by Joe Bollig
LEAVENWORTH — At long last, it was time to call the community together.
On June 12, Sacred Heart-St. Casimir Parish in Leavenworth held a “Back to Church Picnic” to celebrate the ability to come together as a faith community and to remember those no longer present.
Many parishioners had been attending Mass regularly long before the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas lifted the dispensation from the Mass obligation on June 5-6, but Father Marianand Mendem thought his parish should do something to commemorate, celebrate and encourage people in the “post-pandemic” era.
The archdiocese had encouraged parishes to conduct welcome back activities as society in general began to “return to normal.”
“This welcome back was meant more for those who had not been coming, to make them feel it’s OK, and safer and important to come together,” said Father Mendem. “That was the message we wanted to spread around.”
The event was planned by the parish activities committee with assistance from other parish volunteers. The activities began after 4:30 p.m. Mass with a group photo taken by Sherri Schwinn.
They lit candles in commemoration and read the names of relatives and other loved ones who had died over the past year, including 20 parishioners — one having died from COVID-19 complications, said Sheila Thibault, parish office manager and parish activities committee member.
“Father Mendem lost 10 friends or family members due to COVID in India,” she said.
The participants were served sack lunches prepared by Roger Linder and Wayne Welty, and Scouts BSA Troop 167 sponsored by the parish. Debbie Hupp and Debbie Salvatorelli provided door prizes, and Paul Pawlush played accordion music. There were also water balloon games for the children.
Earlier on May 22, the parish held a special lasagna meal for all the volunteers who helped keep the parish functioning and safe during the pandemic.
“I call them my faith heroes,” said Father Mendem.
There had been some concern that some people would simply drop out of parish life when all restrictions were lifted.
“Actually, we’ve been seeing maybe some new faces,” said Father Mendem. “Some people may still be taking time [coming back]. I’ve seen most of our people coming back and I have seen new faces, because we have a floating population because of the Army people [at Fort Leavenworth].
“Many of our people have been very faithful. People have been coming, and we want to make sure they feel welcome.”