Perpetual vigil at St. Theresa marks first anniversary

Volunteers at St. Theresa have maintained a continuous vigil in the church's new chapel for a full year, with no plans to end it. — Donald Eng photo
Volunteers at St. Theresa have maintained a continuous vigil in the church's new chapel for a full year, with no plans to end it. — Donald Eng photo

The chapel inside the parish center at St. Theresa Church is almost always quiet, with a steady stream of people entering, kneeling or sitting quietly, then exiting after about an hour. It seems hard to believe that this silent vigil is part of a marathon effort involving about 400 volunteers. But it is. And the group has no plans to end it. At least, not any time soon.

“It’s called a perpetual Eucharistic adoration and, as far as I know, we are one of only two parishes in Fairfield County that are doing it,” said the Rev. Brian Gannon. “This weekend marks one year.”

According to Catholic teaching, the Eucharist, or consecrated communion bread, is the body of Jesus and, therefore, those present in the chapel are in the actual, physical presence of the divine. On Oct. 1, 2017, the parish began its vigil in the newly dedicated chapel, located inside the former convent. Since then at least one volunteer, and sometimes as many as six or more, has maintained a continuous silent presence. Night or day, Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, the only exception is during Holy Week, the last three days before Easter, when such practices are prohibited. Beginning with Easter Sunday, the volunteers, known as Eucharistic guardians, resume their efforts.

“I think, with all of the chaos in the world today, people really appreciate the opportunity to spend an hour or two in quiet, prayerful reflection,” Gannon said.

With 168 hours in a week, maintaining a continuous presence requires dedicated volunteers, and a precise schedule. Volunteers, led by coordinator and lead schedule-maker Amy Nepomuceno, are subject to the same worldly problems as anyone else and sometimes get sick, have car trouble or have to stay late at work. When that happens they trade shifts or contact a scheduler to make sure someone comes in and prays for their hour. Sometimes that substitute is Gannon himself, whose name appears on the volunteer ledger numerous times each week.

“You’d be surprised, sometimes I come in at 2 a.m., and there are three other people here,” he said. “It just always seems to work out.”

To mark the achievement of one year of perpetual adoration, St. Theresa will hold a traditional Latin Mass on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the feast day of the church’s patron saint, Therese of Lisieux. The historical St. Theresa was a 19th-Century Carmelite nun who lived a life in obscurity before dying of tuberculosis at age 24. Today, she is best remembered for her memoir, The Story of a Soul, published a year after her death.

“The significance of the Latin Mass is because that is the Mass that Theresa herself would have experienced,” Gannon said.

In addition, the church also will host a celebration Mass with the choir on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the perpetual adoration. Following the Mass there will be a reception in the school gym with finger foods and ice cream.

“Lots of ice cream,” Gannon stressed.

So with one year complete, how long does St. Theresa plan to keep its adoration chain going? Gannon said he knows of a Long Island church which has maintained its vigil for a quarter century. But he said St. Theresa’s could go on longer than that. Perhaps much longer.

“The Bible says Jesus will come again,” he said. “We’ll try and keep it going until then.”