Gene Olive was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1986. He struck a bargain with God. “If you make me well I will serve you in some way.”
Looking around, Gene realized that the grounds around his church looked “like a junkyard.” He and a few friends began to maintain four acres of land surrounding Annunciation Catholic Church. Some 22 years later, the group he started is still going strong.
Gene passed away last August but he built a brotherhood of men whose average age is 80. The youngest man is 69 and the oldest is 90. The group was dubbed “The 12 Apostles” by Sister Joanice Hogan, the pastorial minister in the late 1980s. They are now called, “The 12 Apostles Plus,” with 17 members. They meet every Tuesday, winter or summer at 7 a.m. They cut grass, trim hedges, weed flowerbeds, plant roses, bushes, trees, and build stone retaining walls. Recently they painted an entrance wall of the church and ripped up an old carpet in the hospitality room. When a parishioner dies they have been asked to plant roses, trees or bushes in honor of the deceased.
“It is not all work. They stop at 8:15 to attend mass, have coffee & donuts, do a lot of talking and laughing with each other,” says Sister Deanna Donahue, the present pastorial minister. Some members will leave the winter behind to vacation in Florida, California, or Mississippi.
Sam Bracchi, 77, whose family is from Italy, is known for his cooking. He had most of the statistics or details about the history of the apostles. Don Machacek, 77, of Czech background, is concerned about the future of the group. “We are losing more members than what we are gaining,” he says.
Tom Laska, 71, whose ancestors came from many countries of Europe, says “I was a rookie at the age of 65 when I joined this group. This keeps me in shape and it’s good for longevity. It never rains on Tuesday when we have to work outside.”
Don Machacek disagreed mildly, saying, “We have mowed the grass in the rain.”
They have a fund drive once a year, raising $4000 for plants, and maintenance equipment. Their shop equipment is two riding lawnmowers, two little tractors, four push mowers, and six trimmers.
“The 12 apostles plus gather with their wives and special guests to celebrate Christmas with a delicious meal and caroling in December,” says Sister Deanna Donahue “They gather again in the summer for a picnic on the beautiful grounds.”
A large statue of the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph overlooks a rock wall built by the men and faces the entrance of the church. It will be dedicated to Gene Olive. The “12 Apostle Plus” look forward each week to their friendships while finding purpose in service to their community.
Jeanette Fordyce contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.