October 17, 2014

Parish responds to Connersville drug crisis by scheduling a ‘novena of rosary walks’

Father Dustin Boehm, center, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville and St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty, gives instructions in the pavilion at Roberts Park in Connersville to more than 150 people on Oct. 12—prior to the first of nine parish-led Sunday evening rosary walks, praying for those suffering from addictions and their families. Connersville has had a recent upsurge in overdoses and deaths due to heroin use. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Father Dustin Boehm, center, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville and St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Liberty, gives instructions in the pavilion at Roberts Park in Connersville to more than 150 people on Oct. 12—prior to the first of nine parish-led Sunday evening rosary walks, praying for those suffering from addictions and their families. Connersville has had a recent upsurge in overdoses and deaths due to heroin use. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

CONNERSVILLE—The town of Connersville, population just a little more than 13,000, has been rocked by a recent crisis: within 20 days between September and October, 20 heroin-related overdoses and five deaths were reported.

“I prayed with it all week,” said Father Dustin Boehm, pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Connersville and St. Bridget Parish of Ireland in Liberty. “I called Father Bob [Mazzola] and just ran this idea by him about doing a novena of rosary walks, and it just kind of fell into place from there.”

Father Mazzola, who retired in 2011, was born and raised in Connersville, where he now lives. He and Father Boehm led more than 150 members of St. Gabriel Parish and the local community as they prayed the rosary on Oct. 12 while walking a path in Roberts Park in Connersville.

That was the first of nine scheduled rosary walks to take place on consecutive Sundays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 7.

The intention for each rosary, said Father Boehm, is “for all people and families struggling with addiction.”

The “novena” part of the plan stems from “that tradition of our belief that the Apostles and the Blessed Mother were in the upper room for nine days prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We want to pray for a new life for these people specifically struggling with addiction.”

The park was not chosen for its idyllic setting, nor the 8 p.m. time for its convenience.

“We chose to do the rosary walk in [Roberts Park] at 8 p.m. because the park is where much of the drug activity takes place after dark,” said Father Boehm. “There have been many documented reports of parents and locals finding hypodermic needles there during the daytime when kids are there playing or walking around.”

Father Mazzola views the rosary walks as one more way to combat the drug crisis in Connersville.

“This has been a problem up and down,” he said. “It’s a small town, and people don’t talk about it if they’ve got a relative who’s dealing with [drug addiction].

“But this has brought it out. Now, they’re not afraid to speak up and say there are too many drugs in this town.”

St. Gabriel Parish member Cheryl Hreno participated in the walk because “Connersville has a lot of people that need help right now. Families need help, the addicts need help. There’s just a lot of outreach needed now.”

She said she was pleased to see several people participating in the walk who were not members of the parish.

“We need to band together,” she said. “I’m glad to see it’s a focus now.”

Elizabeth Hauger’s motivation for participating stood next to her: her children Cody, 10, and Kaylee, 8.

“I hope that by the time they get into junior high and high school that all these drugs are off the street,” said Hauger, a member of St. Gabriel Parish.

Students of St. Gabriel School, where Cody and Kaylee attend, were specifically requested by Father Boehm to participate in the walk.

“I always give [the school kids] homework on Friday, and usually it has something to do with prayer,” Father Boehm said. “So on Friday, I gave them all the homework of telling their families to come out at 8 p.m. on Sunday night.

“I sent a letter home with them to their parents, inviting them, and that if they can’t, to at least have everyone gather as a family at 8 p.m. every Sunday for the next nine Sundays and pray a rosary together for this intention.”

Even students not attending the parish’s pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school participated.

“I think it’s awful,” said 13-year-old parishioner Audra Volz of the recent crisis. “But I think we can all help to do something about it. I hate to see the town in this position. I hope this helps to fix it.”

Father Boehm has the same hope.

“I don’t think there’s anything more in the spiritual life that speaks to spiritual warfare than addiction itself,” he said.

“We were made for [God’s] love, but with our fallen state of sin, we look for love, as the saying goes, often times in all the wrong places.

“We’re not here [at the park] so much to make a protest or a statement. We’re just here to pray—to get out and meet [those who have a problem], to get out of our churches and out of our homes and let them know that, hey, we’re here with you, and we want to pray for you, and we want you in our church.”
 

(To participate in the rosary walks, meet at the pavilion in Roberts Park, 2900 Park Road, in Connersville at 8 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 7. The walks will take place regardless of weather. Those wishing to attend but not walk are welcome to remain in the pavilion to pray the rosary. All in the archdiocese are invited to participate by praying the rosary at home at 8 p.m. on Sunday evenings “for all people and families struggling with addiction.” For those in need, Narcotics Anonymous meets at St. Gabriel Parish, 232 W. Ninth St., in Connersville at 7 p.m. on Sunday evenings.)

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