Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Book clubs offer fun, friendship and even catechesis

Julie Vickery believes reading is fundamental to her faith.

Nearly every month she meets others at a local “meat-and-three” Southern eatery for Catholic book club meetings.

Vickery, who attends St. Joseph Church in Columbia, started the group about six years ago because she was “desperate for Catholic company, for fellow Catholics to talk to,” she said.

As a lifelong bookworm, Vickery thought a book club might provide the outlet she was seeking.

The group went through a few bumps in the road, but now between 12 and 15 people attend. Members include married couples, singles, widows and retirees. They take turns selecting books, and have read works on the Shroud of Turin, Biblical prophecy and history, plus writings by Father Benedict Groeschel, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Their current selection is “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn.

“So many people are so hungry for what the Church teaches, and a book club is a great way to share it,” Vickery said. “We’ve a very intellectual Church, and reading helps us understand that.”

Jo Killoy of Columbia said a book club combines fun with serious catechesis.

“I’m a lifelong Catholic. I attended Catholic schools, and I taught at them, but I’ve realized there is still so much I don’t know,” she said. “You never get too old to learn about our complex and complicated faith.”

Marie Marquardt, who attends Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, attends a weekly women’s book club at Pauline Books and Media in downtown Charleston.

Together, they’ve read everything from papal encyclicals and Catholic fiction to an extensive study on Paul’s letters.

“It allows us to learn about our faith, but also to come together as women to share our own individual experiences,” she said. “That really widens each person’s perspective on her own faith.”

Want to start your own book club? Vickery offered some basic suggestions:

• Be considerate of different schedules. Look at times that will be convenient for couples, working people, retirees, etc. Try not to schedule meetings on very busy parish nights.

• Decide how often you will meet. Monthly meetings work best because they give busy people time to read, although meetings more or less often may work for your club.

• Decide what size group you want. Eight to 12 people is generally considered a good size.

• Be aware of different personalities. Try to accommodate both introverts and extroverts.

• Be considerate of different opinions. Realize not everyone likes the same type of book and be willing to listen to others. Don’t allow meetings to turn into arguments over politics or specific aspects of Church history or doctrine.

• Offer varied reading selections if possible. A mix of fiction, nonfiction, history, and spiritual writings works well. Rotate who makes the selection so each member has a chance to choose.

Vickery hopes more Catholics will consider forming book clubs and welcomes questions. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Or contact your parish or local Catholic bookstore to find out if they have a club.

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At 100, Sister Anthony has ‘more blessings than limitations’

LOUISVILLE, KY—People who know Sister Mary Anthony Wargel love to tell tales about the tiny, but fiery, educator, saying she is legend among the school and church communities she served.

“She’s given 100 percent of her 100 years to the service of God and His people,” said Joe Tronco, whose family goes way back with Sister Anthony. Tronco is a parishioner at Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island now, but recalls his school days in Columbia, where Sister Anthony worked for 22 years.

The Ursuline sister now lives at the motherhouse in Kentucky and celebrated her 100th birthday on July 17 with a large gathering of friends and family.

She said the years she spent at St. Joseph Church and School and St. John Neumann School in the Midlands were the best of her life.

“Those were the best teaching years of my career,” she said. “That Southern hospitality, really, it was so evident. They always made me feel so welcome. I was happy, happy, happy there. I’ve always been happy, but that place was special to me.”

And she was special to them.

At St. John Neumann, there are still photos of Sister Anthony on the school bulletin board, along with a framed photo. Barbara Cole, principal, said the Ursuline made a big impact on the community while she was there from 1992-2002.

One of her lasting contributions was the creation of the school’s rosary club, which is still clicking along. Sister Anthony said she leads the rosary as part of her prayer ministry now, but can no longer bend the wires to make rosary beads. But the religious is undaunted by the few physical concessions she’s had to make for her 100 years, including the use of “a little walker.”

“I have more blessings than I have limitations,” she said.

In fact, the sister was still teaching, serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and transporting “the elderly” on errands when she was well into her 80s.

Msgr. Charles Rowland, now pastor of Holy Spirit, said Sister Anthony was a wonderful asset to the parish, school and community when they worked together during his time as pastor of St. Joseph.

“She really witnessed to the mission of the Ursulines in Columbia,” he said. “She graced us with her dedication to the education of our children — even into her 80s she was a vibrant example.”

Many of her former students, especially the boys, said Sister Anthony led them to see nuns in a whole new light.

Of course she knew the rosary, but she also knew sports: horseracing, baseball, and — especially — Notre Dame football.

Everyone who talks about Sister Anthony mentions her passion for her homestate football team, from her Fighting Irish pin to her all-out regalia for game days. She knows the coaches, the players, the statistics and the strategies.

“I have to close my door when I watch the games,” she confided. “I stand in front of the TV shouting at them to run the ball!”

But that competitive streak, dating back to her childhood, is balanced by her Ursuline nature. “I mainly pray for their safety. Victories are wonderful, but I’d rather see them be safe,” she said. Her fellow teachers and students said the combination of competition and compassion is what made her such a wonderful teacher, able to work with any child and find fresh approaches to solve problems.

“She was just legend as to her spiritual approach and her kindness to her students,” Tronco said. “I’ve found her to be such a joyful person.”

Sister Anthony said it was the Ursulines’ service as educators, along with their happy nature, that drew her to the order.

Born Clara Marie Wargel on July 17, 1914, in Evansville, Ind., she was the third of five children to Anthony and Kathleen Wargel. By the time she was in sixth grade, she knew she wanted to be a religious sister, and in 1934, Clara Marie became Sister Mary Anthony, OSU, choosing the name of her father.

In her 80 years of religious life, she said there have been many changes, with a great expansion in the freedoms of religious women.

Asked if, looking back, there was any other path she would choose, she answered very adamantly, “No way.”

“I never considered anything else but religious life,” she said. “I’ve had a wonderful life and I’m still happy — I still have a wonderful life.”

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Teens bridge the learning gap with a tutoring program

HILTON HEAD ISLAND—Teens from Holy Family Church are spending part of their summer vacation helping kids catch the learning bug.

They are mentors in the new Bridge Program, which helps Spanish-speaking children in kindergarten through fifth grade brush up on their reading and math skills before the new school year.

Leigh Ann Bacevich, a parishioner and catechist at Holy Family, came up with the idea after she learned about academic needs among the church’s Hispanic community. She thought enlisting high school students to tutor the children would help bridge communication gaps between all members of the parish.

She spoke with Nora Bess, director of Spanish ministry, and received approval from Msgr. Joseph F. Hanley, pastor. Bess and Bacevich spread the word about the program, and soon more than 50 children and 18 teen volunteers had signed up for the sessions, which started in June.

First they worked with participants to see what levels they’re in for math and reading. The kids are divided into groups by age, and take part in lessons that include creative games. Bess said the teens use colorful candies like Skittles and M&Ms to help illustrate basic math concepts.

“The kids seem to be thrilled to come each day, and the teenagers are doing a great job connecting with the kids,” Bacevich said. “These teens have jobs and other activities during summer vacation, and they’ve made a real commitment to show up each week.”

Bess has heard from many parents who are delighted with the progress their children have made in just a few weeks, she said.

“It’s nice to see kids having a good time while they are learning, and the interaction is very positive,” Bess said. “The teens really enjoy working with the kids, and you can see the younger kids look up to them.”

The youth say the experience has taught them something too.

“I’m learning to be more patient, because it’s always been kind of hard for me to slow down and take time with things,” said Sam Bacevich, 17. “It’s great to help them with their understanding and see how happy they are when they figure out a new concept.”

Tania Moreno, 17, volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and enjoys seeing her students retain information from earlier classes. She especially likes introducing new skills, such as how to use a calculator and work different types of math problems. Tania said she plans to study nursing, but Bridge has helped her develop a love of teaching and she might also consider it as a career path.

Iveth Vargas, 17, offers tutoring in both reading and math. “I really love helping the little kids with what they’re struggling with,” she said. “I can look back and see how I worked these kinds of problems out in school, and use that to help them work out their problems. It’s great to see kids that are excited to learn.”

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Pet Partners: A tale of success

FORT MILL—For a year, furry friends have offered love and comfort through Pet Partners, a ministry based at St. Philip Neri Church. Each week 14 dogs and their owners visit nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers in the area. They also work with autistic children.

“This ministry really runs itself,” said founder David Eggert, who makes his rounds with Reba, a German shepherd-retriever mix. “These dogs seem to have a sense of need when they go to a visit. They sense sickness, loneliness. Sometimes something as simple as a paw on someone’s lap offers comfort.”

The dog roster includes poodles, shih tzus, Labrador retrievers and mixed breeds. To participate, canines must have all their shots and a calm disposition, and should know basic obedience commands.

Teresa Coulter, a new volunteer, visited a local hospice with her two bichon frises, Alex and Tori.

“It’s absolutely the biggest blessing to be able to do this,” Coulter said. “You see the connection the dogs make with people. Sometimes animals can make a connection that people can’t.”

To learn more about Pet Partners or receive a visit, contact Eggert at (803) 548-6864.

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