PLEASANT PRAIRIE — Next time the doorbell rings, it might be a neighbor selling cookies or candy.
Or it might be members of St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie extending an invitation to attend Mass or pray for personal intentions.
In its second year, the volunteer missionary team meets in the parish multi-purpose room during Advent and Lent, to pray and divide into groups of three to five people. They walk through the neighborhood and knock on doors and offer literature and an invitation to attend parish events.
According to organizer Margie Mandli, the idea stemmed from their pastor, Fr. Robert Weighner, who had done something similar in a former parish.
“He said it was very fruitful and from the moment I heard of it, I wanted to do this,” she said. “(It) seemed like such a no-brainer to do and is also what the Gospel preaches. It is a literal way of spreading God’s love to our neighbors.”
Door-to-door missionary work is more common for Jehovah’s Witnesses or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. St. Anne members admit those who answer their doors are often surprised Catholics are evangelizing in this manner.
Sometimes their efforts are met with a polite, “No, thank you.”
Sometimes the response is a firm, “We have our own religion.”
Occasionally, it’s curt: “I’m too busy.”
Only rarely are doors slammed in their faces.
But they do find those who are receptive to the Good News.
“Every time I participate in a neighborhood mission, I always say to myself, ‘I should be doing this every weekend.’ It’s truly one of the most amazing experiences,” Mandli said. “Yes, there is rejection. Yes, there are door slams and yes, there are those God moments when you know you were meant to meet that person who answered the door. The best experiences have been when people responded to our question asking them if they need prayers.”
Mandli recalled a young man in his 20s who asked for prayers for his grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer.
“This young man was worried about his grandma,” she said. “He looked like a young professional who owned his own house. To know we could extend a little bit of God’s light was beyond words.”
Once each of the team members got past the stereotypes of what others might think of their style of evangelizing, it became easier and more enjoyable, explained Mandli.
“It truly feels as if we are doing what God asks of us,” she said.
The first time Eddie Biehn joined other parishioners, he was nervous and concerned with what he would say and how to act.
“It went away after a few stops; some don’t want to talk to us and we don’t pester them, but there were a lot of nice receptive people,” he said. “We use sort of a script from St. Anne where we explain that we are inviting people to special events or programs going on and see how they respond. If they show more interest, we will talk more about the parish and what is going on. We always close by asking if they would like us to pray for something and a lot of times they will pray with us.”
During the couple of hours the missionary team is in the neighborhood, they encounter those who openly share their faith, where they go to church, or they will admit they are not practicing their faith. Sometimes, they explain they are meaning to get back to church.
“The most touching ones for me are those who share some challenging things going on in their lives, such as losing loved ones, teen issues or cancer diagnoses and they ask for us to pray for them,” said Biehn. “Even if we get one or two people, it is not a waste of time when we go out. Maybe we can reach out and do something meaningful and maybe all it takes is for one person or one family to have someone invite them back to church. Sometimes, that is all it takes.”
Biehn remembered one instance where an evangelical minister opened the door and was enthusiastic about what the St. Anne parishioners were doing to reach out to the neighborhood.
“I am just really excited about sharing the Good News and I think Catholics should do more of that,” he said. “A lot of times, people are not going to come if they don’t feel invited. I think it would be hard to come into the church if you aren’t Catholic or maybe if you were fallen away; but if you were personally invited, you might be more likely to go.”
For Nancy Salerno, embarking on the first mission was out of her comfort zone. It was near Thanksgiving, and bitter cold. She talked her daughter Maria into coming along with hopes it would make her feel less uncomfortable. She almost changed her mind, but something inside her encouraged her to go.
The group made many stops during those frigid hours, but one of those homes stood out as a woman had asked for prayers for her brother and his wife who had been trying for a long time to have a baby.
When mother and daughter arrived home that evening, Nancy had not yet taken her jacket off when she spied a bottle of Pepto Bismal on the kitchen table with a St. Gerard medal taped to the front with a note that said, “Returning your bottle of Pepto and wanted to give you this medal of St. Gerard and if you know of anyone trying to have a baby, please pass it on.”
“I looked at it and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me, I was just there,’” explained Salerno. “I honestly didn’t even know who St. Gerard was at the time. I ended up contacting Margie and told her that she wouldn’t believe the story, but I wanted the address of the people we were just at. She gave me the address, I wrote a note and taped on the medal and said, ‘Please pass this on to your brother.’ I didn’t want to keep it and knew it was a sign for her brother.”
The woman had had many miscarriages, but not long after she and her husband received the medal, she became pregnant and they recently contacted Mandli to let her know that their prayers were a success. She had recently had a baby.
The experience changed Salerno’s thoughts on door-to-door evangelization.
“I feel the whole Pepto thing changed my way of thinking that night,” she said. “The medal was for the couple and it validated the good works for me. It makes me understand more that all of the things that have happened in my life, there are reasons for everything. This woman giving birth was an exact reason for going. Maybe if I hadn’t gone, maybe things had been different; I don’t know, but I do know that this has changed my perspective on doing things for others.”
Mandli hopes more parishioners will become involved in their door-to-door ministry, especially youth, because people respond to them positively.
“I hope we can do this year round, every Saturday, and maybe team up with other parishes and capture the whole Kenosha geography,” she said.