The two words lifted the eyes and ears of two dozen people gathered around Sr. Sally Ann Brickner in the Fireside Room at Holy Family Catholic Community Church in Fond du Lac, earlier this year.
“Dust I am and unto dust I will return,” Sr. Sally Ann said as the assembled parishioners tipped ceramic mugs filled with freshly brewed coffee to their pursed lips for a quick swig before settling back in comfortable stuffed chairs and couches.
Listening with a mix of morbid curiosity, intrigue piqued by possible financial and environmental considerations and implication of the Catholic faith, the audience heard Sr. Sally Ann talk of efforts by local nuns to practice green burial, also known as natural burial without embalming, a casket or vault – just a shroud.
Sr. Sally Ann is the recently hired coordinator of justice, peace and ecology for the Congregation of Sisters of Saint Agnes in Fond du Lac.
The gathering was the latest installment of a new monthly ministry at Holy Family known as Java Jabber.
“The intent of Java Jabber is to bring people together in a casual setting to have a cup of coffee and learn something to enhance their spirituality and faith,” said Ruthann Ross, director of pastoral care at Holy Family and spearhead of the five-month-old initiative, put forth by Fr. Bob Stiefvater, in solidum team moderator and one of four priests at Holy Family.
Next Meeting: Sunday, May 18
Bishop Abraham Desta of the Apostolic Vicariate of Meki in
Enjoy a cup of coffee and donut while listening to Bishop Desta who will share some of his pastoral experiences in Ethiopia.
“Java Jabber began in September as a result of Fr. Stiefvater indicating it would nice if we had a conversational event after Sunday Mass where people could engage in talk and have some coffee and donuts,” Ross said.
Java Jabber is held every third Sunday from September through March between the 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. Masses. Meetings, open to anyone, are held in the church’s Fireside Room, located a short distance from the main church. Following a presentation by speakers, time is set aside for questions.
The first Java Jabber featured Fr. John Paul Mitchell, a recently ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who served at Holy Family during the summer before heading to Rome for two years at the Pontifical North American College.
The October session served to introduce a new, part-time member of the parish’s in solidum team – Capuchin Fr. Alan Veik – to parishioners, while the November meeting brought a World War II veteran and two volunteer guides for the periodic Honor Flights that take veterans to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
December featured a Christian/Muslim dialogue group.
“That meeting was a very educational time for the people who attended,” Ross said. “It helped us understand what the whole Christian/Muslim dialogue is all about and how we can unite in our faiths. There was some talk about how Muslims view the female gender in their faith. That opened up a whole new conversation. We look forward to bringing them back.”
Sr. Sally Ann, who is also a member of Holy Family’s Voices of Justice committee in addition to her work with the Sisters of St. Agnes, said Java Jabber provided her with a good opportunity to introduce herself and her mission to the Holy Family congregation.
“Java Jabber is a wonderful way of connecting with parishioners and helping the parish to come to know one another and the kinds of outreach people are involved in,” Sr. Sally Ann said. “It also offers a way for the parish to get connected with the ministry of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes, which have long been a powerful force in the Fond du Lac area and in Milwaukee with Core/El Centro.”
Core/El Centro is a natural healing advocacy group.
“Java Jabber is a good program to help parish members to get to know one another and to share their faith journeys,” Sr. Sally Ann said.
The parish formerly had a religious education program between Masses, but the intensity of religious education wrapped in a Mass proved too intense and participation dropped, Fr. Stiefvater said.
“We went for a lighter concept. The thought was we want to use our vestibule area outside the main church for a program where people could sit around and talk with others before Mass. Our goal was to offer a short presentation with some chat.”
A short-term goal is to purchase some cafe style chairs and tables and place them in the vestibule “so people can sit around and sip coffee before going into church,” Fr. Stiefvater said.
Fr. Stiefvater said he is pleased with the speakers and attendance through the first sessions of Java Jabber.
“I’m very happy with the age range of those in attendance. Fond du Lac does lean toward an older people and we do try to take that in to account (when arranging speakers),” he said.
Doris Grajkowski, a parish member who serves on the Voices of Justice committee, said she has attended all the Java Jabber meetings.
“I come, number one, because the meetings are informative and offer an opportunity to promote our Catholic faith and get to know the parishioners who participate,” Grajkowski said. “And being a member of Voices of Justice I really wanted to get to know Sr. Sally Ann better. Working with the environment is important to me.”
The meeting featuring Fr. Veik also provided a learning experience for Grajkowski to learn the new priest’s perspectives on the Catholic faith.
“Java Jabber makes me feel closer to my faith and makes me think about my faith because all these speakers bring their perspectives, depending on their roles with the church. That makes me think about what my role is and what I need to be doing.”