Catholics Returning Home series to open in Coal Valley

COAL VALLEY — Don’t hesitate.

That’s what Jean Briggs would like people to know if they have been away from the Catholic Church but are now looking for a way to come “home.”
The Alpha woman knows what she’s talking about.

After 24 years of not being part of the church she loved so much, Briggs returned last fall with the help of a program called “Catholics Returning Home” at St. Maria Goretti Church, 210 E. 22nd Ave. Another six-week series will begin on Monday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m.

The program is intended for anyone who is interested in returning to a more active practice of their faith. In addition to sharing their stories in a supportive setting, participants will be able to learn about what has been happening in the church and refresh their understanding of the sacraments and other church teachings.

“Catholics Returning Home” is coordinated by Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB, pastoral associate at St. Maria Goretti. Briggs credited her warmth and compassion for making the road home a relatively easy one.

“I FELT like I’d known her forever. She put all of us at ease,” Briggs told The Catholic Post. “The first night we shared stories. There was no judging, no ‘Oh my gosh!’ She was representing God. I knew I was in the right place.”

Married very young and divorced, Briggs felt unwelcome in church when she married again outside of the Catholic Church.

“Divorce was not accepted in those days. You got married and you stayed married,” she explained.

In addition to the guilt she felt, Briggs couldn’t go to Communion and that separation hurt her very much, she said.

Even so, she continued to go to Mass and raised her children in the Catholic faith. When they graduated, however, “I got out of the habit of going.”

That was in 1984.

AFTER HER husband died in 2007, Briggs started thinking about coming back.

“Every day I would try to get myself to make the phone call,” she told The Post. “But I was afraid. I kept putting it off.”

When she saw the story about Catholics Returning Home in an issue of The Catholic Post last year, she read it through two or three times and then picked up the phone to call Sister Sandra before she could talk herself out of it.

Born and raised a Catholic, she longed to be back in the church and receive the sacraments, Briggs said.

“I feel it was truly God’s help. My prayer life had increased and I was asking for help,” she said.

Briggs noted that it helped to hear the stories of others who had been away and to know that she wasn’t alone. She still feared that she wouldn’t be able to return to Communion, even if she celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation.

“I was still in the dark,” she admitted. “There were a lot of unknowns.”

WHEN SHE went to a communal penance service last December at St. Maria Goretti she wasn’t alone. Her 90-year-old mother, Stella Schultz, went with her and slipped her arm through her daughter’s arm when she returned to the pew after confession.

“Doesn’t your heart feel good?” Schultz whispered to Briggs.

It did — so much so that Briggs has been making up for lost time. She made a Cursillo weekend in March, went to the ordination of the diocese’s two new priests in May, attended the Catholic Charismatic Renewal conference in July, and participated in the Widowed and Divorced Day of Recollection sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria in August.

She also found a warm welcome at St. John the Apostle Parish in Woodhull and is involved in a Bible study on the Gospel of Matthew.

“DON’T HESITATE,” Briggs urged those who are considering a return to the Catholic Church after years away. “The hardest part will be making that call. The rest will be so easy. The reward is God and heaven. Don’t be afraid, just do it.”

For more information about Catholics Returning Home, call the parish office at St. Maria Goretti Church, (309) 799-3414.

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