by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OLATHE — “We started with the welcome-back mosaic,” said Larissa Smith, director of adult formation and evangelization at Prince of Peace here. “And we turned it into a prayer project.
“We prayed an intentional rosary for all 2,600 parish families.”
With the pandemic subsiding and the Sunday Mass dispensation being lifted last June, churches were looking for ways to welcome back their communities.
One idea presented by the archdiocese was a mosaic to be filled in by returning parishioners.
That appealed to pastor Father Greg Hammes. And so, a mosaic of the parish logo, representing Jesus the Prince of Peace, was designed by parish social media coordinator Jordan Schmitz.
“The mosaic has 2,600 tiles,” said Father Hammes. “Each represents one of our parishioner families.
“Our goal was that — as all the families returned to Mass — we were ‘piecing’ back together our parish community.”
With the help of her evangelization team, Smith put together a packet for every family or individual in the parish data base.
Each packet contained information on upcoming activities, a magnet piece with the words “renew, reunite, remember and reclaim”; and a little tile piece with instructions to glue it into the proper square on the mosaic board.
A parish event was planned for the solemnity of Corpus Christi. Following a procession, returning parishioners would position their tiles in the mosaic.
“We didn’t tell anyone what [the final design] was,” said Smith.
Parishioners were also invited to write a blessing or prayer intention to be placed in a box.
“So basically,” said Smith, “it was like their prayer being placed onto this mosaic board.
“We took all those prayers and started bringing them up during Mass and praying over them.”
Parishioners loved the Corpus Christi event. But, unfortunately, not enough tiles were returned to fill in the mosaic — nearly 1,400 spaces were vacant.
Despite its empty appearance, Father Hammes wanted the mosaic hung.
“We stood it up in our gathering space and it was very bleak,” said Smith. “People came in and said, ‘Are you going to add more tiles to that?’”
The answer was “not yet.” Father Hammes understood the empty spaces in the mosaic stood for something — a big part of the parish family was still missing.
He also felt the 1,200 tile pieces placed by parishioners were significant.
To acknowledge that effort, those returned parishioners were invited in small groups to join Father Hammes for wine and cheese after Saturday evening Masses.
“The idea was if we pour into the group who respond,” said Father Hammes, “they can then pour into others, and keep building our community.”
The wine and cheese events were especially beneficial to Father Hammes who came to the parish during COVID.
“So, these were done with small groups,” said Father Hammes. “And I was able to talk to everyone.
“We also had an icebreaker to encourage parishioners to meet others they do not know as well.”
Last September, as the wine and cheese events were in full swing, Father Hammes suddenly knew how they could complete the mosaic.
During October, the month of the rosary, Father Hammes challenged the church community to say an intentional rosary for everyone in the parish.
“Once a rosary was prayed for a family,” he said, “[the one who prayed the rosary] got to glue a tile on the board.”
Smith ran with the idea.
She printed each family name in the parish database on a card, then put a basket filled with the 2,600 cards in the gathering area.
“We wanted every single person/family in the parish prayed for by name with a rosary in October,” said Father Hammes. “We then re-used the tile project to symbolize those prayers.”
The new twist on the mosaic project was embraced with enthusiasm by individuals, families and children from Prince of Peace Grade School.
“Once we had all the names taken and all the tiles filled,” said Father Hammes, “we knew we had achieved our goal of a rosary for every parishioner.
“In the end, prayer completed our project.”
By the end of October, the mosaic was finished and lacquered — a symbol of an evolving project that helped a parish unite through a difficult time.
In March, it was permanently hung in the gathering space and blessed by Father Hammes.
“I think the projects show our need for prayer and community,” said Father Hammes. “People absolutely loved doing it and have asked to do it again.
“We need prayer and community in our faith more than ever.”