At Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana, more than 80 parishioners are part of a group called SVD Associates. Former pastor Fr. Rofinus Jas, SVD encouraged the members of the community to join the mission by organizing a formal group of lay partners that officially formed in 2017, shortly after Fr. Rofinus was relocated for another assignment.
The goal of the group is to inspire lay Catholics to learn more about the spirituality of the Society of the Divine Word, stay connected with the SVDs serving around the world and pray for the success of their missions.
Current President Christenia Ventress has been involved since the group started. She wanted to participate in something concrete that would set an example for the young people in the parish. She was also interested in finding ways to help the Divine Word Missionaries. One event the SVD Associates is involved in is an annual banquet on the Feast Day of the Society’s founder, St. Arnold Janssen. They invite the community and Divine Word Missionary members from the region.
“It gave the laity an opportunity to render service back to the very people who have dedicated themselves to serving us,” Christenia said.
The SVD Associates holds prayer services, reflections and meditations to pray for Divine Word Missionary Priests and Brothers, as well as their missionary endeavors. They also roll up their sleeves and join the mission.
“Being an SVD lay partner gave me an opportunity to give back because I feel that my church has given so much to me,” Christenia said. “I just felt that this could be something to encourage the youth because we need young people in the church. So if they could see us be productively active, not just being a lector or an extraordinary minister, or a CCD teacher, but doing something more outside the church in the realm of the community and serving, that could inspire them.”
In 2017, the SVD Associates started an annual youth conference to teach young people about the Society of the Divine Word through presentations, musical performances, mission talks, and group discussions. The missionary spirit of the order resonates with the attendees and allows them to network with faith-filled peers from other parishes.
Every third Saturday, the group holds a day of reflection, prayer, meditation and a business meeting. On Sunday afternoons, some members of the lay organization visit the homes of elderly parishioners and pray with them. These simple acts remind the aging members of the community that the church needs them and appreciates them. The organization also established a teleconference on Fridays during the pandemic to allow parishioners to safely call in and join each other as they pray the rosary.
Fr. Lambert Lein, SVD currently serves as pastor at Holy Ghost and says the vibrant group of lay missionaries plays an important role. The SVD Associates help to spread the spirituality and charism of the Society of the Divine Word while also tending to their own personal responsibilities.
“It takes a dedicated person who really wants to give their time for that to happen,” he said.
Rose Sam is the secretary of SVD Associates. She got involved because she was excited about the idea of foreign missions in exotic locations. She quickly realized that there are plenty of opportunities for her and the other members of the group to get involved and make a difference much closer to home.
“I’ve come to learn that missionary work can be in my own community,” Rose said.
In addition to their local efforts, some members of the organization have used Zoom to meet and connect with other lay partners. They hope their work will continue to serve their own community and inspire others to become active lay partners in their own parishes.