The Beacon — The Beacon_042017
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St. Matthew Parish’s Seniors Take Teens Under Their Wing During OWL Event
Michael Wojcik

RANDOLPH John and Chris Groh, a senior citizen couple of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish, here talked fondly about how much they enjoyed taking with 16-year-old Hannah D’Olivera, a second-year Conformation candidate, during a recent afternoon at the church. They were impressed that the personable sophomore at Randolph High School plays the bassoon — and also did so on a recent trip to Europe with the high school orchestra.

The Grohs, who are active in several ministries at St. Matthew’s, and D’Olivera, were paired together for a Mass of Anointing in the St. Matthew Church and then a luncheon in Heritage Hall. It was all part of the Morris County faith community’s annual Our Wise Leaders (OWL) Program. This year, the initiative joined together 54 Confirmation candidates with 50 seniors at the parish, where they not only were fed spiritually by the Eucharist and physically by the catered meal, but also were nourished by smiles, laughter and good conversation.

“We learned that Hannah has a twin brother, John David, who was named John, after their father, and David, after the doctor who delivered them. We also learned that their family used to live on our street when they were young children,” said John Groh, who with wife Chris, participated in OWL for the second year. They have five children and 15 grandchildren. “The young people were so comfortable speaking to us old-timers. We also had conversations about how technology has changed from back then to how it is now,” he said.

The OWL event on March 25 started with a Mass, where senior citizens were invited to receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Father James Platania, St. Matthew’s weekend assistant and faculty member at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University, South Orange, and Msgr. Peter McHugh, a retired diocesan priest and former weekend assistant, celebrated the Mass. Father Dan Murphy, the pastor, “fully supports the program,” said Moira Dziomba, St. Matthew’s religious education director, who was among those that helped plan the event.

“OWL served as a witness to the attentiveness, reverence, respect and kindness between the second-year Confirmation candidates and the seniors, who attended,” Dziomba said. “Watching the teens at Mass, escorting their partners — some of them in walkers — to the altar to be anointed, was moving and beautiful. The teen readers and musicians were outstanding. When the poem ‘Standing on the Shoulders’ [which acknowledges the value and contributions of the older generations to the younger generations] was read, many a tear was shed,” she said.

After the Mass, the seniors and teens walked to Heritage Hall in the church building for the luncheon. There, they played Bingo; the younger people drew pieces of paper at their tables that contained questions to ask the older people to jump-start conversation, such as “What did you like to do when you were my age?” “What was your favorite job?” and “What is your favorite movie?”

At one table sat 16-year-old Abby Loveys, also of Randolph High School, who spoke with senior Ann Nichols, whose hobby is making pillows with a group of older adults. Lovelys said she talked about liking sports and “hanging with friends.”

“It was a nice conversation. Ann said that she didn’t like schoolwork. We bonded over that,” said Loveys, who noted that her OWL experience has inspired her to get more involved in community service. “It was a nice experience. The seniors were willing to talk with us. I think that grew into a good relationship with them. I realized that St. Matthew’s has a nice community and we bonded with that community. Everybody left in a good mood,” she said.

At his table, 16-year-old Brendan Spellman of Randolph High School, received powerful lessons in life and faith, during his conversation with a grandmother who escaped the Nazis during World War II. She fled her home in Italy with her family, he said.

“The elderly woman and her family struggled during World War II. She told me lots of stories about her young life. The Germans shelled her house. She thanked God that she was not in it,” Spellman said. “The woman talked about how faith has been important in her life. God helped her out. It made me count my blessings — living in America in a house in a time without any war. I learned a lot about her, but also about myself,” he said.

During the luncheon, a few Confirmation candidates showed off their music talents, playing and singing standards, which were popular in generations past. The teens — along with a team of volunteer parents — organized the event, which included decorating Heritage Hall in an owl theme, Dziomba said.

“The seniors love talking with the teens. The teens see who the seniors are and who they were,” Dziomba said. “The younger people also realize that the older people have a lot to offer, including that they are faithfilled — something to look up to.”

OWL — part of the candidates’ community service hours for Confirmation — started last year, under the guidance of Pat D’Amico, former religious education director of St. Matthew’s. It follows the parish’s legacy of hosting other events for seniors, including luncheons and retreats. Seniors in OWL are parishioners; residents of nearby Sunrise Assisted Living, who attend weekly Mass; or participants in the Women of Faith group or exercise programs at the parish, Dziomba said. “Conversation between the generations abounded and the happy sound of voices was palpable. The food was delicious and plentiful and Bingo was so much fun. Once again, this multi-generation event was declared a great success,” Dziomba said.