Holy Family in Keenesburg celebrates a century

Moira Cullings

After 100 years, the tight-knit, diverse community at Holy Family Catholic Church in Keenesburg is still going strong.

“It’s a sign for the Church,” said Father Carlos Bello-Ayala, pastor of the parish for the past six years. “It shows it’s alive — even though we have all these problems, all these difficulties, persecution.”

“I see that in a rural town, still people have the desire to find God in this small church,” he said. “For me, it’s a sign that with a few people that God has in this church, we can be a big sign for those who are far away from God.”

Holy Family celebrated its 100th anniversary on June 8 with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila followed by a reception.

The parish, located in a town of just over 1,200 people, has around 65 families. Although it gone through ups and downs, its parishioners, many with deep ties to the parish, have remained faithful and worked hard to keep the parish alive.

Anita Lutz, whose family helped found the parish, has been involved in both Sacred Heart in Roggen and Holy Family (both run by the same pastor) throughout her life.

“It’s a small, welcoming church,” she said about Holy Family. “It’s a strong, faithful community.”

Lutz, who has been a member of the Altar and Rosary women’s group, appreciates Father Bello-Ayala’s efforts to bring the diverse groups of the parish and has enjoyed getting to know the Hispanic community better.

“That really made an impact on me in the last couple years,” she said. “We’ve done a few projects together, and it’s worked out really well.”

Amy Veith, President of the Pastoral Council and a member of the parish’s Altar and Rosary society, has been at Holy Family around 11 years and has also been impacted by the rich diversity at the parish.

“I have especially enjoyed getting to know some of the families from our Spanish Mass, and I think we are pretty successful at bringing all of our parishioners together and embracing the wide diversity our little parish has,” she said.

Veith explained that the small rural community loves and takes care of each other.

“We are tiny but mighty,” she said.

Father Bello-Ayala remembers one particular instance when he experienced the concern of his parishioners.

“We had a very bad storm,” he said, and the meeting he was supposed to attend with parishioners was canceled.

“People were calling and texting me, saying, ‘Father, is everything ok?’

“People are always connected [here], taking care of each other,” he said.

Although Father Bello-Ayala’s six-year assignment at Holy Family recently ended, he was instrumental up until the end in bringing his own parish community together, as well as reaching out to the local community, particularly through the Neocatechumenal Way.

“We are visiting houses two by two every year in order to call people, those who are fallen away Catholics,” he said. “Our mission is to invite.”

He believes the parish’s 100th anniversary is a message to Keenesburg that “we are a Catholic Church that is alive, that is vibrant, and we are welcoming those who are in need of God.”

The turnout at the anniversary Mass also gives him hope for the parish’s future.

“To see almost 200 people in one Mass, that was amazing,” he said. “Everybody was happy sharing together and celebrating that 100th anniversary.”

COMING UP: AM[D]G           

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Last November 11, on the centenary of its relocation to a 93-acre campus in suburban Washington, D.C., Georgetown Preparatory School announced a $60 million capital campaign. In his message for the opening of the campaign, Georgetown Prep’s president, Father James Van Dyke, SJ, said that, in addition to improving the school’s residential facilities, the campaign intended to boost Prep’s endowment to meet increasing demands for financial aid. Like other high-end Catholic secondary schools, Georgetown Prep is rightly concerned about pricing itself out of reach of most families. So Prep’s determination to make itself more affordable through an enhanced endowment capable of funding scholarships and other forms of financial aid for less-than-wealthy students is all to the good.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God], often reduced to the abbreviation, AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns. That was not good news. Nor was I reassured by pondering Father Van Dyke’s campaign-opening message, in which the words “Jesus Christ” did not appear. Neither did Pope Francis’s call for the Church’s institutions to prepare missionary disciples as part of what the Pope has called a “Church permanently in mission.” And neither did the word “God,” save for a closing “Thanks, and God bless.”

Father Van Dyke did mention that “Ignatian values” were one of the “pillars” of Georgetown prep’s “reputation for excellence.” And he did conclude his message with a call for “men who will make a difference in a world that badly needs people who care, people who, in the words Ignatius wrote his best friend Francis Xavier as he sent him on the Society of Jesus’s first mission, will ‘set the world on fire’.” Fine. But ignition to what end?

Ignatius sent Francis Xavier to the Indies and on to East Asia to set the world on fire with love of the Lord Jesus Christ, by evangelizing those then known as “heathens” with the warmth of the Gospel and the enlivening flame of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. St. Ignatius was a New Evangelization man half a millennium before Pope St. John Paul II used the term. St. Ignatius’s chief “Ignatian value” was gloria Dei, the glory of God.

Forming young men into spiritually incandescent, intellectually formidable and courageous Christian disciples, radically conformed to Jesus Christ and just as deeply committed to converting the world, was the originating purpose of Jesuit schools in post-Reformation Europe. Those schools were not content to prepare generic “men for others;” they were passionately devoted to forming Catholic men for converting others, the “others” being those who had abandoned Catholicism for Protestantism or secular rationalism. That was why the Jesuits were hated and feared by powerful leaders with other agendas, be they Protestant monarchs like Elizabeth I of England or rationalist politicians like Portugal’s 18th-century prime minister, the Marquis of Pombal.

Religious education in U.S. Catholic elementary schools has been improved in recent decades. And we live in something of a golden age of Catholic campus ministry at American colleges and universities. It’s Catholic secondary education in the U.S. that remains to be thoroughly reformed so that Catholic high schools prepare future leaders of the New Evangelization: leaders who will bring others to Christ, heal a deeply wounded culture, and become agents of a sane politics. Jesuit secondary education, beginning with prominent and academically excellent schools like Georgetown Prep, could and should be at the forefront of that reform.

Jesuit secondary education is unlikely to provide that leadership, however, if its self-presentation brackets God and announces itself as committed to “the greater glory” of…whatever.