As Fr. Erich Weiss prepared for his ordination last May, he knew a group of women had his back. Without their prayerful support, his journey to becoming the associate pastor at St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc may have had a different outcome.
“To know that people are supporting priests by their prayers is very comforting for us because the priests I know well possess a strong belief in the power of prayer,” he said. “As we priests pray for all in the world, all in the world must pray for our priests. While priests sacrifice, preach and sanctify; we are still ordained ambassadors of Jesus Christ’s most blessed humanity and need all the help we can get. No prayer, no power. Game over.”
Since 2005, Milwaukee members of the Widows of Prayer ministry have dedicated their lives to serving Christ by praying for priests and others in church leadership, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to promote adoration of Christ in the Eucharist.
Each year, members contact the transitional deacons preparing for ordination, letting them know that they have been “adopted” by a Widow of Prayer and are being prayed for in a special way. The widow sends periodic notes of encouragement, Christmas and birthday cards, and attends the ordination of the priest.
Members also attend the Mass of Thanksgiving of their priest if possible, and receive a special blessing from the consecrated hands of the newly ordained priest.
According to Helen Krueger, servant leader, the Milwaukee chapter began with three women and now consists of eight widows who have made final promises.
“The promises mean that the widows have been called to a specific vocation within the church, similar to a third order group,” she said. “Our ministry involves a commitment to a life of prayer and service. We promise to pray one to three hours per day for priests, vocations and ministries of the church.”
A widow interested in this vocation prays with a chapter for one year before deciding to make a first promise, then another year before making the second promise and another year or more before committing to the final promise. Included in the promise is the dedication to praying for vocations and living a chaste single life. Women who wish to be part of the Widows of Prayer, but who are not committed to the three promises are still welcome to participate in the group activities, but are referred to as the Friends of the Widows of Prayer.
Mary Reardon, widowed after 36 years of marriage, founded the organization in Appleton in 1994. While she initially contemplated the consecrated life as a religious sister, she said God was calling her to begin the Widows of Prayer group.
For more information on the Widows of Prayer contact:
Helen Krueger, Servant Leader, Milwaukee/Franklin:
(414) 858-9811, or
Mary Ellen Morrow, Servant Leader, Wind Lake:
or visit the Web site.
Since the Appleton group began, members have formed two chapters in Indiana, three in Wisconsin, one in Illinois and one in Michigan. According to Krueger, interest is growing through word of mouth.
“We keep in contact with each other and include all members in a day of recollection, and for our annual September retreat in Appleton at Monte Alverno Retreat Center,” she said. “It’s a nice way to meet widows from the other chapters.”
The widows gather every Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Clare Meadows I Chapel, a senior residence, where Krueger is a resident, to fulfill their mission. For the first three years, Franciscan Fr. Joachim Studwell served as their spiritual adviser until his transfer to Indiana. Since that time, Fr. Mark Brandl, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, Greendale, has been the group’s spiritual advisor.
“He celebrates Mass with us once a month and gives a teaching,” said Krueger. “On the first Saturday of the month, we attend morning Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Convent and spend an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament in their adoration chapel.”
A Third Order Franciscan, Krueger, a longtime member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Milwaukee, joined the Widows of Prayer after learning about it through other residents at Clare Meadows. Like Reardon, she contemplated joining a convent after her husband died.
“But I learned about the Widows of Prayer from a friend of mine and contacted Mary Reardon,” she explained. “I was looking for a Milwaukee branch because there wasn’t one around here and Appleton was too far to travel. I started thinking that maybe God was telling me to start one here and so I got a couple of friends together and we started this Milwaukee Chapter.”
Members range in age from their 50s to Alice Scheele, who admits that praying for priests and vocations is something she is still able to do at 93 years of age.
“Some people just sit and watch TV or sit and rock and this is something I can do that years ago people didn’t do,” said Scheele, a former beautician. “I used to go to people’s homes and do their hair and they would either crochet or just sit there. This is something I can take advantage of — while I can still do it.”
Scheele said she wants to be ready for the day she returns home to God.
“I think this group is great; it puts you in a mode and helps you prepare for what is coming,” she said. “I think of the people who have died and didn’t think about it early enough and could be suffering right now. I dwell on the world and see how things are getting worse and I pray for everyone.”
A resident of Franciscan Villa, Scheele is not able to attend many of the Widows of Prayer gatherings due to her age and transportation issues, but she prays for vocations, the other members and the world.
“I feel good about praying for our priests,” she said. “They need all the prayer they can get – and it makes me happy that our little group gets together and prays for their intentions and I truly believe it helps them out.”
Fr. Weiss agreed, and noted that if others would imitate the mission of the Widows of Prayer, every man’s journey to the priesthood or religious life and every woman’s vocation to religious life would be radically fostered.
“The widows’ perseverance in prayer is an excellent example in that ability to pray is always possible and beneficial,” he said, adding, “Especially when one encounters difficulties in prayer. We truly help one another through prayer.”
For Mary Ann Pajewski, a member of Divine Mercy Parish, South Milwaukee, joining Widows of Prayer helped fill the loss she felt when her husband died five years ago.
“This group has increased my faith deeply,” the 73-year-old said. “I consider myself to be a good Catholic and these women who are involved just have had a tremendous and positive influence in my life and drawn me closer to God.”
After three years as a member of the Widows of Prayer, Pajewski has made the third promise. Like the others, she feels that God called her to this lifestyle.
“I don’t think of myself as a ‘holier than thou’ person, but felt strong in my faith,” she said. “This ministry has just enhanced my faith.”