Irene O’Neil places a high priority on her Catholic faith. A member of Our Lady of the Snow Parish in northern Cayuga County, O’Neil routinely attends both Sunday and daily masses, and regularly prays the rosary and goes to confession.
In O’Neil’s opinion, prayer is a powerful force and the one thing that ties together all those different facets of her faith.
"It accomplishes an awful lot of things," she said.
For these reasons, O’Neil and several other parishioners joined forces about a year ago and formed the Holy Family Prayer Group.
The prayer group is open to all baptized Catholics, regardless of whether they belong to Our Lady of the Snow. Members typically meet on the third Thursday evening of each month at St. Joseph Church in Weedsport, which is one of the parish’s three worship sites. In July 2005 St. Joseph combined with St. John Church in Port Byron and St. Patrick Church in Cato to form Our Lady of the Snow Parish.
"As far as I know, there’s never been a prayer group at our church, or any of the churches in the (parish)," O’Neil said. "So far, we just love it."
Each meeting of the Holy Family Prayer Group is divided into three sections, O’Neil said. Prayer-group members begin each meeting by gathering in front of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Joseph, where they pray the rosary for about 20 minutes. After that, members pray a few specific prayers or sing hymns before going downstairs to the church’s meeting room, O’Neil said.
Downstairs, the prayer-group members spend the next 20 or 30 minutes learning more about their faith. Since its inception last summer, the group has been studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, using a copy with commonly asked questions and answers printed inside, O’Neil said.
"We study. We’re trying to be better Catholics. We should know our faith. In order to love God, you have to know him," O’Neil said.
Prayer-group members read the catechism’s questions and answers and discuss the parts they’re confused about or particularly interested in. O’Neil keeps a Catholic dictionary handy in case they’re unclear about any terminology, and Our Lady of the Snow’s pastor, Father Malachy Nwosu, has told her to write down and pass along to him any remaining questions the group members still have after their discussion.
Each member of the prayer group brings his or her own unique experiences and insights to the discussion, which greatly enriches the discussion and makes it more well-rounded, said Rick Ducayne, who along with his wife, Judy, is a charter member of the group.
"We help each other as we go through the catechism," Ducayne said.
This study portion of the prayer group is valuable, Ducayne said, because most Catholics need a "refresher course" on the basic tenets of their faith. Studying the catechism also has helped him learn things he didn’t know about his faith and how to put that faith into action. For example, at a recent meeting prayer-group members talked about the Ten Commandments and how they can be applied to everyday life, Ducayne noted.
In Ducayne’s eyes, prayer is strongly linked to religious studies.
"Anything that increases your knowledge of the faith also enriches your prayer life. Our prayer is our faith; our prayer expresses our faith, so as you improve one you improve the other," Ducayne said.
After studying the catechism, the prayer-group members move on to the third and final part of the meeting, during which they discuss any group business and schedule the next meeting, O’Neil said.
O’Neil, whom Ducayne described as the "spark plug" of the group, decided to help found a prayer group at Our Lady of the Snow in part because she yearned to improve her prayer life, she said. Once the group was formed, she and the other members decided to name it the Holy Family Prayer Group because they wanted to spread the message that the group is open to everyone, from children to senior citizens.
The Ducaynes joined the group because they felt the need to pray with fellow parishioners in a community setting and to engage in monthly instruction in the basics of their faith, Rick Ducayne said. The Holy Family Prayer Group has given him and his wife a new way to more actively practice their faith, he added.
"Everyone should go to Mass every Sunday, and the graces that flow through Mass … are unbelievably great," Ducayne said.
Catholics are challenged to take those graces out into the world and incorporate them into their daily lives, and his participation in the prayer group gives him the strength to answer that challenge, he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the Holy Family Prayer Group, contact Our Lady of the Snow Parish at 315/834-6266.