Rosary remains an outlet for love at Ferguson parish

Lisa Johnston |
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The Appel family has grown by one in the two years since the faith community at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish first gathered in prayer after the death of Michael Brown nearby in a police officer-involved shooting.

Just 11 days old, Thomas Joseph "T.J." Appel joined mom Betsy, dad Jeff, brothers Michael and Jimmy and sisters Clare and Abby for a Rosary Aug. 29 at the parish's Our Lady of Lourdes grotto, marking the two-year anniversary of the shooting. About 50 people attended the Rosary, led now as it was then by pastor Father Robert Rosebrough.

"His first Rosary!" Father Rosebrough said of T.J., who soon will be officially baptized into the Church.

Abby was the baby of the family two years ago when the Appels came to that first Rosary.

"We just needed an outlet where we could all see each other and love each other; this was a great place to do that," Jeff Appel said. "Same thing now: just come back and refill the cup of love. That's why we came."

In addition to the first Rosary, the Appels attended a back-to-school gathering the next night at Blessed Teresa School. At the time, Michael was in sixth grade, and Jimmy in first. (They're in eighth and third grade now, respectively, and Clare has joined them at Blessed Teresa, in kindergarten.)

"The thing I thought was the coolest ... was the back-to-school thing; that was the Tuesday after the trouble happened," Appel said. "It was amazing. Some people were afraid to come, but it was a fantastic turnout."

Around 500 people showed up that night at school, which opened on schedule two days later while public districts postponed the start of the school year. Likewise, nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe School opened as scheduled, and the parish's Hispanic Festival went off as planned the weekend after the shooting.

"Again, it was the same thing; you just needed somewhere to fill the cup of love," Appel said. "It was such a powerful, amazing time. Our school is so diverse and so inclusive of everybody. It just made you feel good. It gave you have that sense of belonging: We're still a community. I think that was key."

An enduring myth in the violent aftermath of Brown's death is that the Catholic Church was nowhere to be found in the Ferguson uprising, but it's just that: a myth.

The Catholic community was responding even before the violence that came to be known as, simply, Ferguson. Four women from the Blessed Teresa Parish — Jeanne Baer, Cathy Cunningham, Bernadette Dalton and Dorothy Frese — came up with the Rosary idea on Aug. 10, the day after the shooting and the afternoon before the first violence.

"We had to do something," Baer said.

Baer, the parish's pastoral associate, bounced the idea off Father Rosebrough, who agreed that prayer was a good idea.

Father Rosebrough led the Rosary for the next 12 Mondays, with crowds of 100 to 150 from parishes and communities throughout the Archdiocese. Father Rosebrough participated in several peaceful marches, Guadalupe pastoral associate Sister Cathy Doherty visited the scene of the violence with former Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice and former Guadalupe pastor Msgr. Jack Schuler. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson also visited Ferguson, and archdiocesan priests ministered to police as chaplains. This was all in the first nine days.

"People kept asking me, 'What are you going to do? What are you going to do?'" said Father Rosebrough, whose answer was to keep praying. "The Lord will show you the way."

The Lord's way has been manifested tangibly by the Saints Hall of Fame in Blessed Teresa School. The Hall honors saints beyond the usual saints, such as St. Kateri Tekawith, St. Andrew Du Lac and St. Martin de Porres. Paintings of Father Augustus Tolton and Sister Thea Bowman, who are in the pipeline toward sainthood, also adorn the back wall in church.

It's also been manifested in an intangible way with how the Hall of Fame and the church paintings have touched students, parents and parishioners. Same at Guadalupe, which hosted monthly Faith in Ferguson prayer services after Brown's death and lived its "hope and acceptance" motto long before, during and since the strife of two years ago.

So, Catholic parishes, Cardinal Ritter Senior Services and Catholic Charities minister to all races and all religious backgrounds, as they have before and since Aug. 9, 2014, and will well into the future.

"There's such a great spirit here," Appel said. "People love it here. They love the community. They love the diversity. They're happy being here." 

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