of their loved one. Our Catholic faith teaches us about the dignity afforded each and every life, regardless of age. From the widow who has lost her beloved spouse after 50 years of marriage, to the young parents dealing with the loss of their baby only months after conception, we see real loss and real grieving. We are reminded in each of these circumstances that neither the size, condition, nor age of one’s body impacts the reality of their soul.

One day every month, we bury babies who have died in utero. As sad an event as this is, watching the reverence for the lives of these young souls makes me deeply proud of my Catholic faith. Many families participate in this service, which we provide at no cost. It is clear that all present are impacted and that not one of those young souls will be forgotten. It is also clear that the depth of loss is hard to understand for someone who has not experienced it – an observation gleaned from watching the empathetic embraces between mothers who are going through these services at the same time.

Although difficult in so many ways, it is also moving to hear the stories of those who have accompanied a loved one at the end of a long life through the suffering that so often accompanies death. Much more often than not, we see how these difficult trials draw families together in ways that were never anticipated. Frankly, we see pure, self-sacrificing love on display in ways that words can only partially describe.

Observing the sacred moments surrounding the deaths of the faithful departed has only strengthened my faith in our Church and our collective mission to protect the lives of all who are living, from the moment of conception through natural death.

Although I never anticipated my job at a Catholic Cemetery would so significantly impact my perspective on life, I feel privileged to have witnessed people of faith handle with grace and courage the reality of death, and further privileged to share those observations.

COMING UP: St. Bernadette’s Parish provides ministries with big reach

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St. Bernadette’s Parish provides ministries with big reach

Lakewood church is home to deaf, Native American, homeless ministries

Roxanne King
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St. Bernadette Parish, the pioneer Catholic church of Lakewood, outgrew its first worship space just 18 years after being founded in 1947. Today, the half-century-old church remains large enough but needs updated to better serve its exceptionally diverse congregation.

In addition to ministering to the faithful of central Lakewood, the parish heads Colorado Catholic Deaf Ministry, is home to St. Kateri Native American Community, runs a school and soon will be host to Marisol Home, which will provide transitional housing to homeless women with children.

“One holy, Catholic and apostolic church is a pretty good description for our parish,” said the pastor, Father Tom Coyte.

“Catholic means universal,” added pastoral associate Julie Plouffe, “and there is so much diversity represented in this one worship space: the deaf, Native Americans, service to the poor and the homeless, and to our school.”

Deaf ministry

When Father Coyte was named pastor of St. Bernadette’s two and a half years ago, he quickly realized his handsome church was in need of repairs and renovations—from the essentials of updating the heating, cooling and electricity, to improving the sanctuary for comfort and hospitality.

He wants all of his parishioners, including the deaf, to be able to enjoy full, active participation in the church liturgies. When Father Coyte arrived to St. Bernadette’s, the deaf community, which he’s led for 45 years, came with him.

“We became aware of how difficult it is to participate visually in our liturgies here,” Father Coyte said.

Because it’s essential for the deaf to see what’s being signed, the parish plans, among other improvements, to elevate the altar platform to increase visibility for the congregation. (The change will also aid seeing the schoolchildren when they take part in liturgies.)

Deaf ministry enables the hard of hearing to serve as lectors, ushers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It offers interpretive services for weddings, funerals and religious education classes, and organizes retreats.

“Deaf ministry is an archdiocesan outreach to all deaf persons and their families to be fully involved in parish and Church life,” Father Coyte said.

Services include religious education and interpretive outreach, and signed weekly Masses at two other parishes—one in the Colorado Springs Diocese.

“We also go to Pueblo and have been to other states,” Father Coyte said.

St. Kateri Community

The St. Kateri ministry, in which some 60 people from across the archdiocese representing about 10 Native American tribes celebrate a weekly Mass incorporating Indian traditions, has been at St. Bernadette’s since 1985.

“They’ve been embraced by the St. Bernadette community,” Father Coyte said. “They have a beautiful spirituality.”

Kateri ministry exists to evangelize and serve the archdiocese’s Native American community and provides religious education and community building.

Aid to the poor, homeless

Last fall, the Kateri community, which had turned the parish’s old convent into a chapel, moved their weekly Mass into the church proper. Catholic Charities is leasing and transforming Kateri’s former home for worship into a home for single-parent mothers with children. Marisol Home, set to open this year, will be able to shelter up to 18 families at once.

“St. Bernadette’s will be providing a lot of meal support and volunteer hours,” Plouffe said of the Marisol ministry.

Ministry to the poor and homeless has long been a cherished activity of the parish, which helps a near daily stream of indigent from Lakewood’s Colfax corridor with food, rent assistance and resource referrals.

“We reach out to many needy families in our school as well,” Father Coyte said.

Vast outreach

This spring the parish is launching a three-year, $1.5 million capital campaign to fund necessary improvements to make St. Bernadette’s more beautiful, functional and welcoming for its diverse congregation.

Just as the church’s unique ministries stretch beyond its parish boundaries, Father Coyte said so, too, does its need for donations.

“Our outreach is much larger than St. Bernadette Parish,” he said. “We’re a relatively small parish of 700 to 800 families, yet our ministries are quite ambitious.”

To Donate

Call St. Bernadette Parish, 303-233-1523