Conversing with the Lord
September 14, 2021
Bellevue parish building a strong devotion to the Holy Eucharist
For many children, special time with Mom or Dad may mean baking cookies, playing catch, a trip to the zoo or a Saturday morning donut run.
But for the Brandon kids, it’s often a trip to visit someone waiting for them at St. Matthew the Evangelist Church in Bellevue.
They are among the approximately 100 parishioners who regularly visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for eucharistic adoration in their newly-constructed church’s adoration chapel.
The parish holds adoration with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament weekly from 7 p.m. Thursdays through 8 a.m. Saturdays.
And the parish is aiming to eventually offer perpetual adoration, said parishioners Donna Buell and Phil McEvoy, who are organizing the effort.
“It’s been such a blessing for our parish,” Buell said.
Parishioner Lisa Brandon said eucharistic adoration has been a great faith-building practice for her four children, ages 5 to 13.
“We go on ‘adoration dates,’” she said. “We say, ‘Who’s going on a date with daddy for adoration this week?’ … Sometimes my husband (Mike) and I have adoration dates, too.”
She described these times as opportunities to teach their children about and help them experience the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“It’s so good for my kids just to be still before Jesus and to be able to go to him with all their desires, their fears and their hopes, and just to share having that outpouring of themselves, then to be able to listen to what God is whispering to them.”
“That’s why we go; we’re spending time with Christ in adoration, because it truly is Jesus,” Brandon said. And her children are accepting that “with that beautiful child-like faith.”
“It’s so important for kids to be in his presence,” said Buell. “Our hearts are desiring Jesus, and to be in his presence is transforming. And to capture kids’ hearts when they’re younger, I think, is so important.”
The impetus to begin regular eucharistic adoration came from a parish survey, in which numerous people expressed that desire, McEvoy said.
In 2017 the parish began 24-hour first Friday adoration with exposition. “There were a lot of people doing the Rosary before Mass,” Buell said, “and out of that came this desire to have adoration. Mary always brings us to Jesus.”
In time, adoration grew to be weekly, she said. “I just started asking the people who were doing the first Fridays if they’d want to do it every Friday, and a lot of people said yes.”
Church norms require that someone be present at all times when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, so filling each time slot with the recommended two people required Buell to actively invite people to take part.
“I thought, how hard can that be? If Jesus wants it to happen, it will happen,” she said. “So as we got going, it kind of snowballed,” McEvoy added.
And that was early 2020, right before the COVID pandemic.
Despite the temporary halt to public Masses, weekly adoration continued uninterrupted, Buell said.
Late last year, St. Matthew Parish celebrated the long-awaited completion and dedication of its new church. The building has inspired even more people to spend time before the Lord in the church’s beautiful new adoration chapel. (See the story at the end of this one highlighting the new church)
At this time the parish also expanded adoration hours to its current Thursday through Saturday schedule.
One of those drawn to spend time in adoration was Johnny Hula, a University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) junior.
“It’s a really beautiful place for adoration,” he said.
During this past Lent, Hula, who was working from home at a college internship, was drawn to the beauty of the new church and began going there during lunch breaks to pray the Stations of the Cross.
He eventually stepped into the adoration chapel to experience the Lord’s presence.
“It has given me a deeper reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, the Mass and the sacraments in general,” Hula said. “As Catholics, we believe that Christ wants to be truly present with us through the sacraments, and that’s a really cool thing.
“And that’s been one of the greatest blessings – a deeper reverence and a deeper relationship with Christ.”
Hula, who now lives at the St. John Paul II Newman Center near UNO, is continuing his practice of eucharistic adoration in the center’s oratory.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament offers people the opportunity to personally encounter Jesus and receive his graces.
At St. Matthew, people are allowed, and even encouraged, to prayerfully and reverently touch the monstrance that holds the Eucharist, McEvoy said.
“We try to get people to be like the lady in the Bible who was hemorrhaging – she just touched Jesus’ cloak and she was healed – and not just to sit back or kneel, but to go up there and touch the monstrance … to put your physical, mental or spiritual concerns there, and watch them go away.”
“You can say, Jesus, here’s my issues. You know what they are. I’m done with them, they’re yours,” he said.
Even though the Eucharist is only exposed during specific hours, people are encouraged to obtain an access card from the parish office and come to the church anytime for adoration, Buell said. And the goal is to be able to offer the opportunity to kneel before the exposed Blessed Sacrament 24-7.
To promote the devotion, Father Leo Rigatuso, pastor, regularly emphasizes the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist during his homilies.
“What we’re here for is Jesus,” he said. “He is the Savior. We need to stay focused on what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
“There’s so many things going on (in daily life) … it’s so easy to get sidetracked. So to keep us mindful of what this is (Jesus in the Eucharist), everything is centered around Jesus and the time spent with him – everything we do flows from that.”
New church fulfills parishioners’ dreams
For nearly 23 years, St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish has been setting up chairs and a portable altar in the school gym for weekend Masses, and taking them down again to be stored for another week.
That all ended last Nov. 4 when parishioners joyfully celebrated the dedication of their new church by Archbishop George J. Lucas.
After years of hoping and waiting to build their church, the project got a kickstart in 2017 from an anonymous parishioner, who paid off the $218,000 debt that remained from the construction of the gym 20 years earlier.
That cleared the way for serious discussions and planning for construction of a church to begin, said Father Leo Rigatuso, pastor. The architectural firm Jackson-Jackson & Associates was hired to develop designs.
“The thing we liked about them was they started bringing people together in small groups … to be participants in this process,” Father Rigatuso said.
And the design that emerged was in the traditional style, with the altar and tabernacle as the central focus, Communion rails, stained glass windows, exposed wooden ceiling beams, Stations of the Cross, statuary and other time-honored touches.
“And we wanted it to be very open (so that) when you step into the room you get that ‘awe’ factor,” said Rick Holdcroft, parishioner and facilitator of the parish’s building steering committee.
“I’ve had people every weekend comment on the design of the church,” Father Rigatuso said. “They like the traditional look.”
With seating for 700, the church was designed to take into account nearby residential growth, which is expected, he said.
About 100 new families have already joined the parish in the past year, Holdcroft said.
The building features a 28-seat adoration chapel separated from the sanctuary by a glass wall with a tabernacle that opens from each side. Also included are a new parish office and space that can be finished as a social hall in the future.
The $8.6 million project began with a Sept. 9, 2018, groundbreaking, and immediately stalled due to an unusually rainy fall. Construction, with Boyd Jones Construction as general contractor, began in earnest the following spring and was completed in late 2020.
The parish, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, was created in 1996 when the archdiocese assumed control of then-Cardinal Spellman School, naming it and the new parish St. Matthew the Evangelist.
Cardinal Spellman School was built in 1963 by military personnel to serve families associated with Offutt Air Force Base.