Author: Noelani Parys

Home / Articles posted by Noelani Parys

BUSHNELL | Parochial administrator of St. Lawrence Parish in Bushnell, Father Waldemar (Val) Maciag, designed and built artistic arched frames simulating rose windows “to uplift the mind to the spiritual.” Over the years, his artistic talents graced parish walls through painted Stations of the Cross and a “God Bless America niche” dedicated to veterans, as the parish serves the nearby Florida National Cemetery. It was now time to elevate the décor further to match the sacredness of the space.

Father Maciag has a master’s degree in liturgy and notes its beauty “is part of the mystery; it is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth.” He wished to enhance that view through the windows. Having visited hundreds of rural churches in his homeland of Poland, he said he “always loved them, admired their artistic, unique design; they seemed to be inseparable from the church.” He missed them. Those windows were his first “biblical slide shows”, his first “biblical movies in color”, his first “theological books for children.” He set out to do something similar, on a budget.

In what he defines as a “celestial twist” and understanding the biblical scenes would be near impossible, he thought of the rose windows – a special artistic element of many old churches. Reproducing the classic arched Gothic shape, he made lightweight, wooden frames, designed two patterns, and then made a print of them onto a shining fabric. Finally, he stretched the material like a canvas across the frames. So far there are 12 windows, which are removable to facilitate cleaning when necessary.

“Beauty is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action since it is an attribute of God and His revelation,” Father Maciag said.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, June 3, 2021

ORLANDO | Whether through colorful stained-glass windows or towering cathedrals, life-like sculptures or vast frescoes, artists have been communicating the beauty and splendor of God through their creations for centuries. So important is this work to the life of the Church, that in his Letter to Artists, Saint John Paul II wrote that artists have received a special vocation to beauty from the Creator. Echoing these words, Pope Francis recently shared, “The gifts you have received are for each one of you a responsibility and a mission.” In the Diocese of Orlando, local artists are continuing this rich legacy and fulfilling their God-given mission by creating inspiring artwork that invites an encounter with God.

“Each piece of art I have ever done that was spiritual, I have felt the hand of God with each pen or brush or hammer and chisel stroke,” said Deacon Frank Falotico. “I somehow think that it is not my art that people feel but God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and also Mary.”

No matter where life took him, including a career in the United States Marine Corps, Falotico always found time to create, painting landscapes, wildlife. He even created a special emblem for a branch of the Third Marine Division. But when he felt a call to enter the diaconate forty years ago, his art took on new meaning.

“I asked God in prayer, ‘Can I use my art in the role of a deacon?’ The answer I felt was, “Yes, that is why I called you!’”, said Falotico.

As a deacon, Falotico has designed for Jostens ring company, including a deacon’s ring and a ring for the new millennium. His deacon’s ring was even presented to Pope John Paul II and he received an Apostolic Blessing for his creation. Wood sculptures of the Holy Family and St. John the Baptist can be seen at his parish, Our Lady of Grace in Palm Bay. Falotico has also created drawings of each of the Mysteries of the Rosary and each of the Stations of the Cross. He dreams of having these pieces engraved in granite to create prayerful spaces for the faithful to reflect on the life of Jesus.

Father Val Maciag, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Bushnell, has also found his artistic talents to be a gift to his religious vocation. Initially planning to train as an artist, God had different plans for him that would combine his two passions.

“I was admitted to the Art University, but my vocation to the priesthood was stronger,” explained Father Maciag. “Besides, a priest with a hobby of creating art and music sounded very good to me, an extra medium to evangelize and make it more attractive, colorful and exciting.”

Parishioners see the fruit of Father Maciag’s gifts every time they enter the church and see the Stations of the Cross he painted. Over the years he has presented exhibitions of his artwork, Sacred Illuminations and Sacred Faces. He is currently working on another exhibition, Sacred Wings, which will be dedicated to pregnant mothers, mothers who have suffered miscarriages, and all children, born and unborn.

“As an artist I can tell you that an amazing, visual piece of art always helped me to find a deeper understanding of the Truth, another way to communicate with God or just left me mesmerized and speechless,” said Father Maciag, who added that every person’s experience of art is unique and personal.  “A simple case of goosebumps, a little tear in the eye, a little smile, a little story shared… any of it makes it worth it to create art, in my case.”

For Mike Brick, a woodworker and parishioner of Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs, he hopes that when people look at one of his creations, they are reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus. A retired police officer, Brick has turned his longtime woodworking hobby into a second career of sorts. It all started in 2005 when Brick met with Father Stephen Parkes, who at the time was overseeing the building of a new parish, Most Precious Blood in Oviedo.

“Our new parish needed a set of its own liturgical furniture that had to be portable. Fr. Parkes was distressed while looking at catalogues and seeing the prices for such items was more than $3,000,” remembered Brick. “I asked him to let me build what we needed. Before long I made a portable altar, tabernacle, ambo, credence table, candle stands and a number of small side tables. It was a joy for me to be needed again for something important that I could do.”

Since that first set of furniture, Brick has created the large twenty foot crucifix for Most Precious Blood, another set of liturgical furniture for Corpus Christi Parish in Celebration, assisted with the furniture for the Catholic Campus Ministry at UCF and built a chapel altar and tabernacle for the rectory at St. Clare Parish in Deltona. Each piece is prayed over as it is built and he says he considers his work a service to God.

“Working with any material to make something beautiful and useful is just like our developing life of faith. You start with the basics and continue to build on that to get better and better in your faith and your craft,” said Brick. “I am honored almost every day to see those simple wooden items used for the Eucharistic Celebrations at Most Precious Blood. It is pleasing to know that Mass has been celebrated many thousands of times already, and hopefully will continue to be celebrated over that altar long after I have left this earth.”

Falotico, Father Maciag and Brick know they have been given gifts to share in order to raise hearts and minds to God. Their mission, and the mission of all artists and craftsmen, is to make God’s beauty known to the world. As Pope Francis said in his audience with artists, “The Church relies on you to make the ineffable Beauty of God’s love perceptible and to enable every person to discover the beauty of being loved by God, to be filled with His love, to live on it and to bear witness to it in attention to others.”

By Elizabeth Wilson, Special to the Florida Catholic, July 26, 2019

This week, a delegation of 45 pilgrims from the Diocese of Orlando will be joining over 2 million young adults in Krakow, Poland for the 32nd World Youth Day (WYD). WYD is a worldwide encounter with the Pope which is typically celebrated every three years in a different country. This WYD was called especially because of the Year of Mercy. The international gathering is a weeklong spiritual journey where pilgrims from all over the world unite to share their faith. The week includes prayer, song, concerts, liturgy, catechesis, and an unforgettable vigil and closing Mass with the Holy Father.

In 1986 Pope John Paul II invited young people from all over the world to participate in a pilgrimage at the very first World Youth Day. Since then, it has been held in Argentina, Spain, the United States, Philippines, France, Italy, Canada, Germany, and Australia.

Sebastian Gomez and Valeria Lebron from St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando spoke with Faith Fit Radio Streaming Communications Manager, Katherine Laguna, about their journey. Also joining them was Kimmy Zeiler, Director of Youth Ministry in the Office of Laity, Family and Life at the Diocese of Orlando, who is leading the pilgrimage to Poland, July 21st-August 2nd.

Katherine: Please tell us a little about this incredible pilgrimage you are leading.

Kimmy: We have a group of 45 pilgrims representing four different parish groups. We have St. Isaac Jogues’ Father Jose Muñoz and Father Andrzej (Jurkiewicz, St. Joseph Parish, Orlando) will be joining that group; from the Basilica of St. Paul (Daytona beach) – Father Tim (Daly) and Deacon Edwin (Cardona); St. Lawrence Parish (Bushnell) – Father V (Waldemar) will be coming from there. He is also from Poland. And Blessed Trinity will also be joining us with a group.

Katherine: Can you tell us about some of the places you’re going to be visiting?

Kimmy: …we’ll start by going to where St. Maximillian Kolbe founded his monastery. We’ll go to Our Lady of Czestochowa, at the Monastery of Jasna Gora to see the icon of Our Lady. Then July 25th we’ll be in Auschwitz, which is where St. Maximillian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein passed away. And then we’re going to Wadowice, which is Pope John Paul II’s birthplace.

Katherine: Such a blessing to be where St. John Paul II was. It’s incredible. I’m jealous already!

Kimmy: Yeah. Then the WYD activities start. On Tuesday, July 26th we get to go to the Divine Mercy Shrine. We’ll have time at the Divine Mercy image where St. Faustina was and received the beautiful Divine Mercy message. During the WYD activities, there’ll be keynote presentations, different catechesis by bishops and other Catholic celebrities, if you will. Our very own Sister Bethany Madonna from Orlando is one of our major keynotes on one of the days. But the School of Mercy is going to be a unique opportunity where we’re going to be learning skills on how to live lives of mercy during this Year of Mercy, because that is one of the themes. So we’re going to be hearing personal conversion stories, Theology of the Body, more information about our featured saints and about the persecution of Christians going on in the Middle East.

Katherine: That is perfect. As you were saying, this year’s theme for WYD is the Beatitudes, from Matt. 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” and it’s also linked to this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Are there any other places you’ll visit in Poland that are related to this year’s theme of mercy?

Katherine: One of the main things is St. Pope JP II. He was 19 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. So the Soviet liberation of Poland actually just brought communism and Pope JP II was in the midst of all this for 33 years, promoting Christianity and religious freedom under the threat of a regime attempting to squash any opposition to that atheistic, totalitarian rule. So just his example, perseverance, constancy and his merciful heart are our model for this WYD, which is why those areas are going to be so important for that Year of Mercy. And then we get to celebrate it in that final event, the Vigil Mass. So we’re out of the Vigil, sleeping under the stars. It’s going to be a long pilgrimage, an 8-mile walk out there and then Pope Francis will come and we’ll have a huge international Mass.

Katherine: So Sebastian, why is this pilgrimage to Poland important for you to be part of? What was your reasoning behind saying, yes, I’m going to be in this pilgrimage. I’m going to go. I’m going to represent the Diocese of Orlando in Poland?

Sebastian: I think it’s just part of being the Body of Christ. It’s a great experience and a once in a lifetime thing.

Katherine: Part of your pilgrimage will touch on some of the locations where great suffering occurred such as Krakow’s Sanctuary of Divine Mercy and Auschwitz, a place during the years of Nazi rule. How do you think visiting places of such great suffering might be affected by World Youth Day?

Valeria: Well, we’re going to be in Auschwitz and we’re going to be praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I think it’s very beautiful because St. Faustina was given this prayer for the world. It’s such a blessing for me and for all these youth that are going to be there. We’ll be just exploding with mercy afterwards.

Katherine: That’s beautiful. Sebastian, how can this be part of the healing and forgiveness that is associated with mercy?

Sebastian: Well, I think that maybe that town, where these horrible things occurred in the past, still feel affected and guilty for what might have happened during World War II. But I feel that by us praying… It’s a way of consoling, which is one of the mercies. And just the whole message of forgiveness… that’s what the Church is about. It’s at the core of the Church and it’s the message we should be bringing to the world… I think it’s definitely a message that the world needs.

Katherine: Following through on the Year of Mercy, we are also provided with the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. These are all beautiful works of mercy that strengthen our own faith and love for our brother’s and sister’s in Christ. How do you use your faith as a symbol of mercy?

Sebastian: Well, first of all, I’m not perfect, but I would say, just trying to be a good Christian. I’m not trying to boast, but feeding the hungry. I saw this homeless guy one day, got him some food. I thought it would help him in some way. Another example is, some of the people from our group that are going to Poland actually went to the March for Life. It was a way to pray for the dead, the babies that have been aborted, but still fight for those who still have a chance.

Katherine: How has this Year of Mercy impacted your faith?

Valeria: This year has definitely gotten me closer to God. I had this transition of being a high school girl and going to college. When I heard about this trip, I was still a senior in high school … I felt a calling, a longing to be there. I started working, saving my little extra money for me to go to the trip. It was a lot of work, a lot of stressful times. I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Then this year, I had the privilege of getting a job at a nursing home as a certified nursing assistant. I feel like, this is the most beautiful job because it’s like a corporal work of mercy because I am actually serving for these people who don’t have anybody. Their families forget them and I am just here to serve them and be a comfort for them.

Katherine: That’s really beautiful and I think that it all wraps into a really beautiful cycle. You wanted to go and share the mercy and love with others in Poland and then, here you are, doing exactly what Jesus wanted you to do. It’s such a great bundle of that compassion and mercy. And I think it’s excellent.

Sebastian, how important is it for this generation’s youth to somehow capture the love of Jesus and work to build a relationship with Him?

Sebastian: People are lost and with our faith, our generation has to make the difference. We have to be God’s example or messenger for others because some people are lost and they don’t know about Jesus. And they need Jesus. Faith is a gift and we can’t just keep it because that would be selfish.

To share the WYD stateside activities, join Holy Family Catholic Church on July 30th, 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Experience the polish culture with a polka dance lesson, a keynote from Father Benjamin Lenertz on mercy and what that means for us in our daily life. Mass with Pope Francis will be livestreamed. Following Mass will be a polish dinner and a candlelight procession to adoration.

Also, please follow us at #WYDorlando. Pilgrims will be posting throughout their journey.

BUSHNELL | Growing up in a devout Catholic family, one of eight children, Jim Schmeda was called to serve God as an altar server when he was 9 years old.

Today, 81-year-old Schmeda continues his ministry as an altar server, serving the Saturday vigil Masses at St. Lawrence Parish in Bushnell.

“Jim’s unbreakable bond to Jesus and his dedication to his ‘calling’ of being an altar server for so many years impress me,” said Father Valdemar Maciag, pastor. “Jim keeps his duty very professional. When we line up for procession, he picks up the cross and kisses it before proudly lifting it. Walking toward the altar, he is a true servant of God. He is proud in the name of God.”

Schmeda’s ministry began at St. Vincent Parish in Chicago when Masses were celebrated in Latin and the priests faced away from the congregation. Schmeda said the sisters who trained him and the other altar boys expected perfection, not only in their knowledge of Latin, but also in their attire and service during Mass. It was a daunting challenge, especially for a third-grader, but it did not deter Schmeda from faithfully serving daily Mass.

“There was such reverence in serving,” Schmeda said. “I felt a sense of closeness to God when I was at the altar.”

High school studies and sports led him to participate less in daily Mass, but Schmeda returned to serving daily Mass after hearing DePaul University basketball coach Ray Meyer speak at his parish about the importance of beginning every day with Mass. He carried Meyer’s message to the other side of the world when drafted by the U.S. Army to serve as a tank gunner in the Korean War. Even in the midst of conflict, Schmeda continued to serve for the Mass whenever possible, even on the tailgate of a jeep.

After his tour ended, Schmeda returned home to his future wife, Louise. Early in their married life, the couple opened a paint store, which left little time for daily Mass. Schmeda said during one Lenten season, he felt a sense of emptiness without participating in the daily Mass, so he and Louise recommitted themselves to attending daily Mass before opening their store. It did not take him long to return to altar serving after noticing that the priest was celebrating the 6 a.m. Mass without the assistance of an altar server.

“I could never see a priest without an altar server,” Schmeda said. “I feel that Mass is more reverent when there is an altar server assisting the priest.”

Now retired in Lake Panasoffkee located in Sumter County, Schmeda continues to serve as a senior altar server at St. Lawrence, with Louise proudly sitting in the front pew.

“I have always enjoyed being an altar server,” Schmeda said. “I like to be close to God, and being at the altar with the priest only enhances that feeling. It is a very spiritual experience for me. I feel blessed.”

Need a Priest?

For Emergencies, please call (352) 793-7788

Not an Emergency?