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Conway prayer group lifts voices for priests' challenges

Quarterly Vianney Cenacle's mission to offer the ordained support, encouragement

Published: November 18, 2021   
Aprille Hanson Spivey
Father Tony Robbins, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Conway, carries the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance to the altar to start the Foundation of Prayer for Priests Vianney Cenacle, hosted by the parish’s Praying for Priests Prayer Group Nov. 13. The group, which started the quarterly cenacle in November 2019 as a grassroots effort in individual homes, has grown to include in-person and virtual participants in praying for priests during their vocation.

About 40 parishioners from St. Joseph Church in Conway and Catholics from around Central Arkansas came together Nov. 13 to pray for the holiness and fruitfulness of priests. 

Jennifer Tucker, founder and leader of the parish’s Praying for Priests Prayer Group which hosts the structured holy hour four times a year, said many groups pray for vocations, but not many focus on priests. Since the group held its first Foundation of Prayer for Priests Vianney Cenacle in November 2019, prayer support during a priest’s vocation has been its mission. 

“As far as giving the support, encouragement, prayer to the priest in the midst of the challenges of their vocation of priesthood, kind of like with our marriages at three-plus (years), that’s where the focus needs to be as far as temptation,” Tucker said. “That’s where the honeymoon period wears off.” 

The group is part of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests, an international Eucharistic apostolate founded in 2013 with St. John Vianney as its patron saint, according to The Vianney Cenacles allow groups to gather in prayer. 

"Priests need prayer for a variety of things life throws at them, including to recognize their sins, help to be relatable, especially those who are introverted, and to be an example to others."

More than 100 people throughout the diocese usually participate in the cenacles, which include music, prayers and a litany for priests and a Scriptural rosary from Kathleen Beckman’s book “Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls.” The prayer booklet for the Conway cenacle includes material from Beckman, president and co-founder of FPP, and from the Congregation for the Clergy's 2012 publication, “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.” 

At the last cenacle in the summer, about 40 people showed up in-person, while others watched virtually. 

“A lot of those that are out of town can join us virtually with the livestream, which has worked out really well,” Tucker said. “I have a group email list that I send out monthly reminders with prayer opportunities to pray for priests. I also have a text group.” 

The prayer group also instituted a holy hour on every Thursday at 7 p.m. in St. Joseph’s perpetual adoration chapel. 

Tucker said the tug on her heart to pray for priests began around 2010, when her husband Matthew Tucker, now lead and high school principal, began working at St. Joseph School. 

“Up until that point, I had only seen priests from the pew at church,” she said. After visiting with priests outside of Mass. “I realized they were human like we are and need prayers like we need prayers.” 

After Tucker read Beckman’s book, she visited with the author when she came to St. Joseph and sought her guidance in starting the prayer group. 

“I started realizing no priest, no eucharist; or reconciliation,” Tucker said. “The book really opened my eyes to have a better understanding of the importance of priests and the reasons … to pray for their holiness and their fruitfulness.” 

Tucker also reached out to fellow “prayer warriors” like Cindy Hiegel, who helped co-lead the first cenacle. 

“Love — that’s what Christ is. He wants us to love each other. That’s what these priests are to me,” Hiegel said. “They are love, Christ's reflection of love. It’s a goal to be more like them. On the flip side, that’s why we need to pray for them.” 

Father Tony Robbins, pastor of St. Joseph, said it’s powerful to see people praying for priests because they are “public enemy No. 1 as far as the devil is concerned.” 

“If I begin to think I'm on my own, it helps me to remember I'm not on my own,” he said. 

After years of substance abuse, he doubted his ability to answer the call but knew the prayers of the faithful helped him say yes.  

“‘How can I ever become a priest because priests are perfect, and I’d tarnish the priesthood, bring it down to my level.’ I had that perspective,” Father Robbins said. “One of the things I have in mind, and I still am learning to accept that God calls sinners and he doesn't wait for us to be perfect to want to have a relationship with us.” 

He said priests need prayer for a variety of things life throws at them, including to recognize their sins, help to be relatable, especially those who are introverted, and to be an example to others. 

The next cenacle in Conway will be Feb. 12. 

For more information or to request a prayer booklet from Conway’s Vianney Cenacle, email Jennifer Tucker at .

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