News: Serving the Priests Who Serve Us

January 12, 2021

Children with Monsignor Robert Chamberlain

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Annie Doyle was with her prayer group at the Basilica of St. John Parish in Des Moines.

“We were praying and an image came into my head,” Doyle said. “It was a vine trying to grow between a rock and hard place. And I believe it was our priests. It was a year of struggle for everybody, but our priests are struggling by themselves.

“And so the next morning, the Holy Spirit plopped this fully formed idea that we need to take null care of our priests – physically, emotionally and spiritually and bolster them during this difficult time,” Doyle continued.

The fully formed idea included gifting all Des Moines metro area priests for the 12 days of Christmas – a gift each day of a meal, a material item they could use and a spiritual bouquet of prayers.

“And so I went on the diocesan website and just looked at how many priests there were in the metro area – and that was about 60 priests,” Doyle said.

After doing the math, she realized 60 priests receiving a gift every day for 12 days straight equaled 720 gifts. She sat on it for a few days.

“After three days I hit send on an email to maybe 50 people asking them to pray about this,” Doyle said, describing the need for volunteers to help contribute 720 meals, 720 gifts and 720 spiritual bouquets. “I also asked people to write a card to [to a priest detailing that] this is how I already have prayed for you or how I am going to pray for you for such and such day.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive.

“They offered Masses, prayers, rosaries, divine mercy chaplets,” she continued. “Over the course of all of this, we had people sign up to bring meals so that we could box them up in individual packages and get them frozen ahead of time, because we were going to be delivering these every day until the fifth of January from Christmas Day.”

nullThe list of donations and volunteers for cooking, baking, packing and delivering meals and gifts quickly filled up. As smoothly as the entire endeavor went, “it had to be the Holy Spirit,” Doyle added.

“One day we had lasagna, and that was accompanied by a gift,” Doyle said. “Another day it was soup or beef stew or pulled pork. We just had one set menu item and then one set gift that everybody got and spiritual bouquets.”

Lasagna, cookies, treats and a winter hats and gloves were other items gifted to the priests.

“I felt very strongly that the Holy Spirit was calling us to show that we are committed to taking care of our priests long term,” she said.

The Doyles own the Younkers Tea Room, which gave volunteers plenty of space to spread out and prepare for this special mission. Meals and gifts were packaged and frozen, and when the time came wheeled out to delivery drivers for a quick pick-up each of the 12 days.

Lynda Baker of St. Mary/Holy Cross Parish in Elkhart was one of those delivery drivers.  

Since a few metro priests declined the offer because of either dietary restrictions or being out of town, they had enough meals for some of the priests in the rural areas

“It was wonderful,” said Baker, who enjoyed driving to towns she had never been before, such as Chariton, Creston and Osceola. “Some of the priests live right across from the church in a rectory. It was just beautiful to actually experience that first hand.”

Many priests she encountered took time to visit, expressing joy and overwhelming gratitude with these unexpected gifts, particularly the letters written by children. Those in the rural areas were grateful to be included.

During her drives, Baker prayed the rosary for priests. As someone who has always felt God’s presence in nature, she was touched to see eight bald eagles gathered together on her first day on the rural route; the next day she saw three.

“That’s how God really shows his presence [to me],” Baker added.

Doyle hopes that by next Christmas, COVID-19 concerns will be much lower so people can spend more time with their priests. She hopes families will consider taking turns adopting their parish priest for a day for the 12 days of Christmas.

“What kept popping into my head during this is that people function better when they know they are appreciated,” Doyle said. “And I think some of us are so grateful for everything our priests do, but we have to show that we appreciate them so they know it. It makes it so much easier for them to continue with their work. I hope the priests were blessed by this and I hope that we can have some organized method of showing our appreciation as the laity going forward.”