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St. Mark’s Parish honors its ‘Pioneer Women’ with a tea party

Posted By June 16, 2017 | 10:49 am | Featured Article #1
Father Michael DiGeronimo, pastor of St. Mark’s, pours coffee and tea for women of the parish who were honored at a Pioneer Women’s Tea held last month at the parish hall. 
 Photos by DEB GLAZA
Father Michael DiGeronimo, pastor of St. Mark’s, pours coffee and tea for women of the parish who were honored at a Pioneer Women’s Tea held last month at the parish hall. Photos by DEB GLAZA

By Christina Galeone  | Correspondent, The Catholic Free Press

SUTTON – Have you ever wondered how your parish community grew into what it is today?  Laurie Williams, the office manager at St. Mark’s Parish, didn’t have to wonder.  Mrs. Williams could see how much the pioneer women of the parish helped shaped that vibrant community, and she said she wanted them to know that they’re appreciated, admired, respected and valued.
In recognition of their contributions, Mrs. Williams, Father Michael DiGeronimo, and St. Mark’s honored them at a Pioneer Women’s Tea held last month at the parish hall.
“People genuinely care about each other here, and that is why we have many wonderful ministries,” said Mrs. Williams. “The women being honored continue to volunteer by serving Mass, knitting prayer shawls, presenting the white garment at baptisms, sewing items for our Christmas fair, volunteering time for fundraisers for our Haiti ministry and serving bereavement lunches.”
Before the tea, the 15 ladies attended the 10:30 Mass and were treated to hymns sung by cantor Eva Lavoie.  The hymns were accompanied by a violinist, a drummer and a trumpet player – who were recruited by St. Mark’s music director and organist, Mark Bailey. 6-16 St. Mark's Pioneer Tea tea8-1
“Father Michael delivered such a nice welcome to our pioneer women and continued to thank them and pray for them during Mass,” Mrs. Williams said. “We were again blessed with another performance from Ann Cusick, a very talented violinist and … enjoyed a wonderful lunch.  The women were excited to be recognized for their many years of service to St. Mark’s – since the beginning.”
In those 53 years, the women’s love and devotion to their church hasn’t waned. One of the women, who finds joy in that devotion, is Bertha Gvazdauskas.  At 92 years old, she’s more active in her community than many women half her age. The dynamo not only volunteers at a senior center every week, she also attends Mass nearly every day and is a dedicated extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.  She also lends her skills to the church’s prayer shawl ministry, and she founded a group for new mothers and their babies.
But the good-humored woman said she has enjoyed all the work.
“It’s been a great life, and I feel I was very blessed,” said Mrs. Gvazdauskas, the mother of two sons, grandmother of four and former administrative assistant to Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. She humbly added, “I have all these people to support me. This tea is a solid example.”
But while she refers to St. Mark’s as her “haven” and is grateful to the priests who shepherded the church, she loves giving back to the church that is “very special” to her heart. She said that in the early days of the parish, parishioners asked themselves how they could help the church grow.
Not surprisingly, she treasures Christian fellowship.  “It means that you’re part of something that’s doing something good,” said the woman who shares that fellowship with infants by presenting them with prayer shawls during their baptisms (an initiative that she was inspired to start).  “It means doing something for someone else.”
Angela Bailey, another woman who was honored, has been part of that fellowship at St. Mark’s since the beginning. In 1962, when Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan asked her and her husband, Harry, to find a location for what started as a mission church of St. Brigid’s Parish in Millbury, they didn’t hesitate. They found and helped arrange the purchase of two adjacent parcels of land.
When asked what she enjoyed most about the tea, she responded that she enjoyed everything.
“There were people there that I’ve known for a long time; they’re all wonderful,” Mrs. Bailey beamed. “It was done to perfection. It couldn’t have been any nicer.  We were served like we were queens.”
The event was even more special because of how much the church means to her. She and her husband raised their four children to be valued members of St. Mark’s.  They celebrated their children’s baptisms, marriages and everything in between in the parish.
“It’s been a big part of our lives for most of our lives,” said Mrs. Bailey, who proudly added later that her son, Mark, has been the church’s talented organist for many years.
The warm, soft-spoken woman has enjoyed serving her parish, including as president of its former women’s club. And she’s also happy to be part of a parish with a caring priest. “I love Fr. Michael,” she said.  “He’s been wonderful.”
The much-loved priest was also part of what Gloria Cichy – another of the 15 women – enjoyed most about the tea.  After working at the rectory as a housekeeper, a cook and a secretary over the years, she not only loved being around everyone, the gregarious woman delighted in having Father DiGeronimo pour her a cup of coffee.  But she was also amazed by how beautiful the event was and said how grateful she is to Mrs. Miller, the Ladies’ Auxiliary, Father DiGeronimo and Mr. Bailey for their hard work.  She loved that the tea honored them for their love of their church and their faith.
“Faith is everything,” said Mrs. Cichy.  “She added “It gets me through the day.  It brightens my day.  When you go to Mass, it’s like you’re lifted up spiritually, emotionally; it’s everything.”
The effervescent mother of six recalled that many years ago, parishioners would readily volunteer their skills “for love of their church.”  In later years, fewer people were willing to do so.  But, lately, she said she has seen stewardship “blossoming” again at St. Mark’s.
For her, sharing her crocheting skills with the prayer shawl ministry is one of her favorite activities.  “It comes with prayers and a big hug,” she said.  “It feels so good when we hear how much it’s helped people.”
Mrs. Cichy said she’s still enjoying her journey at St. Mark’s.  “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I met so many nice people.  We did so much charity work … but it was fun work.  We had a grand time!”
And Mrs. Miller and other parishioners are enjoying that work as well.  The 15 pioneer women paved the way.  Mrs. Miller said, “They have inspired many of us to continue doing their good works.”