By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Last month, members of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish planted a “tree of remembrance” in honor of loved ones lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic made it difficult to celebrate the lives of loved ones and to grieve collectively, said Deacon Jeff Schuetzle, who serves the parish. “People weren’t even able to be with family members when they died.”
With pandemic restrictions easing, members of the parish’s Worship and Prayer committee wanted to find a way to let parishioners know that their loved ones had not been forgotten. Ultimately, they decided that planting a tree outside the church would serve as a long-lasting memorial.
A parish family donated money for a serviceberry tree. Deacon Schuetzle searched “every landscape place in the area to try to find the right tree,” ultimately finding one at Andresen Landscaping and Garden Center in DeWitt.
Prince of Peace invited parishioners to call the church office and submit names of loved ones, which were attached to felt hearts and placed on the yet-unplanted tree, ornament-style. The tree was on display inside the church the weekend of June 12 in conjunction with the parish’s “grand re-opening” celebration, which served as a way to welcome people back to Mass after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions. Lost loved ones were included in prayer intentions that weekend. “There were 38 names on the tree,” Deacon Schuetzle said.
On June 29, after the parish planted the tree in a landscaped area between the church and parking lot, Deacon Schuetzle led a prayer service. “Thanks be to God for the goodness of God chiseled on our hearts by our loved ones represented by these hearts lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and resting in the branches of this tree,” he prayed aloud. “God of wonder, as we gather together to bless the earth and celebrate the potential of the tree before us, we pray that it may serve as a living witness to your commitment to heal our sense of loss.”
After the service, participants took home the heart symbols dedicated to their loved ones. One parishioner, who asked not to be identified, said she lost a sister, a dear friend and other treasured companions to COVID-19. “It means so much to me,” she said of the tree of remembrance. “Every time I drive into the church parking lot, I think of the loved ones who are gone. What better place to have a tree to honor them all than right in front of our beloved church, a place to praise our blessed Lord and to pray for all those who have passed.”
As parishes work to re-engage the faithful, Deacon Schuetzle hopes gestures like the tree of remembrance will let Clinton-area Catholics know that their parish family “is here for them.”