When Sean Reilly took over as communications director at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Arlington Heights during the COVID-19 pandemic, he had a lot on his plate, from figuring out how to livestream Masses to making sure parishioners knew they were in the parish staff’s thoughts even when they couldn’t come to church.
So he didn’t do much to change the parish bulletin, at least not right away. But Reilly, who came from a career in the publishing industry, soon decided the bulletin covers needed an update.
“For the first year I ran stock art covers from LPI, our bulletin publishers,” Reilly said, adding that he usually chose classic images that illustrated the Sunday Gospel. “It made my job easy and I liked it. But it runs its course.”
Reilly decided that instead of searching stock image libraries, he would turn to a new source for art: the parish itself.
Starting in Advent 2021, Our Lady of the Wayside bulletins began to feature cover images drawn by young people in the parish. The first group — for Advent and Christmas — came from the parish school and religious education program. The youth ministry supplied covers for the weeks of ordinary time between Christmas and Lent, and then the school and religious education program provided covers for Lent.
This summer, Reilly said, he plans to tap into adults in the parish who want to participate.
The goal, he said, was not only to bring more life to the parish bulletins but to bring the parish together and lift up the young families who are involved.
“Our parish isn’t getting any younger,” Reilly said. “There are a lot of young families who are very active, but there’s not enough. There’s also a disconnect between the groups. There are a lot of islands. We’re one parish. We needed a project, we needed something interactive that would engage people, maybe get parents involved with their kids.”
Reilly reached out to the director of lifelong formation, Danielle Pitzer, the school communications director, Danielle Kenney, and other parish leaders, and they were all for it.
“We decided to Advent and see how it went,” Reilly said. “Within a week, I had a folder full of cover submissions.”
“I thought it was great idea,” Kenney said. “I thought the previous covers were kind of old-fashioned, and we’ve had so many positive comments. It was a chance to bring more life and a little more youth to the covers.
When school-age children are asked for covers, Pitzer and Kenney go over the submissions and choose what to use. Since they are asked for a specific season, children get general guidelines.
“For Advent, we told them it wasn’t about Christmas trees or presents or Santa Claus,” Kenney said. “It was about Jesus, and the reason we celebrate Christmas.”
Submissions included Nativity scenes, Advent wreaths and candles. Kenney and Pitzer tried to choose drawings from a range of ages, with a range of subjects, that would reproduce well.
One of the selected images — a drawing of an angel — was chosen for the third week of Advent, and the artist, Our Lady of the Wayside third grader Molly Plummer, couldn’t have been more thrilled.
“She was ecstatic,” said her mother, Jillian Plummer. “She’s becoming quite an artist.”
While the family had not yet returned to in-person Mass because of COVID-19, they did pick up several copies of the bulletin to mail to grandparents and other relatives. When Molly received a framed copy once school started again after Christmas, she felt even more special, her mother said.
Reilly said there has been an enthusiastic response to the call for images from elementary school children. The high school-age youth group members took a bit more convincing, he said, but the ones who participated also looked more closely at the Sunday readings and worked to incorporate those themes into their drawings.
All the youth group artists submitted their work anonymously, so framed copies of their bulletin covers hang in the youth group meeting room.
All the cover art submitted is posted in photo galleries on the parish’s website, and some images that didn’t fit as Sunday bulletin covers, such as an image of three crosses that was more appropriate for Good Friday, have been used in other parish communications.
Maybe the secret to working at the same parish for 50 years is starting as a teenager. That worked for Debbie Titus, who celebrated a half-century of music ministry at Santa Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein at a special Mass Oct. 2.
“I’ve said to people that I was born with a package of crayons in my mother’s womb,” said Servite Father Christopher Krymski, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica and director of the National Shrine of St. Peregrine, 3121 W. Jackson Blvd. “My father was an artist and I think the DNA may have gone down to me.”
For the nearly 500 people who packed into St. Therese Church, 218 W. Alexander St., the Sept. 11 celebration of the 125th anniversary of Santa Maria Incoronata felt like a family reunion.