ALTON — Many parents are preparing to send their kids to college in the fall, but for others, saying goodbye this summer means sending their sons and daughters thousands of miles away to serve on foreign soil.
For those military moms and dads, along with sisters, brothers, extended families and friends, the first deployment can be rough.
“Especially when you get that first letter – my husband and I cried all night,” said Janice Dunphy, whose son Nick is a Marine. “It is difficult – it’s two weeks before you get that first letter (from your kid). People need to know that maybe that’s what to expect – and you get through it.”
To offer solidarity and support, some area military families and members of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church are uniting to help others experiencing the same concerns about their deployed loved ones.
One local couple, Kris and John Kline, faces their son’s fifth deployment. “You’d think it would get easier, but it does not,” Kris said. “It’s a different mood in our family when he’s deployed.”
Last year, Kris found that connecting in prayer with other military families, many of whose children are just beginning their careers, was enriching. As a result of the Klines’ and other families’ involvement, Sts. Peter and Paul began holding a monthly military support Mass. Local Marine moms Janice Dunphy and Pennie Wisnasky were childhood friends reunited through their sons’ friendship and subsequent enlistment. The women have helped promote the Masses and recently made a Facebook video inviting other families to join the group.
“I finally got to be with people going through the same thing I’m going through, and it helped a lot,” Pennie said.
All the families emphasized anyone is more than welcome to join them.
“We want the group to be open to anybody,” Kris said. “You don’t have to be Catholic to come and pray. It has centered around our Catholic tradition and our Mass, but we’re hoping to reach out to others. We’re trying to branch out to veterans of past wars, and family and friends of veterans, and people who have active military family members or friends.”
They also expressed gratitude to Monsignor Kenneth Steffen and Sister Joan Ann at Sts. Peter and Paul.
“He truly is about uniting all people and all faiths,” Janice said of the monsignor. “People who are coming to (the Masses) are from various faith backgrounds, or maybe they haven’t been to church before – and he is very welcoming.”
At the June Mass, family members read out their deployed servicemen’s names, and many placed photos of their sons on the altar. The congregation also blessed recent Army inductee Patrick McDill, who has since left for Fort Benning. His mother, Shannon, said she has never been more proud of him, and that she is sure to return to the support group.
The group meets briefly after the 6 p.m. Masses to determine dates and times to gather and prepare care packages for the people serving overseas. They send granola bars, beef jerky, chips, peanut butter crackers, toothbrushes and other hygiene products, and pay for the shipping out of their own pockets. The items are kept and packed up at Marquette Catholic High School, where Carmen Serio, whose grandson is enlisted, has provided a space.
If community members would like to contribute to the care packages or help with the cost of shipping, Pennie said items can be dropped off at Marquette, adding, “If you love someone in the military, give us their address and we’ll send them a package. We don’t have to know them. Email me at email@example.com.”
Military Masses are held on the third Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Alton, and all are welcome. For more information about the Masses, support group, or care packages, contact Kris Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org or Carmen Serio at email@example.com.