St. Clair Shores parish offers unique ministry designed for grandparents

Catholic Grandparents Association helps older adults minister to grandchildren, keep in touch with other grandparents

Grandparents help children offer flowers to the Blessed Mother during a May crowning last year at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in St. Clair Shores. The parish is the first to sponsor a chapter of the Catholic Grandparents Association in Michigan and the third in the United States.

ST. CLAIR SHORES — It was Divine Mercy Sunday, and St. Margaret of Scotland parishioner Celine LaTorre was watching a television program, when a woman on the screen caught her attention.

The person was Catherine Wiley, talking about a ministry she started in Walsingham, England, called the Catholic Grandparents Association.

For the longest time, LaTorre said she felt in her heart the need to do something for grandparents in her parish, and when she saw Wiley on the screen, she finally knew what it was.

“There are so many grandparents raising their grandchildren or who care for them daily,” LaTorre said. “I felt there was a need to do something, and I was praying about it, asking for spiritual direction.”

LaTorre tracked down Wiley’s phone number and the contact information for the head of the Catholic Grandparents Association in the United States.

After a few meetings with the parish council, along with approval from St. Margaret of Scotland’s pastor, Fr. Ronald DeHondt, and Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, the Catholic Grandparents Association’s St. Margaret of Scotland Parish chapter was established on March 25, 2015, just the third such chapter in the United States.

The chapter meets every fourth Wednesday of the month following the 9 a.m. Mass, serving primarily as a social gathering and support group for grandparents in and out of the parish, but the group has taken up initiatives within the parish as well.

“For Christmas time, we sent poinsettias to shut-ins, sending over 40 of them to nursing homes,” LaTorre said. “We had a May crowning last year, gathering the grandchildren together. We do little arts and crafts projects with them, planning things grandparents can do with their grandchildren over the weekend.”

Nancy O’Malley joined the Catholic Grandparents Association chapter to learn about how she could share her faith with her grandchildren and join in fellowship with other grandparents.

“We have monthly meetings where we discuss how we can help other people,” O’Malley said. “We came up with the idea of taking a notebook and collecting information about our grandchildren, like what’s their favorite food, what do they want to do for a career, any special intentions they want us to pray for.”

O’Malley said her grandchildren range in age from 8 to 18, and the notebook helps her and other grandparents stay in touch with their grandchildren, primarily through phone calls and texts, keeping up a dialogue of faith between the two generations.

“The older ones really appreciate the prayers, and the younger ones were interested in telling me about what’s on their minds,” O’Malley said. “It’s about keeping the avenue of communication open, talking to them, finding out more about them. There is a piece of paper, a little note, where we write down what they want us to pray for, and we bring those papers up at our meetings.”

The Catholic Grandparents Association officially launched in England in September 2009, and in January of 2014 it was first presented to the United States. St. Margaret’s chapter, open to parishioners and non-parishioners alike, is the third in the country, and St. Margaret faith formation director Amy Sledz says it’s already become a staple in parish life.

“Celine is the one who contacted Catherine Wiley and did all the legwork and paperwork necessary to get this thing going,” Sledz said. “We maintain contact with Catherine Wiley, receiving monthly newsletters. We had our first meeting in March 2015, with approval from Fr. DeHondt, and we’ve become very active, volunteering in the parish picnic; this year we plan on having the group do the May crowning.”

O’Malley said the small chapter also sponsors a foster child through the PIME Missionaries, a 15-month-old named Maurice who lives in Southeast Asia.

“We donate $20 a month to care for this child, and we sold a cookbook to raise funds,” O’Malley said. “We asked the parish what recipes they’d like to share, and we succeeded in raising more than $300 for a little nest egg to take care of Maurice.”

Whether it’s taking care of the grandkids for the weekend, or adopting one a world away, LaTorre said the mission of the Catholic Grandparents Association is straightforward: to raise awareness that being a grandparent is a ministry, and an important one at that.

“Sometimes, children can feel lost, especially if both parents are working, sometimes they are hurting inside with no one to turn to,” LaTorre said. “Grandparents need to be someone children can turn to to ask for prayer, consolation.

“The role of being a grandparent is a role we must accept right now. Grandchildren are the future, and if we don’t build a basis of Christ-life in them, then what will that future look like?”