December 1, 2023 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Martha Thomas’s poem, “My Situation,” is seen in her journal with a bookmark promoting the prayer chain at Christ the King Parish in Madisonville, on Oct. 19, 2023. Thomas has been a leader in the parish community through her written reflections and re-starting the parish’s prayer chain – all accomplished after she experienced a debilitating stroke several years ago. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Bottom line is ‘helping people’ says Madisonville parishioner who restarted prayer chain

BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC

For Martha Thomas, a faith-filled life is “about facing the day.”

This was never truer than after she experienced a stroke in the evening of Feb. 5, 2019.

Prior to her stroke, Thomas – a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Madisonville ever since becoming Catholic in 2000 – could walk without a cane, eat and write with her right hand, and drive herself to work.

It all changed that night at 11 p.m. when her stroke happened.

Thomas detailed her memories of the experience in a reflection titled “My Anniversary,” which she wrote on Feb. 5, 2021 – having taught herself to write with her left hand during her healing process.

“Riding in the back of the ambulance the Lord put in my heart that He was going to take care of me,” she wrote.

“My Anniversary” is just one in a series of reflections that Thomas penned in a simple notebook between May 2020 and July 2023.

Her written reflections, which focus on her faith, her recovery, and many other parts of life, include titles like “Jesus, I Trust in You,” “Face the Day,” and “My Situation.”

Sharing these reflections with a close circle of friends, Thomas discovered that her journal entries spoke to their hearts, too. Her friends have since started using some of her spiritual writings in their own prayer reflections.

These writings are just one aspect of how Thomas has inspired and invigorated the parish community of Christ the King – all the while recovering from her stroke.

For years, Christ the King had a parish prayer chain. A prayer chain, typically, consists in a group of people who are committed to calling each other when they receive a prayer request; hence, creating a “chain” of phone calls. Intentions on the prayer chain would also be printed in the weekly parish bulletin.

Unfortunately, the prayer chain had ceased to exist by both phone and bulletin appearances, which troubled Thomas. She knew that there were still people out in the parish community who needed prayer.

“Martha said, when people need prayer, they can’t wait until their names are seen in the Sunday bulletin,” said Barb Schnapf, the director of religious education for Christ the King and a close friend of Thomas.

Thomas considered the traditional phone call method, but with people’s busy lives, it was hard to make and answer calls consistently. 

Thomas began talking to Schnapf and their pastor, Fr. Carl McCarthy, about restarting the prayer chain – one convenient for 21st-century parishioners.

“Barb suggested a group text,” said Thomas, which ended up being exactly what they needed.

The new-and-improved Christ the King prayer chain kicked off on Aug. 22, 2021, with Fr. McCarthy’s approval and a thread of dedicated prayer warriors ready to offer up any intention sent their way.

“I would share (a prayer request) with 14 people and they would get it automatically,” said Thomas. “Prayer requests would go out much quicker.”

She added that she kept a journal of the prayer requests, so “if I wanted to reach out to that person and check in, I could,” she said.  

Sherry Kittinger, parish office administrative assistant and bookkeeper, designed and printed bookmarks with Thomas’s contact information to place in stacks around the parish and to insert in bulletins. This way, anyone could reach out to Thomas to have their prayer intention added to the list.

“In the two years since it started, we have lifted up 265 people in prayer,” said Thomas. She said prayer requests go out every few days, and “nobody gets left behind.”

This summer, Thomas passed her role of prayer chain leader to fellow parishioner Kathy Dollahan. She looks back fondly to her time leading the prayer chain and is thankful for how much it continues to thrive, with about 15 members currently on the group text.  

“Being the leader of the prayer chain was a very humbling experience,” she said. “I encourage other parishes to consider starting a prayer chain.”

Whether coordinating prayer for parishioners, or writing spiritual reflections, Thomas said “the bottom line is that I want to help people.”

“I came to realize this is a gift,” she said. “And if God gives you a gift, you’re supposed to share it. And I know that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

Note: Those who are interested in reading more of Martha Thomas’s writings may call the parish office of Christ the King at (270) 821-5494.


Originally printed in the December 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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