August 30, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
People gathered on the east lawn of the Church of St. Michael in Spring Hill early evening Aug. 15, crickets chirping in the background. With a slight breeze and cooling temperatures, it was a perfect night for an outdoor Mass in this peaceful setting with the cemetery in the background.
The Mass was special for two reasons. It was the fifth year in a row an outdoor Mass was celebrated by the bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud near a Blessed Virgin Mary grotto dating back to 1920 and rededicated Aug. 15 1989. It was the second year as a One in Faith Area Catholic Community event for parishes in Spring Hill, Greenwald, Meire Grove, Melrose, New Munich, Freeport and St. Rosa. The Mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Patrick Neary, bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, and he was assisted by Deacon Ernie Kociemba.
The humorous side of Neary was woven throughout the Mass, starting at the beginning when he talked about his GPS not being able to find his destination. It was Neary’s first time in Spring Hill since he was named bishop of the diocese this year.
His homily revolved around Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom this feast day was dedicated.
“She was similar to a young woman, probably about 15, when she found out she was going to be the mother of Jesus; a simple handmaid,” Neary said. “This feast should make us feel close to her.”
He talked about how his own mother showed him what unconditional love was all about.
“She was always there for me. If I was upset as a boy, she would hold me in her arms. … She believed in me all of my life.”
He said being a mother is a vocation.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s not easy, so they tell me,” Neary said. “Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, spouses, who are these holy women who have shown us amazing love?”
He wondered what it would be like to sit down with Mary over a cup of coffee and talk about her life with Jesus.
“What was it like seeing him preaching, curing people? What was it like at the cross to see your only son crucified? What about the resurrection?” Neary said.
He said he might ask for her advice on a thousand things.
“Listening to her wisdom would be a privilege,” he said.
Even though Mary was assumed to heaven doesn’t mean she is out of reach to us, he said.
“She knows our hearts. She hears our prayers. She can help us with her motherly kindness, and she always listens to us,” Neary said. “We can trust the whole of our lives to this mother.”
Near the end of the hour-long Mass, Neary thanked everyone involved in planning the Mass, including musicians Donny and Karen Brang, who led people in song. It was announced refreshments would be served following Mass and Neary asked if that included beer. After all, he was in Stearns County.
Neary visited with people following the Mass – eating a cookie but not drinking a beer. It was a perfect ending to an anniversary evening in honor of Mary.