FSSP Dallas Bookstore Offers Relief During Pandemic
In the midst of great difficulty, great good always finds a place to take root. In fact, adversity is the only kind of soil where the works of mercy thrive, and at Mater Dei Parish, our apostolate in Dallas, Texas, in a landscape altered by the reality of the coronavirus, we found them growing strong.
When the restrictions on public gatherings closed churches across the state around the Second Sunday in Lent, Mater Dei too had to halt its public Masses, which are celebrated five times on Sunday by four priests for one of the largest and oldest congregations in the District. Its busy parish life came to a sudden stop, and as Sunday socials, youth group events and Knights of Columbus meetings were put on hold, Thomas Walters, manager of the Mater Dei Bookstore, began to think.
A parishioner of Mater Dei since 2010, Mr. Walters began the bookstore in December of 2015 at the request of the pastor and brings substantial experience in running religious bookstores to his work at Mater Dei. His wife Kimberly is also active in parish life, having spent many years as the choir director before only recently transitioning into the role of assistant director (they do all this while raising 4 kids).
Mr. Walters knew that without the Mass and the Holy Eucharist, his fellow traditional Catholics would be hurting and in need of support. While pastors across the District have striven to provide as much spiritual sustenance to their flocks as possible, Mr. Walters knew he also had a part to play and was not one to sit idle when there was work to be done. He kept the bookstore open, and then did a whole lot more.
“I was in the bookstore and I thought, ‘This is going to impact traditional Catholics in a negative way’,” he explained. “I knew that blogs would come out and people would be depressed. So I prayed, ‘What can I do to raise their spirits?’ And it helped me to go forth and open the bookstore with basically a buffet, free food, free snacks, free coffee, 20% off of everything storewide, in order to give some kind of hope and encouragement to people because I knew they would be suffering.”
He swiftly renamed the bookstore the “Mater Dei Relief Center” and provided not only free refreshments and discounts, but also necessities such as soap and that most elusive staple, toilet paper. He keeps to his regular store hours, even extending some hours, particularly on Sunday. While he normally is open after all Sunday Masses and schedules break time in between, he stays open from 8am to 7:30pm at present since people are filtering in and out of the church all Sunday to pray. He greets both Mater Dei parishioners and visitors at the Center, and his initiative has been received with joy and gratitude.
“I would say I’ve received from visitors as well as parishioners a lot of thank-you’s, especially from the elderly, who come to not only visit but to also come and pick up their essentials like toilet paper and soap,” he said, explaining that he provided these items as soon as he renamed the bookstore and opened it up as the Mater Dei Relief Center.
But the parishioners of this vibrant parish were not going to let him do it alone. The project grew into a group effort as others began donating food and essentials to supply the Center.
“Lots of parishioners have donated toilet paper and soap and food and therefore it’s created quite the community,” he said.
And what better time to engage in works of fraternal charity than during the season of Lent? We are often advised by our pastors to think not only in terms of what we can give up for Lent but what we can do in addition, and not only prayer and penance but also almsgiving are recommended practices during this holy season. In a paradoxical way, the arrival of the coronavirus this year presented us with extra opportunities for charity. The restrictions forced most of us into isolation, and concurrently gave us a chance to check in on our family, neighbors and fellow-parishioners and offer assistance to the suffering.
“I flocknoted* people and was honest and said this has been the best Lent for me since I’ve been here at Mater Dei, because I just immediately acted and focused on the positive and it’s been the best Lent,” Mr. Walters said. “It’s reminded me to be other-directed, to serve my neighbor as myself, and then to just imitate Jesus Christ in the story of St. Damien [of Molokai], because I took a lot of encouragement from St. Damien.”
St. Damien of Molokai, fondly known as Father Damien, was a missionary priest from Belgium who worked in a leper colony in Hawaii in the latter half of the 19th century. His love for those he served overcoming any fear or revulsion he may have had for the then-incurable disease, he labored among the lepers for 16 years, ministering to their spiritual needs, caring for their wounded and diseased bodies, and assisting them in organizing their community and building houses, schools, hospitals and churches. All the while he lived as one of them and had no concern for contracting the ailment, which he eventually did, dying a “martyr of charity” at the age of 49.
“I realized St. Damien went to the lepers, I wasn’t going to be afraid of the COVID and I was just going to help people where they’re at and to focus on the positive,” Mr. Walters said.
If you are in the Dallas area, we encourage you to stop by for some time in prayer at Mater Dei – their doors are open from 6am to 6pm, and hopefully the regular Mass schedule will be back in full swing very soon. And while you’re there, be sure to walk across the breezeway to the parish office building and visit the Mater Dei Relief Center, a place offering an oasis of charity and good cheer in a world of isolation and uncertainty. Maybe you too will be inspired, in whatever small way you can and in whatever circumstances you find yourself, to do it like Damien. +
*i.e. contacted parishioners via Flocknotes.
May 5, 2020