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Father Chris Alar, MIC, Takes Over Directorship
By Felix Carroll (Jul 30, 2014)
A barnstorming emissary of the Marians' mercy mission, Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, has taken over as the new director of the Association of Marian Helpers as of July 28. He replaces Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, who will continue in his role as director of the Evangelization and Development Office.
Though ordained to the Sacred Priesthood only this past May 31, Fr. Chris had spent a good portion of the previous four years closely involved in evangelization efforts at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., the headquarters for the Association. In the following interview, Fr. Chris shares his vision for the future, the special role Marian Helpers play in the mission of the Church, and the way in which he chose to give thanks to Marian Helpers upon his ordination.
Father Chris, what are your priorities as the new "Fr. Joseph, MIC," director of the Association?
Without a doubt, our number one priority should be efforts to increase membership in the Association — not for the sake of "more members," but rather for the salvation of as many souls as possible. My task as both a priest and Fr. Joseph, MIC, is, first and foremost, helping to save souls. So that means to educate people on the value of what it means to be a Marian Helper.
So what is the value of being a Marian Helper?
We are a spiritual benefit society, which is an amazing means through which God provides a tremendous amount of graces to souls who are seeking communion with Him. It is a surefire way to bring about the graces that will lead you to God. Think about it: Marian Helpers share in the benefits of all the daily Masses, prayers, and good works of all Marian priests and brothers; they receive a specific remembrance at our daily Mass celebrated for Marian Helpers; a Holy Mass offered for members on the First Friday and First Saturday of each month; a Holy Mass offered for deceased members on All Souls Day; a special Mass offered on each feast day of Our Savior and His Blessed Mother; the continuous Novena to the Divine Mercy at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy; and the daily prayers offered by workers at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marian Helpers Center.
Who would not want these graces? They are free graces! [Laughs]. And when we meet our Lord and Savior, we're going to need every ounce of grace we can get.
What are your plans to increase membership?
There are four ways. One, through regional meetings throughout the country with Marian Helpers, which will begin later this fall. Two, ramp up our nationwide parish mission program utilizing the number of new vocations entering the Marian Congregation. Three, have face-to-face visits with our longtime Marian Helpers to brainstorm ways to best evangelize in their communities. Four, as Fr. Joseph, MIC, I will personally be present to many of the groups of pilgrims who come to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. This is a demanding position, time-wise, but I want to rebuild face-to-face contact with our Marian Helpers. In all four ways, we'll share how and why Marian Helpers' support is so critical to our work of evangelization that my predecessor, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, has done such an amazing job of building over the past three years. We will encourage people to bring friends and loved ones into this beautiful spiritual family, to participate in the mission of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
This approach goes back to the roots of the Association.
Yes, and that's something close to my heart. The Association was officially established in 1945 here in Stockbridge, and it began as a small group of friends who believed in and supported the work of the Marians. The Marians had become official promoters of Divine Mercy by then. Father Walter Pelczynski, MIC, who died on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2000, founded the Association, and he and the Marians dedicated themselves to the spread of the Divine Mercy revelations of St. Faustina and devotion to Mary Immaculate not only through our publishing apostolate, but most importantly through establishing personal relationships. He maintained an active correspondence with literally thousands of friends and associates. "Father Pel" answered every letter personally, and my goal is to do the same thing. The Association was smaller then, but there's a way to do it.
When did you first hear about the Association?
I didn't learn about the Association until I first became a Marian, and that's a good point to bring up. If we are really doing what the Scriptures tell us to do, which is to take the Gospels to every corner of the earth, I should have heard about the Association of Marian Helpers earlier. What that tells me is that we — the Marians — cannot do this work ourselves. Even Christ Himself developed something we now call the "Jesus model." In the Jesus model, He handpicked a group of leaders that He then trained to go out and evangelize and be apostles of Christ and His Divine Mercy. In a way, He taught the first teachers. He set it up such that we, as His followers, take an active role in salvation history. This is why we are called "mini co-redeemers." Jesus tells us through St. Faustina that the salvation of souls depends on us. What we hope to do is help educate Marian Helpers so they can be the new apostles. Jesus didn't do it all Himself. The Marians are not able do it all ourselves. The only way to bring salvation to all of mankind is through the work of people like Marian Helpers.
So being a Marian Helper is a work of mercy.
Yes. It's my hope and my prayer to foster more active participation in spreading God's mercy, and one of the great ways to do that is through the Association. What that means is to help instill in our Helpers a desire to do what Jesus asked us to do through St. Pope John Paul II. John Paul told the Marians to be "Apostles of the Divine Mercy under the maternal and loving guidance of Mary."
What was your first impression of the Association?
Coming from a business background, I originally saw it as mainly a fundraising operation. I was not fully aware of the scope and the beauty of the Association. Of course fundraising is critical because no organization or charity can function without resources, so I understood that raising funds is justified and necessary. However, soon after I started working at the Marian Helpers Center as a seminarian, I realized that fundraising is way down on the list of priorities here. I have grown in an extreme way in my awareness of what the Association is, what the members do provide for us, but more importantly the graces they are receiving through their membership. Before, I thought it was about what we receive from them. Now, it's a joy to see what they receive from us as well. From Marian Helpers, we receive the critical resources we need in order to continue to operate in our ministry. From us, they receive the most beautiful graces of our prayers, Masses, and spiritual sacrifices.
The day after your ordination, you dedicated your first Mass to all Marian Helpers. Why?
It was my way of saying thank you for allowing me to receive the greatest grace of my life: the priesthood. I know I would not be a priest today if it were not for the Marian Helpers. The only reason that our seminarians get an opportunity to study for the priesthood — to have meals, tuition, insurance, clothes, transportation — is because Marian Helpers have stepped up above and beyond to help us. But not just financially. More important is their prayers — that's what gets us through.
As far as religious communities were concerned, the Marians were a perfect fit for you.
No question. When I first felt God calling me to the priesthood, I had a very real devotion to Mary. I felt a deep connection to the Holy Souls; and I wanted to be of service to the Church in any way that I could be. I couldn't believe that this turned out to be the exact charism of the Marians. Once I found the Marians, I never looked at another community.
You have unique qualifications for your position as Fr. Joseph. Please explain.
I was originally born, groomed, and raised to be a fighter pilot. I received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy right out of high school, and I believed then that the fulfillment of what I was supposed to do in life would be fulfilled there. Later, when I got a medical discharge, I thought my life was over. Little did I know how God was guiding me down a different road — a much more fulfilling road. I received an engineering degree, which taught me how to run business operations efficiently, and then a master's degree in business administration (MBA) from the University of Michigan, which taught me how to financially analyze those efficiencies. Then I started my own business, which taught me how to manage people. God laid out that plan in front of me without me ever even knowing it. I know why now: He was bringing me here both to help work with Fr. Michael Gaitley in evangelizing people while simultaneously practicing good financial stewardship so that every dollar that has been entrusted to us will not be wasted but will be used effectively in the way God wills. Third, my experience in starting my own business helped me learn how to operate an organization and manage people. All of this has perfectly led me to this role. Now I just pray for God's help in this role.
How does your directorship now relate to all the work of your predecessor, Fr. Michael?
Father Mike is an incredible visionary. What he was able to accomplish during the three-year term of Fr. Joseph was nothing short of amazing. He started the Hearts Afire: Parish-based Programs (HAPP). He built up the Evangelization and Development Office. He brought in the relationship with Lighthouse Catholic Media to help get our books and other products to a larger audience. He and Mark Fanders created our Divine Mercy Art program to provide high-quality religious images at low cost. He gave us this huge vision. Now I'm coming in to help continue to put these visions into practice the best way we can for Christ and His Church.