By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
When St. Michael Church in Duluth completed a major construction project, the parish wanted a way to get one particular group in the mix.
“We wanted to find a way for the teens and the younger people in our youth group to be involved in some way,” said Jake Nelson, youth minister and pastoral associate of the parish.
Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross
The beautiful idea proposed by the parish’s pastor, Father William Graham, was to have them go out to all the parishes in the Diocese of Duluth and collect holy water which would then be put into the new baptismal font. The idea was to symbolize the unity of the church in every part of the world.
It all came together at a Mass in the parish with Bishop Paul Sirba celebrating the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 11.
“We had all 83 parishes,” Nelson said — and more. As people started hearing about the project, there were gifts of water from other places, One person gave water from Ireland. Father Richard Kunst of St. John in Duluth gave water from the Jordan River, where Jesus himself was baptized.
“When Jake first sent out the email, I was like, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” said Sam Likar, a high school junior and one of the students who ended up collecting several bottles of holy water. She said people were very apprehensive and didn’t know how it would all get done, but Nelson encouraged them, and Likar also got support closer to home.
“My mom was my main motivator,” she said.
She not only encouraged, she assisted. “She drove me and two of my good girlfriends, because we’re terrible with directions,” Likar said.
The longest trip for her was to Tower and Ely, and along the way they encountered dense fog and were on the road until past dark. Every parish they tried was a little different, sometimes with Mass or something going on but more often with no one at the church, and the students looking to find the right door.
“It was fun,” she said. “It was an adventure.”
She said her friends were laughing the whole way, and they kept things fun with a couple of classic rock CDs and a CD of motivational music her mom played when they struck out at a couple of parishes.
Likar said she also got a few bottles around Duluth.
Nelson said about a dozen students participated to varying degrees, and he agreed that at first the students were a bit overwhelmed at the task, but once they got going and the work got divided up, it seemed less daunting.
Although it was a semester-long project, “most of it probably got done in about the last month,” he said.
In fact, Nelson went to eight parishes himself, including some of the really difficult ones people were having trouble getting. He estimates he logged about 1,000 miles himself. Among everyone involved he guessed there were “probably several thousand miles of driving.”
At the Mass, the students processed to the new baptismal font and brought all the water they collected with them, pouring them in one bottle at a time.
Likar said it was a little beyond what she expected, but it ended up being “really nice.” She said each bottle brought back a memory of what it took to get it. Each student was noted in the parish bulletin, along with the parishes from which they had collected holy water.
“It seems like a simple thing, but they all said they enjoyed that experience,” Nelson said. “... It was a fitting way to kind of sum up the project, I think.”
Nelson and Likar said parishioners were happy about the project and happy to see young people involved in parish life.
The font itself was made of marble in Morgan Park and designed so that a catechumen can step into it to be baptized.
Nelson said the project is only one part of a larger renovation project just completed that was initiated by the late Father Tom Radaich and carried through with energy and vision by Father Graham. It included an elevator, a redone roof and other improvements.
“The parish really came together to make it happen,” Nelson said.
He said that while the physical project is complete, the spiritual project to which it is connected, of growing parish life, is ongoing.