Sunday, October 17, 2021

Seven Women, Seven Days: A New Ministry of Prayer for Priests

Seven Sisters member Tam Vo prays a holy hour for her pastor, Father Robert Gillelan, at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lebanon.
Seven Sisters member Tam Vo prays a holy hour for her pastor, Father Robert Gillelan, at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lebanon.

A ministry has sprouted in the Diocese of Harrisburg dedicated to praying for parish priests — seven days a week, 365 days a year. Known as the Seven Sisters Apostolate, the ministry invites a parish-based group of seven laywomen to commit to praying a holy hour each week for their pastors.

“It’s a unique way of praying for our priest’s deeper conformity to Christ, for his intentions, as well as for his sanctity,” said Patty Price, who brought the ministry to her parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lebanon, about six months ago, after hearing about it in other parishes. “I immediately knew that it was something the Lord was calling me to do, something I felt compelled to do.”

Seven Sisters was founded in 2010 by Janette Howe, a laywoman from St. Paul, Minn., who sensed a nudge to pray more frequently for her pastor and did so for an hour each week. Eventually, Howe felt God calling her to invite six other “sisters” to also take a holy hour during the week to pray for their pastor. Word spread, and the group grew to its current state of over a thousand Seven Sisters groups around the world.

On their appointed day of the week, Seven Sisters women pray a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, either during Eucharistic Adoration or with the Sacrament reposed in the tabernacle. A focus is placed on praying for the entire person of the priest: his physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs, and for him to develop a greater devotion to the Blessed Mother. The adorer can pray in whatever fashion she feels inspired to, but the apostolate provides many suggested prayers, like the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Litany of Saints for Priests.

A coordinator of the group is named for each parish, who is responsible for making sure the groups are running smoothly, and to organize substitutes as needed. However, other than the initial setup, there are no meetings and no impositions on the pastors, according to Price, who serves as the apostolate coordinator for the diocese.

“The pastor may not even know who the women are, although the coordinator gives him a courtesy notification that these prayers are being offered for him, just because every pastor should know what’s going on in their parish,” Price said. “The ministry is done very quietly and behind the scenes.”

Women interested in joining Seven Sisters must discern if the ministry is right for them, according to Price. But the ministry exists for any woman who feels called and who can make the sacrifice of time.

“All of us in this apostolate, as well as any Catholic who prays for their priests, offer their prayers wholeheartedly — just as our priests wholeheartedly give us the Body and Blood of Christ,” Price said.

The apostolate’s patron saints are the Madonna of the Grapes, a title and image of Our Lady that invokes her intimacy with priests; Saint John Vianney, patron saint of all priests; and Saint Margaret Clitherow, an English married lay woman who was martyred for protecting priests during the late 16th century persecutions of Catholics in England.

“The ladies in our group love our pastor and because of that this ministry started up in a heartbeat!” said MaryAnn Wertz, a member of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Cornwall. “So many souls need spiritual attention and what better way to help them than by a commitment of prayer for their shepherd! I treasure my weekly hour of prayer and look forward to going each week. I think we all feel that Our Lady has given us this special assignment and I wish it for every single priest.”

In just a couple of years, Seven Sisters has spread rapidly across the Diocese of Harrisburg, with about 30 parish-based groups participating. Interested women can get connected with the apostolate at sevensistersharrisburg@gmail.com.

“While it may seem a little ambitious on my part, my hope and prayer is that we had the apostolate enacted in all the parishes in the Diocese so that all of our priests and retired priests can be lifted up in daily holy hour,” Price said.

By Mariah Chuprinski, Special to The Catholic Witness

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