Attendance surges at Immaculate Heart of Mary
By Tom Gresham
When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, the bells at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston rang 84 times to signify the pontiff’s age.
The wind was apparently blowing hard that afternoon, said Pastor Donald Ravey, because when parishioners arrived for mass that evening many said they had received some comfort at the sound of the bells.
Bernadette Ferenc, a Williston resident and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church parishioner, said she heard the slow tolling of the bells.
“I felt compelled to go to evening mass,” Ferenc said. “It was very moving, very emotional.”
Ravey said local worshippers have been praying and paying their respects to Pope John Paul II in the days since his death, just like millions of others around the world. The pope’s passing after a 26-year tenure in his position at the Vatican was a powerful event to many Catholics, Ravey said.
Ravey said his church has seen an obvious increase in visitors over the past two weeks. The Immaculate Heart of Mary held a special morning mass in the John Paul’s memory last week that attracted a large crowd and services the past two weekends have also featured strong attendances.
Ferenc said Ravey’s memorial mass felt like an intimate funeral service.
“It helped to put some closure on his passing for me,” said Ferenc, who is proud to share John Paul’s Polish heritage. “I had been watching everything on television, but it put a little more of a personal aspect on it.”
Ravey said the Immaculate Heart of Mary has also displayed a portrait of the pontiff.
“People have just been coming in regularly to pray and to pay their respects and to reflect on what he has meant to them,” Ravey said.
Ravey said he does not know of any parishioners from the Immaculate Heart of Mary traveling to the Vatican to witness the memorial ceremonies for Pope John Paul II, but their attachment to the departed has been evident. Ferenc said the pope’s influence spread well beyond the Catholic Church. Ravey agreed.
“He really had a far-reaching effect on a lot of people,” Ravey said. “He related well to everybody.”
Ravey said younger parishioners have been particularly curious about the process of tapping a successor to the papacy. The 117 members of the College of Cardinals will soon meet in the Sistene Chapel to elect a new pope.
“This is the only pope they’ve ever known,” Ravey said. “They’re learning what happens now. They can’t imagine anyone else as pope.”
Ravey said the positive media attention that has followed in the wake of the pope’s death represents a chance for the Catholic Church to renew relationships with former parishioners who have drifted from being active in the faith. The Catholic Church has struggled in recent years to escape the negative effects of a clergy sex scandal.
“It certainly is an opportunity because the coverage has just been great through all of this,” Ravey said. “It’s gotten so much attention. Many people have been called to come back. He’s reaching out even in death.”