Celebration brings families back to parish life

Nichole Wander
Vera Kaefring, daughter of Adam and Stephanie Kaefring, empties the contents of her purse into a collection plate, held by Kevin Oestreich, during an outdoor Mass at St. Mary Parish in Solon on Sept. 12. The outdoor Mass was part of a “Welcome Back” celebration for the parish.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

SOLON — The fizzing of root beer floats and the sound of children’s laughter filled the air outside St. Mary Parish during a “Welcome Back” celebration earlier this month. “We are still a family, and we’ve missed our family members,” said Jeri Bollwitt, the parish’s director of Religious Education.

The pandemic has hindered parishioners’ ability to form relationships and experience the sense of community so vital to parish life, said Sue Schmidt, chairperson of the Welcome Back committee and a parish lay director. Some parishioners have avoided celebrating Mass in person during the COVID-19 pandemic due to age or pre-existing health conditions that could put them at higher risk of contracting a severe infection. Others, especially families, have fallen out of the habit of attending Mass. The dispensation from participating in Mass remains in effect for

Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport, and St. Mary continues to offer livestream Masses.


The parish usually hosts a harvest festival around this time, but the parish was wary about spending six months planning an event that may not be possible due to the ongoing pandemic, Bollwitt said. In early August, the parish decided to plan an outdoor Mass and celebration to allow parishioners the opportunity to reunite safely. They placed announcements in the bulletin, sent mailings and offered personal invitations.

Organizers said the committee focused on creating a family-friendly event to cater to everyone’s comfort level. The celebration started with Mass outdoors behind the church. Parishioners sat under tents or set up folding chairs and picnic blankets. Volunteers in golf carts drove parishioners with limited mobility from the parking lot to the back lawn.

“For some people, it was their first time back to Mass since COVID hit, but they felt comfortable in the fact that we were all outside and could socially distance,” Bollwitt said. Some children she had not seen since their infancy were running around the grounds.

After Mass, parishioners enjoyed walking tacos, hot dogs and root beer floats. Generally, the parish hosts formal, sit-down meals, but organizers felt the casual setup would appeal to kids and make it easier for parishioners to eat and mingle outdoors. “We had name tags for those who wanted it. We encouraged people to chat with each other and just have fun,” Bollwitt said.

Volunteers reserved a few socially distanced tables indoors for older parishioners who did not want to eat outdoors in the heat. Schmidt and Bollwitt said the root beer floats were a big hit for all age groups. Eating walking tacos was a new experience for some older parishioners. Children had the opportunity to participate in a variety of games while the adults conversed.

About 350 people attended the celebration, exceeding the committee’s expectations. The day offered parishioners an opportunity to experience the sense of community that has been missing for many since the pandemic began, Schmidt said. “It was nice to be able to come together in such a big way, yet safely.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on