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Lights shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome them.
Members of the eighth- through 12th-grade CCD religious education program at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Anthony gathered on Sunday, Oct. 29, to place hundreds of flickering electric tealights throughout the parish cemetery.
The lights brought welcome warmth and brightness throughout the night on the Vigil and Solemnity of All Saints (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1) and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, also known as All Souls Day (Nov. 2).
They also brought attention to the lives of deceased loved ones and to an all-too-often neglected spiritual work of mercy: praying for the dead.
“The cemetery to me has always been a focal point to show the faith of the community, of the people buried there,” said Randy Holtmeyer, a lifetime St. Anthony parishioner and member of the parish’s stewardship council.
“You look at headstones and you see people who were married for 55 years or even more,” he noted. “You see the rows where children are buried — anywhere from a few days old to 12 or 15 years.
“Some are from the early 1900s, and there are a lot of the same names of people in the parish now,” he said. “The faith those people had to keep enduring — I’m trying to show the young kids that faith is basically what got them through life.”
St. Anthony has been a mostly Catholic community throughout its whole existence.
“It’s a neat little town,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “There’s a lot of faith here.”
Early each school year, CCD students tour the cemetery in the daylight and become reacclimated with those who are buried there.
“You see them gravitate toward the headstones of people they knew,” said Mr. Holtmeyer.
Each weekly class begins with a shared prayer and a round of personal prayer intentions.
“Very seldom do we get through the prayers without someone having us pray for the souls in purgatory,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “They pay a lot of attention to that. We hope it carries on when they go out from here.”
Mr. Holtmeyer noted that most of the people in St. Anthony are Catholic. St. Anthony Cemetery is the resting place for many of the students’ ancestors, some going back several generations.
Also at rest in the cemetery are three priests and a man who died while serving in the Vietnam War.
Several rows of tiny headstones testify to a startling infant-mortality rate among the parish’s early residents.
When Father John P. Walsh, a former pastor, died in 1992, he asked to be buried in that part the cemetery, next to the simple crosses marking the burial places of babies who died very young.
Father Joseph Lorenz died a year later, shortly after retiring as pastor. A stone in the cemetery marks his burial place.
At rest directly in front of the crucifix is Father Ignatius Lehman, who in 1939 succumbed to injures from an explosion in the local community wellhouse.
From what Mr. Holtmeyer has been told, “when Fr. Lehman’s family agreed for him to be buried there, it was with the understanding that the next male parishioner baptized in the parish would be named Ignatius.”
Young people enjoy learning such tidbits about the history of their parish, which in many cases encompasses the history of their own extended families.
“We want to pray for all who have gone before us, for their eternal life,” said Mr. Holtmeyer.
“Lead all souls to heaven”
Adults in the parish have been working to draw young people into the life of the parish and help them stay connected.
Lauren Kliethemes, the parish’s faith formation coordinator, found out about the old German
Catholic tradition of lighting up a parish cemetery with “candles” from Our Lady of the Snows School in Mary’s Home, where students have been keeping the tradition for years.
Last November, Mrs. Kliethemes, her husband Jacob and their daughters placed tealights throughout St. Anthony Cemetery in anticipation of an All Souls Mass offered by Father Christopher Aubuchon, pastor of the St. Anthony Parish and neighboring St. Lawrence Parish in St. Elizabeth.
“It was really a hit when people saw it,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “So we decided to do it again this year and invite the post-confirmation students to set it up on the Sunday before All Saints and All Souls.”
It was also the conclusion of the Month of the Rosary.
Parishioners had been gathering on the first and third Sundays of each month to pray the Rosary in church since the Fourth of July weekend, in the middle of a persistent drought.
“Word got out, and we had people from four different parishes show up,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “A lot of people liked it, so we kept it going.
Communal Rosaries, including an outdoor Rosary in the churchyard, were prayed in or near St. Anthony each week in October.
Organizers planned to have students and adults pray the Rosary in the cemetery after setting the tealights in place, but cold rain sent the group to pray in nearby St. Anthony of Padua Church.
“We had a good turnout, especially when you factor in the weather,” said Mr. Holtmeyer.
“Intimacy and intensity”
Mr. Holtmeyer noted that young people and their families have a multitude of activities vying for their attention.
Keeping them active at church helps them stay connected.
“Whenever we ask for help, we get a good turnout,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “When they come, we thank them and let them know how important it is, and it builds from there.
“Lauren and Kara Schuelen at St. Lawrence in St. Elizabeth are doing a great job with the youth,” he added. “Our attendance for our youth program is close to 100 percent.”
St. Anthony of Padua has always been a hands-on, can-do parish. Four decades ago, Fr. Lorenz wrote that the parish had retained its “family” image.
“The parish has always had a ‘do-it-yourself’ type of operation where each neighbor depends upon the other to do his or her share,” Fr. Lorenz wrote. “There is an intimacy and intensity among the parishioners, with everyone feeling they ‘belong’ to a degree that only a small parish enjoys.”
All of this has become even more important in recent years because the parish no longer has a resident pastor.
“A lot of our people are getting older,” said Mr. Holtmeyer. “Younger people are seeing the need to participate and are figuring out ways to do that.”