Billerica Church Puts Faith in Advertising

By Chris Camire

BILLERICA -- They may not be signs from God, but they are from his people. And they're popping up all over Billerica.

About a week ago, yard signs advertising St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish on Boston Road began dotting parishioners' lawns.

At first glance, the signs could be mistaken for promoting a candidate running for political office. Take a closer look at the eye-catching black lettering and a different message emerges.

"Read scripture! Share your faith! All are welcome." As Catholic churches across the region close their doors and attendance at Mass drops, St. Theresa's hopes the innovative publicity campaign will draw a community to its services.

The idea belongs to Doris Hallee, a resident in town who coordinates St. Theresa's religious-education program. She wanted the church to be able to reach a wider audience.

"Typically, we do things on our church bulletin, but that doesn't reach out to others outside the church," said Hallee. "Now we're trying to let everyone know what's happening."

The signs advertise a spiritual program being promoted by the Archdiocese of Boston. Called Arise Together in Christ, the program has participating parishes organizing small faith-sharing groups that will meet in the homes of parishioners.

"It's based on reading the scripture, but also helping people apply it to their daily lives," said Hallee. "The idea is to get people involved with the church, but also to encourage them to feel comfortable."

Mary Ann McLaughlin, co-director of the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life at the Archdiocese of Boston, called the yard signs "right on the money."

"I just love the idea of it," said McLaughlin, who noted that the Catholic church has been making an effort to evangelize more in recent years.

Since being elevated to the head of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2006, Cardinal Sean O'Malley has routinely reached out to young Catholics and non-Catholics. He attended a pig roast in West Roxbury, spoke at the Brewery Exchange in Lowell, and even started his own blog at www.cardinalseansblog.org.

"I think we go through phases in our faith just as we do in our life where we're more apt to share our faith with others," said McLaughlin.

With about 4,000 registered households, St. Theresa's attendance has remained strong in recent years, said Hallee. But other churches aren't faring as well. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield announced over the weekend that financial troubles have forced it to shut 10 more parishes and nine buildings by Jan. 1.

Will more churches adopt unique publicity campaigns? Perhaps.

St. Thomas of Villanova in Wilmington plans to begin a similar yard-sign campaign, said Hallee, after being impressed by St. Theresa's.

"It's just one more way to reach out," Hallee said. "Each Catholic church has its own ways of doing things."

Courtesy of the Lowell Sun. Photo by Julia Malakie

Click to learn more about ARISE Together in Christ.

About RENEW International RENEW International is a canonically-recognized Catholic organization based in Plainfield, NJ, in the Archdiocese of Newark. RENEW International fosters spiritual renewal in the Catholic tradition by empowering individuals and communities to encounter God in everyday life, deepen and share faith, and connect faith with action. Since 1980 RENEW International has revitalized parish life in over 150 dioceses in the United States, touching the lives of 25 million people through its renewal processes. RENEW International also reaches many thousands outside the United States, having served people in 23 countries, across six continents and in 44 languages.