by Katie Hyde
Special to the Leaven
OLATHE — They may not be dressed in homespun or be trekking across the prairie, but to everyone at St. Paul Parish here, the 60 men and women who joined the parish’s Holy Name Society are pioneers.
Charting new territory in the archdiocese, the region and, indeed, the country, St. Paul held its first Holy Name Society meeting in September. The society is the first of its kind in the archdiocese and, unlike almost every other chapter in the nation, invites women to join and holds meetings in both English and Spanish.
St. Paul parishioners felt called to include all: young and old, male and female, English- and Spanish-speaking. The parish is 30 percent Hispanic, and welcoming Hispanic parishioners is both a focus and a challenge for St. Paul, said Lilly Parra, who is an officer of the society and is also Hispanic.
“I can’t say [overcoming the language barrier] is easy, but once that we know each other and talk in the same language of God’s love, it becomes easier,” said Parra.
The society has its roots in the 1400s, according to Marianne Sylvester, director of adult formation at St. Paul. The society was started in order to “praise the name of Jesus” but, since then, has become an organization to praise God, serve the church, and serve one another.
“That’s really what the Holy Name Society is about: helping where it’s needed — whether it’s child care or gardening or altar cloths,” said Sylvester.
The idea for a chapter at St. Paul grew out of a discussion between parishioner Tom Schwarzenberger, Sylvester and pastor Father John Torres. The Holy Name Society has played a significant role in Schwarzenberger’s life: He has been a member since he was 17 years old and still keeps the pendant his grandfather received when he was a member.
“The spirituality and emphasis on the Eucharist really made an impression on me,” said Schwarzenberger.
What began as a simple discussion quickly turned into a planning committee. The society now boasts 60 members. Two-thirds of the members are female, including president Joyce Harding, and there are many Hispanic members.
The society is already deep in planning for the upcoming year, which Harding hopes will include a retreat, prayer groups, and prayer walks from their current location to the site of the new church.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding. “There are so many things we can do.”
With plans, prayers, and a Spanish- English dictionary close at hand, the Holy Name Society will meet regularly from here on out.
“The Holy Spirit is at work here,” Sylvester said. “When we started this, we just started doing research. It has just snowballed.”
Parra agrees, grateful for a community where Hispanic and English, young and old, male and female are united.
“Here at St. Paul we try to include everybody,” said Parra. “We try to include Anglo people in Spanish events and include Spanish people in the Anglo events. That way, we feel we are only one community. It has been a very enriching experience. ”