Parish seeks conversion through Marian prayer

| August 9, 2017 | 0 Comments

Jo Fleming of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake prays the rosary with other parishioners after Mass Aug. 2 at St. Pius X. The parish begins a 54-day rosary novena Aug.21. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Patty Bradway asked for Mary’s intercession when she was a child, but only recently, when she began praying a daily rosary for two of her adult children who aren’t practicing the faith, has the St. Pius X parishioner begun to understand the connection between Mary’s Immaculate Heart and Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

“As a mother I should know, [that] starting when Jesus was in Mary’s womb, their hearts beat as one,” said Bradway, 54.

Later this month Bradway will unite her intentions with those of her fellow parishioners as they pray a 54-day parish rosary novena during the 100th anniversary year of the Fatima apparitions for conversion, parish growth and healing following a challenging period in St. Pius X’s history.

When parishioners and staff at the White Bear Lake parish start the novena and a year dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the Aug. 21 feast day of their patron, St. Pius X, they will ask the Holy Spirit to change their hearts as they seek a 21 percent increase in weekend Mass attendance.

With the novena, which involves both prayers of petition and thanksgiving, the parish hopes prayer will be the main catalyst for healing and for evangelizing those whom they know and don’t know.

“We’re really encouraging every parishioner to join in prayer,” said Barb York, 64, a St. Pius X parishioner who helped develop the prayer initiative. “It’s not for a 21 percent increase in bodies, it’s for conversion of heart, that more people can come to know and love Jesus, which is the heart of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Response to parish challenges

The dedicated year and novena are part of a renewal the parish of 1,200 families is experiencing after a difficult four years when it lost parishioners. In 2013, allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against a former pastor, and the parish saw four pastors in 18 months. Also during that time its grade school merged with St. Mary of the Lake’s parish school to form Frassati Catholic Academy, located on St. Mary’s campus.

“It is my hope that Mary’s tender love can bring healing and comfort to those who have made substantiated allegations against our founding pastor and all the other people that are impacted when someone in their life has been abused, including our parish community as a whole,” said Father Joe Bambenek, St. Pius X’s pastor since July 2013.

He added that prayer can do more in an instant than humans can do in 10 years of work.

“Our purpose is to bring the healing love of Jesus into every encounter we have in our daily lives,” he said.

The novena start date coincidentally coincides with a total solar eclipse that will be visible in areas of the country. It ends Oct. 13, the centennial of the Miracle of the Sun — when thousands saw the sun move and change color after Mary’s final apparition in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

The 54-day rosary novena consists of praying a daily rosary for 27 days in petition for an intention followed by 27 days of thanksgiving. The parish will post daily novena prayers in its bulletin and a variety of electronic media, as well as in its perpetual adoration chapel. Parishioners can participate by praying the rosary or in other ways, such as fasting.

The word “novena,” from the Latin word for “nine,” usually involves nine days of prayer and meditation for an intention. The tradition dates to the apostles praying with Mary for nine days in anticipation of Pentecost. During an 1884 apparition in Italy, Mary asked that the faithful pray a 54-day — or six week — rosary novena.

‘We’re relying on Jesus’

Parish leaders say that St. Pius X’s renewal has come through refocusing leadership, parishioner support and involvement, and the relationship with a private, non-denominational Christian school that moved into its school building.

“We believe parishioners are invested in the parish, and we’re relying on Jesus to carry this forward,” said Bryan Zimmerman, 59, St. Pius X’s executive business administrator.

In response to the crisis, Father Bambenek consecrated the parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 2014. At that time, parish leaders met with the heads of Liberty Classical Academy, which leases its school building. Academy leaders prayed regularly for the parish, and eventually they and parish leaders started praying together monthly, Zimmerman said.

The following year, after parish staff and parishioners returned from a conference with ideas for parish leadership, renewal and evangelization, they were convinced that the keys to growth were prayer and letting Christ lead, he said.

“If we try to tackle this on our own, we forget the power of Jesus, who points us in the direction of our goal,” he said.

The novena and dedication to Mary’s Immaculate Heart have fostered Marian devotion among parishioners, York said.

“I imagine her as a mother with her arms open, calling her children to come to Jesus,” she said. “We’re agreeing with her and praying for that as well, and we go out and we are her arms and legs. She’s calling us and we come under her maternal protection and inspiration.”

As part of that devotion, Bradway organized five first Saturday devotions with talks about the Fatima apparitions. At Fatima, Mary requested that on five consecutive first Saturdays, reparation be made for offenses against her Immaculate Heart through confession, Communion, rosary and meditation. The final devotion in the series is
Sept. 2.

The parish’s prayer is also inspiring outreach to the community, and before the novena starts it will host a social event to attract neighbors, Bradway said.

Other Marian prayer events the parish is offering during the Fatima anniversary year include a World Apostolate of Fatima organized-prayer, Mass and talk led by Bishop Andrew Cozzens 6 p.m. Sept. 13, another apparition anniversary.

When the 54-day novena ends, the parish will continue its prayer focus through its Year of the Immaculate Heart, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, York said.

“When you look back four years, you realize by every human account St. Pius X should not be doing as well as it is,” York said. “By the blessings of God, we are not just open, but we believe we are thriving. We’re looking forward to what God will do.”

For information about St. Pius X’s Marian devotions and novena, visit For details about Bishop Cozzens’ Sept. 13 presentation, visit


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