Holy Rosary parish in Midtown to salute veterans with Mass, celebration

November 8, 2022

Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Navy chaplain who was killed while serving with the Marines in Vietnam, is pictured ministering in the field in an undated photo. A biopic of Father Capodanno’s life will be screened at Holy Rosary Parish in Houston on Nov. 18 during a series of events honoring veterans. (CNS photo/courtesy Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers)

HOUSTON – The pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Father Peter Damian Harris, OP, is introducing Veterans Day celebrations to honor veterans of all stripes and to reach out to the many local homeless veterans.

It is the first time for the Midtown parish to host a Mass specifically for veterans and their families on Veterans Day, and long overdue, according to Father Harris.

He said the need to provide more support for veterans in the Houston area, whether it’s financial, medical or spiritual, is pressing and is especially close to home given the number of homeless veterans who hang out around the church.

“It’s important to recognize their selfless service to keep this country safe and their contribution to world peace,” Father Harris said. “They are a very vital part of this country, and I think they should be recognized.”

Having been born and raised in Jamaica where veterans are celebrated every year on Nov. 11, or what is often referred to as “Poppy Day,” Father Harris wanted to do something equally celebratory at Holy Rosary, where he has served as pastor for the past 18 months and before that as associate pastor.

“It’s one way to evangelize,” Father Harris said.

Under Father Harris’s leadership, Holy Rosary’s Vocation Ministry team, led by Celia Clay, OP, organized the events for veterans, which includes an appearance by Sister Deirdre “DeDe” Byrne, POSC, who is coming from Washington D.C. to talk about her military experiences and spiritual journey.

Currently, Sister Byrne is the superior of the D.C. Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts house near Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where the sisters run a pro-bono physical therapy clinic and diabetic eye clinic, retirement home for her elderly sisters as well as a music school pre-school children.

Clay, also a veteran as a retired major having served 23 years in public health in the Texas Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force, is sensitive to the needs of veterans.

“This is a group of people that need to be part of something larger than themselves,” she said. “For many, their faith has been tested. When they leave the armed forces, they are looking for a way to live that out, and they are welcome here.”

Both Father Harris and Clay want to provide a welcoming environment for veterans and their families and will continue to do what they can for veterans in the area, whether it’s providing bus tickets or helping with utilities and food.

A recent 2021 report by the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston said that one third of surveyed sheltered homeless were veterans, and estimated between 1,200 to 1,400 homeless veterans were in Texas.

“We are in discussion with other faith groups to collaborate and do what we can to better serve them,” Father Harris said. “We are just starting out, and this is a new idea.”

Following the Nov. 11 Mass, Sister Byrne will lead a “Rosary for the Nation,” also known as a patriotic Rosary.

She will go on to talk about her experiences as a medical officer in the U.S. Army — she retired in 2009 with the rank of colonel after 29 years of service, which led her to become a missionary sister with Little Workers of the Sacred Heart in Washington D.C., her missionary work and her encounters with Mother Theresa.

Sister Byrne met Mother Teresa for the first time in 1989 and again in 1997 when she was assigned to look after Mother Teresa, who was in Washington D.C., for several days to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the time, Sister Byrne was still discerning and took to heart Mother Teresa’s advice to “keep your eyes on the Cross.”

Of her 29 years of military service, which included rotations with the Army in Afghanistan and at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Sister Byrne said she fell in love with the soldiers.

“They are brave, and they have sacrificed their life and their family time to defend us,” she said.