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A rebuilt marriage, strong faith, strong family

“The Call to Stewardship” is a periodic series profiling individuals and families throughout the Diocese of Camden who have shown an inspiring response to the call to Christian stewardship highlighted in 1 Peter 4:10 “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Father Cadmus Mazzarella, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, Williamstown, stands with Karen and George, Jr. Creel and their children, Kate, Sarah and George. Photo by James A. McBride

In the Creel family, siblings Kate, Sarah and George III are all passionate about the role that the Catholic faith plays in their lives, and parents Karen and George, Jr. deserve credit for passing that faith on to their children. Factor in the family’s commitment to parish life at Our Lady of Peace Parish, the Williamstown church George and Karen have called home for over 30 years, and it starts to become clear that God has used a Catholic village to build this family.

George and Karen know how hard it is to raise Catholic kids today. Recent research reveals that the current generation of young adults is falling away from the observance of organized religious faith at a notable rate. The Religious Landmark Study, conducted by the Pew Research Foundation in 2007 and again in 2014, shows the “Nones” — adults without any religious affiliation— growing quickly, from 16 percent of the adult population in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.

Unique Commitments

Yet each of George and Karen’s kids has a unique commitment to the Catholic faith.

Kate, 25, has an education degree from Rowan University and hopes to find a job teaching in a Catholic school at the K-8 level. She teaches seventh graders in the religious education program and serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Kate also is a member of ACTS, or Active Christians Taking a Stand, the young adult group at Our Lady of Peace.

Sarah, 21, just graduated from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and also feels a call to serve, although in a different way. She and Kate returned not long ago from a trip to Fatima, Portugal. Both describe the event as “transformative” and came home with a renewed devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.

Since graduation, Sarah has been looking at nursing programs and hopes to one day care for infants in intensive care. In high school, along with her brother, she was part of Core, the leadership team in the parish youth group that helps plan and lead youth retreats. And today, like her dad, she enjoys serving as a lector.

Younger brother George, 18, just completed his first year of seminary at Seton Hall University, where he is one of several seminarians sent by Our Lady of Peace Parish, under the pastorship of Father Cadmus Mazzarella, or “Father Mazz” as he’s widely known. Our Lady of Peace currently has six seminarians studying for the priesthood, and Father Mazzarella is quick to point past his own ministry to explain the surprisingly high number.

“Parishes with Eucharistic Adoration typically have better numbers with vocations,” Father Mazzarella says.

Yet, the younger George also feels a debt of gratitude to Father Mazzarella and to the youth group in their parish for playing a large role in helping him to discern a vocation to the priesthood.

“I’ve always been mesmerized by priests and the priesthood,” George says, but the idea of a vocation to the priesthood developed gradually. He served in many ways at church, for years as an altar server, and then later as a lector and extraordinary minister. From childhood, he felt drawn to a career in law enforcement. Then, as he went through high school, George felt a different call. “The youth [are] big to me, because that is how I was brought into my faith.” He one day wants to serve as a diocesan priest who can reach families and young people.

Critical Crossroads

The Creels credit the youth group at their church, led by full-time youth coordinator, Kari Janisse, with offering a haven where kids can embrace their faith during the critical teen years, just at the juncture when so many young Catholics are leaving their faith behind. Father Mazzarella has made sure that the parish treats programs for children, youth and young adults as a priority.

For both George and Karen, faith matters. Both family life and parish life have played a large role in making it possible to raise three faithful kids.

Karen, in years past, was active in supporting youth group activities and also as a Eucharistic minister, taking Communion to parishioners in nursing homes. George serves as a lector and is helping to establish perpetual adoration as a devotion at Our Lady of Peace. He has also served as a religious education teacher.

Together, the whole family participates in the parish’s Thursday night Betania prayer group, which centers on the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, followed by fellowship for members of all different ages.

George and Karen don’t take their current life for granted. In the past, they nearly lost the spiritual tie they now credit with making their family life possible.

About 12 years ago, they found themselves at a crossroads. Their marriage was in tatters, and Karen was living in the basement of her parents’ house with the three young children. The couple had filed for divorce, divided up their assets, and as George remembers, “We were ready to kill each other.”

Despite seeking counseling with a priest who was a friend, they watched as the filing period for ending their marriage approached its conclusion, each one feeling helpless to stop their divorce from being finalized. Karen was going to Mass, often daily, seeking a way out of their predicament.

Then one day George said to himself, “Twenty years of marriage down the drain. This is crazy.… I started praying, and then I said, ‘I should just call her. It’s going too fast.’”

He picked up the phone and gave Karen a call. Together, they decided to give their marriage another chance.

They credit their decision to reconcile to the work of the Holy Spirit. And today, their children credit the same Spirit for working in their lives.

“It’s beautiful how everything stems back to that reconciliation in our family,” Sarah says.

George and Karen credit others with the course their family life has taken. But they’ve clearly had a significant influence on the paths their children are choosing now that they’ve reached adulthood. This summer, the three younger Creels participated together in the biannual young adult retreat sponsored by their parish.

With the renewed devotion of their parents, a pastor committed to youth ministry, and a church community that takes its mission to evangelize youth seriously, Kate, Sarah and George III are clearly bucking all trends for the millennial generation.

Although their dad, George Jr., says that the process of change in their family has been gradual, he and Karen believe that being an active part of their parish community has been key.

“We don’t take it for granted,” George says. “For young people, it makes their faith part of their lives.”

And as Sarah made clear, she feels strongly that “it’s my duty now to give back.”

The mission of the Office of Stewardship is to help the disciples of Christ who live in the Diocese of Camden to live out Christian charity in a sacrificial way that “we might understand the grace that comes from giving back from our blessings so that in all things God may be glorified.” For more information, contact Deacon Russell Davis at 856-583-6102.

Read in Catholic Star Herald