Prayer line connects Clearwater parishioners to faith, one another

Overwhelmed by the prayerful support she received during a near-fatal battle with breast cancer, Mary Ann Thiele decided 35 years ago she wanted to help others at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater receive similar assistance.

So with help from the late Margaret Koenig she started a prayer line – one parishioner calls another, who calls another – until all are notified that someone is suffering from illness, job loss or other difficulty, and needs prayers. Names also are placed in the parish bulletin.

About 40 people participate in the prayer line, in a parish of about 80 families.

"When you’ve been given so much, you want to give back," Thiele said. "I’ve been through so many different situations. I know I wouldn’t have got through them without God."

Now, Thiele said, she is ready to pass the leadership torch, though she will remain on the prayer line. She has a harder time hearing and getting around, and she hasn’t stayed current with the latest technology – texting and emails and social media.

So she asked Theresa Kester, a fellow parishioner and longtime prayer line participant, to take over the duties beginning March 1. Kester said she plans to text prayer requests, because it will take less time and everyone will be notified at once, with the same words, reducing chances that a message will be misunderstood or relayed incorrectly.

But people who cannot receive texts or would rather communicate in person will continue to receive a telephone call, she said.

Thiele’s longtime service to the parish is appreciated, Kester said, and the prayer line is an important ministry. It is a spiritual act of mercy that often turns to action, and it helps unify the parish, she said.

"I can pray for them, or do something for them, make a meal, call them, ask ‘what can I do?’" Thiele said. "I think it ties us all together."

It has impacted people in ways they do not forget.

Marlene Thiessen and her husband, Bob, were placed on the prayer line in 1988, when their twin children, Aaron and Andrea, were born prematurely at just over 2 pounds each. The twins were hospitalized for three months before they could come home.

And parishioners offered more than prayers. They brought meals and other help when needed, said Thiessen, who continues to participate on the prayer line.

"It’s just that good feeling, knowing there are a lot of people behind you, helping you through it. We had a lot of support from our parish family."

The prayer line is not the only help Thiele, 83, has been to the parish and community. She taught religious education at St. Theresa when her eight surviving children were younger (two boys died at young ages), and she joined the parish guild – now called the Rosary Sodality – shortly after marrying her late husband, Arnold.

She has served in every office of the Sodality, been a board member of Pope John XXIII Central Catholic High School in Elgin, and she is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion (EMHC).

As an EMHC, Thiele serves at Masses and takes Communion to patients in the hospital in Neligh. She mentions the prayer line and her work at the hospital in almost the same breath.

"I would say, besides this prayer line, one of the most beautiful things I can do is take Communion to the sick and in the hospital," Thiele said.

And people appreciate the prayer line, she said.

"People call and thank you," Thiele said. "You hear in their voices how grateful they are."

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