Sister goes door to door asking Catholics to return to Mass

Never underestimate the power of an invitation.

Once upon a time there were groups like Legion of Mary, which could canvass parish neighborhoods.  Once upon a time, priests even walked about neighborhoods working on a census.  Then again, parish neighborhoods were often ethnically concentrated, etc. etc.  Neighborhoods were more self-enclosed, having small groceries, dairies, butchershops, hardware stores grouped on a corner every few blocks or so.  Times have changed.

But this story is perfect for your Just Too Cool file.

From The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix, where Bp. Olmsted reigns.

Catholics Matter: Intrepid sister goes door-to-door inviting Catholics to Mass

That knock at the door might not be a sales person. Sr. Margery Therese Harkin, PVMI, with her soft Irish brogue and sparkling blue eyes, is out pounding the streets, looking for the lost sheep, even as the summer’s brutal heat beats down on her pale blue dress and veil.

Accompanied by seminarians or lay people, Sr. Margery visits homes, inquiring if there are any baptized Catholics in residence and inviting them to church. A religious sister belonging to the New-York-based Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, Sr. Margery said some of those whom she visits decide to attend her RCIA classes.

“We always tell them that the priest sent us,” Sr. Margery said. “Just as the Apostles were sent, we never go in our own name.”

She and two other sisters reside in a convent at Christ the King Parish in Mesa, but 30 hours a week, Sr. Margery is working to bring people into — or home to — the Catholic Church at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Phoenix.

This is her third year at the west-side parish and she estimates she’s visited about 4,000 homes. Previously, Sr. Margery worked in the neighborhoods surrounding Queen of Peace and St. Timothy in Mesa and St. Daniel in Scottsdale. She’s also trained teams of parish visitors in other states.

She doesn’t pressure people — she merely invites them and lets God do the rest.

In Florida, a woman answered the door and admitted she hadn’t been back to church in 30 years because something a priest did offended her.  [I know this is a real thing.  I have talked to people think this way, but – how dumb is that considering the loss of spiritual benefits? When people say things like this, I suspect there is some other reason.]

“We’re taught we have to listen,” Sr. Margery said of the encounter. “She needed to tell her story.” Though apprehensive, the woman decided to come back to the Church.


There is more there.

Fr. Z kudos to Sister.

I wonder what Sr. Simone and the bus-nuns would say about this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Fr. Z KUDOS, Just Too Cool, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, Women Religious and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. StJude says:

    What a great story.

    When I was a teenager a priest came knocking on the door. I was the only one home and he sat and talked to me on my front porch. Such a nice man. He sent me a rosary in the mail.. I have had that rosary in my purse for 30 years.
    I thought of him when I converted 25 years later.

  2. lelnet says:

    When one abstains too long from the sacraments, it becomes trivially easy to come up with ever-new excuses to not go back. Is it the voice of Satan, or merely of our own odd and ever-shifting combination of pride, despair, wrath, and sloth? Does it matter, really?

    God bless Sr. Margery, and her important work!

    Those who haven’t experienced it probably don’t understand how powerful despair can be, in this sort of situation. “After all this time”, you find yourself thinking, “I’m sure neither God nor the Church really even _want_ me back”. Correcting the pride, wrath, and sloth might require divine intervention, but the despair will often yield to the ordinary graces available to us all, if we but use them.

  3. Ray says:

    Once upon a time is now for our parish, Father. We have an active Legion of Mary praesidium in my parish and we just started going out door to door for the last two months. So far it has been received well by all the doors that I have personally visited. We were trained by the Archdiocese and it has worked well so far. God Bless this good sister who is still out there working for Our Savior. I personally remember priests from parishes I lived in who went out to each home on a yearly basis. One pastor told my wife and I that he saw us at Mass each week but wondered why we didn’t participate in any of the parish organizations. After examining my conscience and seeing he was right, it became the impetus for a very active participatory parish life for both me and my wife. That one little conversation by this pastor 40+ years ago in our family room changed our lives, hopefully, for the better.

  4. Pingback: Details of Pope Francis World Youth Day Visit Revealed -

  5. Sister Margery is wonderful inspiration! Door-to-door evangelization is a scary, intimidating thing, and takes strong people to do.
    Yes, Father, the Legion of Mary shouldn’t be relegated to “once upon a time” just yet! I can report that there is a growing, functioning praesidium at Christendom College.

  6. HeatherPA says:

    “We always tell them that the priest sent us,” Sr. Margery said. “Just as the Apostles were sent, we never go in our own name.”

    My goodness! An American nun not indoctrinated with the cult of Self and Me. How dare she not tow the line drawn by Keenan, Campbell & Co.

    May God’s blessings continue upon her! She is the real thing.

  7. GregH says:

    Hey! I’m in the Legion of Mary and we still go out knocking on doors and trying convert non-Catholics or bring back fallen-away Catholics. We’ve been doing this since 1921 when the “New Evangelization” really started.

  8. wmeyer says:

    HeatherPA, I think you will find that among sisters in habits, there is very little of the Self and Me nature. These good women know that their work is always for the Lord.

  9. priests wife says:

    a suggestion: if you are too shy to evangelize door to door- invite lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics to your parish’s fish fry/rummage sale/festival/etc- it might be a seed to faith just to be at a church

    when I was 11, a neighbor family invited us to the local Catholic church’s spaghetti feed, a year and a half later we entered the Church- decades later, grandma and grandpa are very active in the Church, all five of us siblings married active Catholics and there are 24 and counting Catholic grandkids

  10. Andrew says:

    Can. 529 §1 So that he may fulfill his office of pastor diligently, the parish priest is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. He is therefore to visit their families …

    I am not too far from hitting 70 and I am yet to be visited by a priest. No one from my parish has ever made an attempt to know me. In fact, I get the distinct impression that any conversation I start up (and there have been numerous attempts) is not welcome from the start and that it needs to remain impersonal and end as soon as possible. I am sure it is all somehow my fault.

  11. Priam1184 says:

    Father you are correct IT IS REAL. People do leave the Church because of negative interactions with priests or deacons. Maybe it is because of some weakness on their part but I have had quite a few members of my family leave the Faith because of something a priest said or did or did not do. I considered doing it once myself. I also agree that it is a colossally stupid thing to do, but some people are just wired that way. So my advice to priests is this: I know that you are overworked and (extremely) understaffed but don’t ever let flippancy or sarcasm invade your thoughts and actions when dealing with members of your flock, no matter how bad your day has been. This can have deleterious effects for a lifetime and beyond. To the laity: don’t be so hypersensitive and realize that priests are human beings who can have bad days too. I have seen enough of that garbage in my lifetime and it is clearly the work of the enemy of mankind. Let’s not aid his efforts by our own stupidity.

  12. APX says:

    My parish still has the Legion of Mary and they have been going door-to-door for several years now. Apparently the only reason they’re allowed to go door-to-door is because one of the pastors several pastors ago gave them permission to go and the pastor who cam afterwards did not want to make any changes.

    [I know this is a real thing. I have talked to people think this way, but – how dumb is that considering the loss of spiritual benefits? When people say things like this, I suspect there is some other reason.]

    Father, priests can say and do some pretty dumb and insensitive things to people and not even realize it (especially towards women). Some people are very sensitive and their emotions and passions can overrule their rational thinking causing them to do some pretty dumb things that make perfect sense to them. Honestly, the best thing to do in these circumstances is to just listen to them and validate what they are feeling with something like, “if I were you, I’d do (feel) the same thing”. It’s absolutely true because if you were them, you would do/feel as they are. That phrase has quelled many an angry “client”. If one comes off as having a judgmental attitude towards such a person, even if without saying anything, they will pick up on it and will just be closed off to listening to reason.

  13. StWinefride says:

    Father Z: [I know this is a real thing. I have talked to people think this way, but – how dumb is that considering the loss of spiritual benefits? When people say things like this, I suspect there is some other reason.]

    In the Catholic Herald this week, Mary O’Regan writes about her near abandonment of the Catholic Faith. I think many of us have been there at some time or another, and the loss of spiritual benefits doesn’t even cross our minds at the time:

    …It may seem very haughty of me to point the finger at other people who are having doubts in their faith. But I know the pain of a crisis of faith. Some years ago, my crisis of faith happened suddenly.

    I was very disturbed when I saw an extremely pious Catholic gravely mistreating another woman. How could this devout Catholic be so cruel to another child of God?

    Hard as it is to admit, I suddenly lost confidence in the Lord, thinking that He and His goodness must not be real, because why did someone who said they were so influenced by Christ, behave so viciously?

    I wanted to delete my blog, The Path Less Taken, and put up a Facebook post to say that I had abandoned Catholicism”…

  14. NBW says:

    May God Bless her! Going door to door is very intimidating. You never know how someone will react.
    BUT it has to be done. The Catholic Church needs to evangelize more.

  15. J.M.C. says:

    This kind of door-to-door evangelization is actually the apostolate for which this Sister’s community was founded.

    The Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate are a very faithful and joyful group of Sisters. I hope this article leads to some new vocations for them! (And for any discerners out there, their website is: ).

  16. APX says:

    So…St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day is coming up on Monday. I have a crazy idea (which is partially stolen from our priest).

    Why not those who have Legion of Mary praesidiums that are already allowed to go door to door, make a concerted effort to go door to door to find the lost sheep on Monday. Those who don’t have the permission to go door to door, start now to work at getting permission, even for just Monday.

    Everyone- Fast, pray, do extra penance, offer up everything thing you do, suffer, etc for the conversion of sinners on Monday.

    Priests- Go open your church doors, like actually open them, not merely unlock them, and sit in the box to hear confessions. I realize that Mondays are usually a day off for most priests, either take a different day off that week, or offer it up. Don’t be one of those 9-5 priests who only hears confessions when they’re scheduled. Sheep don’t know how to read and can’t tell time.

    Bishops- Vocally support and encourage your diocese to set aside each year, St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day as an official day of going after the lost sheep and making it a day of prayer, fasting, and penance, etc.

    Conferences of bishops- As above, but make this day an official day of observance for all the diocese within the conferences.

    Rome- Support the conferences of bishops in this.

    Your Holiness- Could we please turn our attention to the Poor in Spirit for just one day? Pleeeze??

  17. Luvadoxi says:

    I have a relative who is a highly decorated officer in Korea and Vietnam who when he met his true love, a Lutheran girl, in the 1950s was disowned by his grandmother. He married in a Lutheran ceremony and never looked back. I know there is stubbornness and hurt involved but it’s hard for me to see that their marriage is invalid. I was wondering–can someone tell me if a priest back then would have told them “no” to such a marriage? I don’t know the answer to that in this particular case. Anyway, he could sure use a visit from this sister!

  18. Luvadoxi says:

    His Catholic grandmother I should have said….

  19. truthfinder says:

    Sister is part of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, and their entire charism is to go door-to-door and evangelize and teach catechism as well. There are about 50 of these sisters in the US I believe. I think that because they wear a simple habit people might be more willing to open the door to them (rather than someone else, I’d probably think they were Jehovah’s Witnesses or something).

    My parish priests also said there were going to try and visit families of the parish, which is a rather large undertaking on their part as there are numerous registered but many fewer attendees, and they often have to take up Masses elsewhere too.

  20. iPadre says:

    God bless the good Sister! We need more like her.

    2-1/2 years ago, our Legion of Mary hosted a Day of Evantelization. 50 teams of 2 or more people visited most of the homes in the parish in a few hours. I prepared a packet to be given out to the people they me. This is a big thing in our diocese.

    I put together a little website: If you want to do it in your parish.

  21. Kathleen10 says:

    To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, “now THATS a nun”.

  22. NBW says:

    Sr. Margery travels on foot and has visited 4000 homes evangelizing for the Faith.

    Nuns on the Bus–have traveled 6,500 miles in an air conditioned bus, fighting for social justice. I think they have driven beyond Jesus.

  23. Lin says:

    Great story! God bless Sr. Margery!

  24. Elizabeth M says:

    Great job Sister! We have Jehovah Witnesses at our door about once a month. I hope her story goes out to every parish and maybe soon that knock on my door will be from a local sister.

  25. HyacinthClare says:

    That is so cool!! I’m not a mile from Christ the King in Mesa! (Very small quibble… we’re “east side” not “west side” of Phoenix). You would be so welcome here, Sister!

  26. ScholaLady says:

    I imagine that the bus nuns would say that this Sister shouldn’t be knocking on doors in order to force her religion people, rather, she should be knocking on doors to campaign for democrats.

  27. Ryan says:

    Ditto GregH, our praesidium does door -to door. Its really more easy than most folks think.

  28. God help her, but my mother is a Protestant who is infected with the near-sighted view of those Catholics who tend to be turned off from the Catholic Church entirely because of individuals – Cardinal, Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or layman – who happen to offend her or scandalize her in some way. This way of thinking is terribly sad, but really it’s a consequence of a lack of solid catechesis on the Catholic Religion. Catholicism is about so much more than individuals, the current era in Church history, temporary scandals and so forth; in fact, that is what helps strengthen me as a I convert to the Catholic Faith, knowing the crisis the Latin Church is going through right now and her conflicted self-identity, shrinking numbers, and shaky Liturgical principles. Catholicism is SO much bigger, richer, and grander than this petty age and its silly, backwards individuals who sabotage the Faith or decrease its apparent, temporal majesty. God will prevail, not the gates of hell, and that is precisely the attitude that offended Catholics and Protestants should adopt regarding the devil’s servants, witting or unwitting, who scandalize in some way. Come to Christ, present in the womb of the Church alone, and be wedded to God, benefiting from the intercession of the Mother of God and all the Saints, and being drawn into the glorious communion of the Martyrs.

  29. johnnys says:

    Thank you sister. Now that’s evangelizing.

  30. Gaetano says:

    I worked as a volunteer hospital chaplain for several months. You would be amazed at how many people stopped going to church for reasons that appear trivial, but were quite hurtful to them at the time. Part of my work was apologizing for what happened to them, and inviting them to come back.
    I recall an interview with the hard boiled crime novelist Mickey Spilane. He became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1951 because they took the time to knock on my door and talk to him.

  31. Elizium23 says:

    I happen to be a parishioner of Saint Daniel the Prophet in warm sunny Scottsdale, AZ. There is currently a letter from our pastor, Fr. T. McGuire, on the website regarding the success of our door-to-door evangelization ministry. While I was not directly a part of this, I often prayed for the participants as they went two-by-two in the service of the Lord. I can tell you that these are wonderful, faithful people in the parish and they were greatly energized by the Spirit in this mission. Thanks be to God for the Parish Visitors!

  32. yatzer says:

    I’m with Andrew. I belonged to several parishes where apparently it was a club that only certain people were accepted into. I never figured out the secret password. People even reached ACROSS me to give that awful Sign of Peace while ignoring the fact I was there. It was like being invisible. So I spent the next 10 years in a lovely pro-life Protestant congregation. Then God called me back through a series of circumstances and I finally stumbled on a lovely small parish that also has the TLM. I will never, ever go back to one of those round suburban clubby parishes.

  33. Father S. says:

    In my last parish, we started something similar as part of our youth group work. We had teens go out and knock on doors (with adult supervision). It produced many fruits and I hope that it still does! Since people tend to leave parishes on account of negative personal intreactions, we thought that we would try to invite them back sith the opposite. It was scary at first, but worth every minute!

  34. frodo says:

    Sr. Marge!? That’s our nun! THAT’S OUR NUN! WOOHOO!!!!

  35. e.e. says:

    As for people leaving the Church because of a bad experience, it happens a lot — more often than it should. Certainly the Truth of the faith is present whether or not the people in your local parish are being nice to you… but typically what happens is that a bad experience, either with clergy or lay person, leads someone to question their faith. “What kind of faith is this that the priest/CCD teacher/other apparently devout person thinks it’s OK to act like that?” So it’s not so much that they leave because of the bad experience, but more that the bad experience causes them to doubt the faith entirely.

    I have one family member who left the Church after a priest said some extremely uncharitable things to her as a young woman (as I understand it, his comments involved the skin color of her fiance). Even though what he said obviously wasn’t Church teaching, she ended up leaving the Church and going to an evangelical Protestant church. Her initial rationale was something along the lines of: I’m not so sure the Church really has the fullness of faith if the priest can behave in a way that is so un-Christian, therefore I will go to this evangelical church where the people are kind and seem to behave more like Christ.

    Sadly, it is a very real thing. God bless Sr. Margery in her work to minister to those who have wandered from the Church, whether because of past hurts or because of other reasons.

  36. The Masked Chicken says:


    You asked,

    ” I was wondering–can someone tell me if a priest back then would have told them “no” to such a marriage?”

    Yes, I can tell you. It was the prevailing wisdom that mixed marriages were to be approached with caution. They would have needed a dispensation from Cult to marry in a Catholic Church, which was harder to get back then, but not impossible, so they could have been married in a Catholic Church. Marriage in a Lutheran Church would not have been recognized in the Church. If he had formally defected from the Church, then the marriage might not have been governed by Church law and it would be a marriage of a Protestant to a Protestant. Since he did not formally defect from the Church, the marriage would be considered invalid by impediment and your grandmother was right to be concerned.

    The marriage could be regularized, today, if they are still alive. They would need to contact a priest.

    Of course, one can no longer formally defect from the Catholic Church, today, anyways, so the situation is a bit different than back in the 1950s, but it much easier to marry a Protestant in the Church, today, then it was, back then.

    The Chicken

  37. Andrew, have you tried inviting a priest to your home? Unless the priest is doing house visits of the whole area, as I will be in the Fall, he isn’t likely to come by otherwise — wouldn’t be very polite for him to invite himself, would it?
    I as a priest am always happy to receive such invitations, even if I am not always able to accept invitations on a particular date due to prior obligations.

  38. Alice says:

    On the little street where I lived when I was small, we had quite a few ex-Catholic neighbors. I remember two of them, one who would now be in her 60s and another who would now be in her 90s, both of whom left the Church because when they went to their pastors to get married, the priests told them, “Come back with a Catholic boy.” My father, who always kept a few Catholic pictures up at work, would sometimes come home and mention that he was doing some work for someone who had seen the pictures and mentioned that they’d have been raised Catholic if their mom or dad’s priest hadn’t told them to find a Catholic. I always wonder how many of those couples would have become staunch Catholics instead of leaving the Church had the priest sat down and worked with them instead of refusing to speak with them. My mom’s unbaptized husband (my dad) eventually converted and then converted his family of origin!

  39. lsoliman says:

    Door-to-Door is a most fruitful way to evangelize! I belong to the Emmanuel Community, founded by Servant of God Pierre Goursat in Paris, and door-to-door evangelization is one of our main apostolates. I’ve witnessed fallen-away Catholics who have disdain for the Church being touched by our personal witness in door-to-door evangelization, and who show up to Mass on Sunday for the first time in a long time. We’ve been affirmed in this apostolate by our Holy Father’s invitation to go out in search of others.

  40. acorrea says:

    I too belong to the Emmanuel community and have done several missions throughout Europe and the USA where we go door-to-door talking to people near a local parish. The conversations I have had are amazing. It is true what sister says. 99% of this type of evangelization really about listening! Many feel hope again and some even return to the Church where we are so privileged to see them go to Mass or confession for the first time in 10-20-30 years and even more. This type of evangelization is probably the most difficult evangelization I have experienced but it is definitely worth it. God bless Sr. Margery Therese for her fruitful and difficult work for the Kingdom. More of us should learn from her example and get out there and help our parish to bring those lost sheep back.

  41. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    A lovely report!

    J.M.C. answered the question which came to my mind, what exactly does “the New-York-based Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate” mean? I wondered if it was something related to St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Militia Immaculata: the answer, then, is ‘no’, though both started around the same time.

Comments are closed.