Bishop O'Connell joined members of the Morning Star Family Prayer Group in St. Peter Church, Point Pleasant Beach, the evening of Oct. 2. Staff photos.
Bishop O'Connell joined members of the Morning Star Family Prayer Group in St. Peter Church, Point Pleasant Beach, the evening of Oct. 2. Staff photos.

It came as a pleasant surprise to Conventual Franciscan Father Pedro de Oliveira and the other Franciscan friars from St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, to have Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., appear on their friary doorstep one recent evening.

Father de Oliveira, parish pastor, said the Bishop unexpectedly arrived to the parish Oct. 2 to make a pastoral visit and spend some time with the friars: Father Richard Rossell, Father Brennan-Joseph Farleo, and Father Michael Lorentsen, pastor of St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park, who was also present. During dinner, Father de Oliveira had to excuse himself from the table and go over to the church to lead Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

He told the Bishop how every Wednesday, the parish holds Eucharistic Adoration from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and that the parish group that is assigned to lead a Holy Hour and be in attendance with the Blessed Sacrament for the last hour of the day are families involved with the parish’s recently formed Morning Star Family Prayer Group. On any given Wednesday, there are at least 15 children from St. Peter School and the parish religious education program and their families who spend the hour before the Blessed Sacrament, reciting the Rosary and other prayers and singing songs.

Happy to hear about the Morning Star Family Prayer Group and the initiative to bring families together, Bishop O’Connell not only accompanied Father de Oliveira to the church but was also the one invited to lead the Benediction and take time to interact with the families.

“It was a special evening,” Father de Oliveira said, noting that the friars appreciated the Bishop’s “fraternal surprise visit,” only two days before the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4. The families, as well, were happy to have Bishop O’Connell join in praying the Rosary, preside over Benediction and offer the final blessing.

It was a beautiful witness to see Bishop O’Connell with the families, Father de Oliveira said, noting that the Bishop spoke about vocations to the priesthood and encouraged the families to continue developing their relationship with the Lord through prayer.

Father de Oliveira explained that the Morning Star Family Prayer Group was introduced during Lent of this year, shortly after he and Conventual Franciscan Father Marek Stybor arrived to serve in the parish. The purpose of the group, he said, was to help children develop an understanding about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the mother of Jesus and “our mother,” and “to encourage families to pray together as a family – for families to pray for the overall health of the family – spiritual, emotional and physical – as well as to pray that peace and harmony exists in all families,” said Father de Oliveira. He noted that the group follows the school calendar year and meets each Wednesday from September through June. He said the group’s name, Morning Star, was chosen in honor of the Blessed Mother.

“Like the morning star announces the coming day and is reflected in the light of the sun, it is Mary who appears on the horizon of salvation history, and it is she who is showing us the way to Christ,” said Father de Oliveira.

Debbie Smith-Matta, who assisted Father de Oliveira and Father Stybor with organizing the prayer group and oversees any group-related activities, smiled as she reflected on how meaningful it was to have Bishop O’Connell pray the Rosary with the group and then preside over Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

“The group was so honored and blessed to have him present,” said Smith-Matta, who participates in the group with her husband and two children who attend St. Peter School. “The children were very excited because [the Bishop’s visit] was a pleasant surprise.”

Smith-Matta commented on how the group has more than doubled in size since its inception seven months ago and that the children are “becoming more independent and involved with the setup and clean up, in addition to [learning about and reciting] the prayers themselves.

“It is a pleasure to be doing something good for the community of St. Peter’s, for our families and all those for whom we pray,” she said.

Ann Marie Hanley is one parishioner who enjoys attending the weekly Holy Hour with her three children, Marianne, 9, a fourth-grader in St. Peter School; Keith “KJ,” 7, a second-grader, and Raymond, 3, and how it “provides families an opportunity to support each other in prayer and adoration.”

Noting that the children enjoy leading the recitation of the Rosary with guidance provided by Father de Oliveira, Hanley said, “There are truly no words to describe how sweet Wednesday evenings are in St. Peter’s. [The Holy Hours are] something the children and I look forward to every week. For one hour, the world stops around us. We focus on each other and our faith.”

“My parents raised me to believe, ‘A family that prays together stays together,’” Hanley continued, explaining that through the program, “Now I am passing on the same message to my children.”