P16POF--Felicitas_Gutierrez-002Felicitas Gutierrez believes “prayer is the key to God’s heart.”

Every day upon awakening, she asks God, “What gift are you going to give me today?” “And every day he gives me a gift,” she said.

Gutierrez places priests “second to God because they celebrate the Mass,” and praying for priests has become one of her missions.

She tries to encourage retired priests especially by visiting them, sometimes taking flowers or sharing a lunch.

“They are lonely and welcome the visits,” she said.

Fr. James Kimla, her pastor at St. Joseph, Wauwatosa, describes Gutierrez as “very enthusiastic, with a great desire to share (faith) with as many people as possible. She has a great respect for priests and has many endeavors.”

On a life-changing visit to St. Eugene Cathedral in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1996, Gutierrez was introduced to the Pilgrim Cross, a blessed crucifix traveling among the parishioners (much as a Pilgrim Virgin statue), but especially to encourage prayers for priests and vocations.

Felicitas Gutierrez

Age: 78

Parish: St. Joseph, Wauwatosa

Occupation: Retired nurse

Favorite movie: “Father Pio”

Book recently read: “The Shepherdess,” by Rick Birk

Favorite quotation: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!
The Lord’s love for us is strong;
The Lord is faithful forever.
Hallelujah.” Psalm 117

(Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

When Gutierrez returned to the Midwest, she wondered if she could introduce the Pilgrim Cross to the Chicago area.

“How can I do this? I’m just a peanut,” she wondered.

She presented the idea of encouraging prayers for priests to Fr. John Rudnik, pastor at Transfiguration of the Lord Parish, and asked him to bless a Pilgrim Cross and start the program in that Chicago parish.

“Is it kosher, what I’m thinking about?” she asked Fr. Rudnik.

He suggested she talk to a priest at Mundelein Seminary for approval.

“If not, I’m off the hook.”

The Mundelein priest heartily approved.

On the Feast of Christ the King in November 1997, the Pilgrim Cross was introduced at all Masses at Transfiguration Parish and then was presented to a designated family with appropriate prayers and blessings. That recipient took the cross home and arranged a special setting to spend time in daily prayer (at least one rosary for vocations to the priesthood and in support of priests) for the week it would be in the home. The next weekend the cross was returned and another family or individual was entrusted with the cross and the daily prayer. And so the prayers for vocations and priests became an integral part of that parish. One man entered the diaconate program shortly thereafter and is still working at the parish, while another is currently in the seminary and awaits ordination in a few months, said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez continues searching for others to help spread prayer for priests. Most of her work has been done through the Filipino community. Insisting that it is “better if more are praying (for priests),” Gutierrez, with the help of others, spread the program to six more parishes in Chicago.

In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, a current Pilgrim Cross program is flourishing at Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, under the oversight of Fran and Frank Soya who organize a signup by quarters and print a weekly bulletin reminder. Begun five years ago with the blessings of then-pastor Fr. Mike Grellinger, it has flourished under the present pastor, Fr. Robert Drutowski. During May, June and July, special prayers and the Pilgrim Cross exchange will take place weekly at the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass at Queen of Apostles.

“I am just the initiator,” said Gutierrez. “I talk about it, get it started and then I move on. It’s not me. Blame the Holy Spirit.”

Every day, Gutierrez also has a “special word.” The day of this interview, her word was “Holy Boldness,” which she hoped would enable her to encourage others to pray for priests and priestly vocations.

For more information about the Pilgrim Cross:

Contact Gutierrez at (262) 785-0738.

Fr. Don Hying, rector of Saint Francis Seminary, will preside at a Mass at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 6 at St. Pius X Parish, 2506 N. Wauwatosa Ave., in Wauwatosa, sponsored by the lay Filipino Catholics of Milwaukee. Donations to the seminary welcome.

Born and raised in metro Manila, Philippines, Gutierrez is from a family of nine children where she learned to share and to be good and kind to people.

“I am like this because of my parents. Every day we prayed the Angelus. No matter where we were at that time, (6 p.m.) we would run home, not asking why, to pray as a family. After the meal, we would pray the rosary as a family,” recalled Gutierrez.

After attending a Maryknoll high school, she became a nurse and worked for the Red Cross. In 1964, she moved to Chicago to work at St. Joseph Hospital.

In her sister Norma’s Brookfield home, where she now lives, an entire basement room is a shrine with many statues and religious pictures. It has been a meeting place for a Thursday night prayer group, the Marian Movement of priests, begun by her sister 15 years ago.

“The Blessed Mother says everyone should be in a prayer group,” said Gutierrez. “That’s why we are here.”

When possible, the weekly meetings include a Mass, offered by Fr. Juvenalis Asantemungu from Africa, who is a doctoral student at Marquette University. The group has contributed to his native parish, donating money that helped to build a small retreat center with a chapel. Currently, their donations are going toward the purchase of a Land Rover vehicle to enable the priest to cover the many miles of primitive roads in the parish.

With the help of others in 1997, Gutierrez also fashioned and sent a spiritual bouquet to Pope John Paul II that included several hundred offerings of prayers in various forms – rosaries, Masses, etc. She suggests similar bouquets as a way for parishes or individual members to thank their priests. Currently, she is also gathering prayers for a spiritual bouquet for Pope Benedict XVI.

Before this Year for Priests closes in June, Gutierrez hopes to have special Masses offered for all priests.

“I would like priests to know that the people love them. They are being attacked; the church is being attacked,” she said.

Most of all, Gutierrez wishes that the prayers and recognition for priests will continue to grow stronger beyond this special year dedicated to them.