Lay ministry dedicated to vocations is looking to expand its prayer group
By Claire Collins
Yvonne Kidder, a parishioner of St. John Neumann in Farragut, hopes to encourage other women to join her in praying for the priests of the Diocese of Knoxville through a national organization called the Seven Sisters Apostolate.
Mrs. Kidder and six other women from St. John Neumann pray anonymously for the priesthood of their pastor, Father Joe Reed, and his needs and intentions. Every week, each woman makes a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament on one weekday, covering him in an hour of prayer every day, every week.
According to its website, “the Seven Sisters Apostolate is a call to strengthen the Church by ensuring that a holy hour is prayed each day of the week for the sole intention of a specific priest or bishop—a ‘holy wasting’ (cf. Matthew 26:8-13) or lavishing of prayer for his deeper conformity to Christ.”
The apostolate had not been something on Mrs. Kidder’s mind during her many years of faithful service to her parish and diocese. However, she recently felt the Lord had been bringing up this special intention, the priests of the diocese.
“My priests had not been on my heart. It’s just not something I was raised with, just the consciousness of them needing prayer,” Mrs. Kidder said. “Then Father Mark (Schuster) and Father Christopher (Floersh) came to St. John Neumann, and they would do these days of the week where you would come and pray for vocations. And they were such a blessing to our church. I’m like ‘OK, I’m going to start praying for vocations.’”
Father Schuster is now pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Crossville.
At first, Mrs. Kidder intended just to pray for priests on her own. Then, more Internet research led her to the Seven Sisters Apostolate and challenged her to reach out to more people in her own parish to pray for their priests together.
One moment that was particularly striking in her discernment to start a Seven Sisters group was when the mother of a good friend shared the same apostolate with her that she had come across in her Internet research.
“This must be God’s nudging,” Mrs. Kidder recalled thinking, “because here’s this random woman who I don’t know and my friend who thinks of me and says, ‘You’d be great for this.’”
She knew this was a divine invitation she could not say no to.
When asked what the prayers of Seven Sisters means to him, Father Reed responded, “When Yvonne first mentioned this project to me, it reminded me of a beautiful moment in the life of St. Benedict. St. Gregory the Great tells us in his Dialogues that, as he was nearing the end of his life, St. Benedict — who was aware that he was about to die — had some of the brethren take him to the oratory so that he could receive Holy Communion and pray. He was obviously weak at this point and was held up by the brethren so that he could stand and raise his hands in prayer, and that is how he died, praying and supported by his brothers. While I have no idea when I will die, I appreciate the support of the sisters, and I believe such prayers help us grow in holiness and prepare for death even as we live — together in community.”
One of the women in Mrs. Kidder’s Seven Sisters group, Mary Butcher, has a very personal reason why praying for our priests is important to her.
“I had been a part of this years ago in Ohio,” Mrs. Butcher recalled. “One of my older brothers was a priest for 17 years, but he left the priesthood, and it was so traumatic for my family; it was earth-shattering. I just had so much pain in my heart because I felt like I hadn’t prayed for my brother, who was a priest, enough. I would always pray on that, ‘Please don’t let this ever happen to anybody else’s family.’”
The group’s action is simple.
“This is not a group or a meeting,” Mrs. Kidder said. “It’s not even really a community. The priest doesn’t even really know who’s praying for him. I like that, I like the simplicity of it. Father Joe knows there is a group, and that’s about it.”
They have a group-text thread where they share inspiration, reminders, and encouragement. Beyond that, however, the only other responsibility is each woman’s holy hour.
While many of the women have hours of prayer already designated in their schedules, this hour they pray for Seven Sisters is separate from their own prayer for their life and intentions. It is only to be used for the intentions of their priest.
“At first I had all these prayers that came from the website and a little routine,” Mrs. Kidder said. “But it really had grown organically to become ‘Here I am Lord,’ for him. I give this hour for him.”
This same sentiment inspired Father Reed in a moment when he wondered how he could best be praying for someone else.
“I was once praying quietly with a student before the Blessed Sacrament,” Father Reed said. “He was having a rough day. I recall telling the Lord, ‘I don’t even know what to pray for — what does he need?’ A prayer immediately came to mind, ‘Lord, teach me to love each as I ought.’ I think that can be a fruitful prayer no matter who we are praying for.”
This is how Father Reed suggests coming to Our Lord when wanting to pray for our priests.
The apostolate has begun to grow, a group existing for each of the priests currently ministering or in residence at St. John Neumann: Father Reed, Father Floersh, Father Michael Maples, and Father Joseph Hammond, CHS. Mrs. Kidder has even recently become the volunteer coordinator for the diocese. She hopes, however, that the apostolate spreads beyond just her own parish.
“They have so many groups in New Orleans,” exclaimed Mrs. Kidder about the city where her friend’s mother was a part of Seven Sisters. “Every church, every priest. And so that’s my goal—to have every priest in our diocese covered in prayer.”
Mrs. Butcher believes firmly in the importance of this particular apostolate.
“Priests are calvary from Calvary,” she said. “This is so important to the Blessed Mother. The priests—these are her sons. They have such a big responsibility; they have to pray for us and watch out for us, but who prays for them? Who watches out for them? That’s what’s so beautiful about this Seven Sisters Apostolate.”
“These priests that we have,” she continued, “they were handpicked by our Lord and our Blessed Mother. They gave their fiats to them just like the Blessed Mother did. When they get out there, they’re responsible for our souls, but we must still be responsible for praying for them.”
For more information about the Seven Sisters and how to become a part of the apostolate, check out their website, sevensistersapostolate.org, or e-mail Yvonne Kidder at email@example.com.