Mendon parish’s initiative shines light on acts of kindness - Catholic Courier
A priest raises his hands to bless people.

Parishioners recognized through the Star Lights initiative are blessed during a Jan. 7 Mass at Mendon’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Mendon parish’s initiative shines light on acts of kindness

“Just so, your light must shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16)

Those good deeds also may garner recognition here on earth, if they’re carried out by members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Mendon.

In 2004, the parish launched its Star Lights initiative, through which parishioners highlight each others’ good works and acts of kindness. Parishioners have recognized more then 465 acts of kindness in the 20 years since the program began, according to Karen Zielinksi, one of the initiative’s founders.

“Sometimes they were big deeds. Sometimes they were really small deeds. It just never ceases to amaze me what people will do to reach out to others, or the kindness in their hearts, or where they see a need and act,” Zielinski remarked.

Mendon parishioners observe, recognize others’ acts of kindness

Through the Star Lights initiative, St. Catherine parishioners are encouraged to take action when they observe fellow parishioners carrying out acts of kindness. Those who observe good deeds write short notes describing what they witnessed and the names of those who carried out the deeds, then submit them to the parish.

Zielinksi then types those notes onto special paper with the Star Lights logo and mails them to the individuals being recognized. The notes also are published in the parish bulletin and posted on a bulletin board in church, but the recognition doesn’t end there.

“They’re also invited to the annual blessing Mass,” Zielinski said.

At this Mass, which typically takes place in January, all of the Star Lights nomination notes from the previous 12 months are posted on a bulletin board in the church. The individuals being recognized are called forward one by one to light a votive candle.

“That stays lit for the rest of the Mass. Everyone extends their hands, and we do a blessing over these people. At the end of Mass, they come up and they get their candles, and they process out along with the priest. It’s really a beautiful Mass,” Zielinski said.

The Star Lights initiative grew out of a desire to incorporate stewardship as a way of life

The Star Lights initiative grew out of an early 2000s push to make stewardship a way of life at St. Catherine, Zielinski said. This goal started with St. Catherine’s pastor at the time, Father James Lawlor, and a committee of parishioners spent an entire year learning about stewardship and educating themselves and their fellow parishioners about it, Zielinski said. When many Catholics hear the word “stewardship,” they immediately think about money, but stewardship is about so much more than money, she explained.

Stewardship is a journey of faith and a complete lifestyle that involves the grateful receiving and responsible management of God’s gifts, as well as the “eager sharing of them as expressed in prayer, worship, offering and action,” according to the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Stewardship and Communications’ website.

“One of the tenets of stewardship is that you develop your gifts and you share them, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with Star Lights,” explained Ann Jozwiak, the founding chairperson of St. Catherine’s Stewardship Committee.

Once Stewardship Committee members decided they wanted to find a way to recognize parishioners who shared their gifts, it didn’t take them long to connect the fledgling initiative to Jesus’ directive to his disciples — found in Matthew 5:16 — to let their light shine before others, Zielinski added.

“What Star Lights did is it helped parishioners recognize acts of stewardship in their everyday activities,” she said.

Star Lights honorees are ambassadors for all who do good deeds

Since these small acts of stewardship came naturally to many parishioners, some of them at first felt embarrassed when their efforts were recognized, Zielinski recalled. Some protested, saying they weren’t looking for recognition, and these good deeds were just what they do, she said. Eventually, however, parishioners’ embarrassment faded.

“They understand it more,” Zielinski said. “They understand they become the ambassadors for all of the people who do good deeds. These are the people who happened to be recognized, kind of caught in the act, but they’re representing everyone.”

Some of the good deeds take place inside church, while others occur in the community, she said.

Leslie Hulbert, for example, was recognized for cutting flowers from her garden for the centerpieces used during the luncheons following funerals at St. Catherine. Cathy Battaglia, meanwhile, was commended for her efforts to support a friend whose husband was battling cancer.

Battaglia said she was touched by the recognition. The Star Lights initiative shines a light on the many people in the parish community who give of their selves to help others, she said.

“I think this awareness encourages others to look for opportunities to serve those in need,” she added.

Tags: Faith in Action, Monroe County East
Copyright © 2024 Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

You May Also Enjoy

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters