By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
SOUTHBRIDGE – The people of St. John Paul II Parish celebrated two anniversaries with two bishops Saturday.
July 1 was the fifth anniversary of the parish, formed from St. Hedwig’s, a Polish parish; St. Mary’s, which had English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities, and Notre Dame of the Sacred Heart, formed in 2010 from the French parishes, Notre Dame and Sacred Heart of Jesus.
July 2 was the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Notre Dame Church by Bishop Thomas D. Beaven, Bishop of Springfield. Reminiscent of history, the current bishop of Springfield, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, was main celebrant of Saturday’s Mass, and Bishop McManus, who formed St. John Paul II Parish, attended.
Father Peter J. Joyce, pastor, said he was in seminary with Bishop Rozanski. He acknowledged the bishops, priests, deacons and religious sisters present who have a connection with the parish, the parish’s choirs and parishioners. Bishop Rozanski thanked Father Joyce and the people for their support.
Notre Dame is the main church building of St. John Paul II Parish. But for some parishioners, it’s much more.
“It’s a place where we become acquainted with the Catholic religion through baptism” and other sacraments, said parishioner Theodore “Ted” Bartlett. “I don’t refer to it as just a building. I refer to it as a way to be in communication with the Lord.”
He said people stop in during the week to pray – a direct line to the Lord, because he is present there in the Blessed Sacrament.
“Not that our faith is tied to just a building,” said Gerard Proulx, a lifelong Notre Dame parishioner. But this magnificent church tells Catholics and non-Catholics the people who built it “really believed in God.” They were willing to honor him with such a building, and scraped together their nickels to build it. So it’s important that their descendants maintain it, even though that is expensive, he said.
Things have changed since the church was built, he noted; there are fewer Catholics in the area, the language has changed from Latin, and worshippers participate more in the liturgy, which on Saturday included several languages.
“Back then we were all separated by our nationalities,” Mr. Proulx said. Now they’ve come together in one parish, which he said speaks more about what Jesus said about encompassing everyone.
“Our mission is to minister to the poor … and go out and evangelize,” he continued, adding that in the summer they have Masses on street corners.
Lifelong member Margaret Farrand is continuing the parish’s mission by passing on the legacy from within.
“To me it means a lot because it’s my parish and my church,” she said of the anniversary celebration. “And it was my parents’ and my grandparents.’ I’m just continuing the tradition and my grandchildren are too, and my daughter. My father was involved with the front steps – he went to Canada to pick out the stones.” (The current steps were refinished in 1988, she said.)
She helped organize Saturday’s reception in the La Salle Reception Center beside the church. She said she also arranged the flowers, which her nephew and godson, Scott Trahan, donated.
“It’s just in the family,” she said.
Her grandchildren were helping with the gala too.
It was really nice to celebrate the two anniversaries, said Louise Damian, who grew up at Notre Dame and at various points was a member of St. Hedwig’s and St. Mary’s before joining St. John Paul II.
“I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity for everybody in the town to come together as one community,” she said. “It kind of brought back a lot of memories for me, especially when they turned all the lights on.” Notre Dame is decorated with numerous light bulbs which used to be lit for special holidays.
“It’s a proud moment that we still can worship in this beautiful building,” said life-long parishioner Marilyn Berthiaume. “The poor people of Sacred Heart – they don’t have that.” (Sacred Heart is the only Catholic church building of the four in town that was closed in recent years. St. Hedwig’s and St. Mary’s are used for weekday Masses, parishioners said.)
You would have thought you were here the whole 100 years, Molly Finn, a member since 2006, said, in reference to the celebration.
Bishop Rozanski imagined what Bishop Beaven must have felt the day of Notre Dame’s dedication and praised the faith of its founders.
He spoke of the fifth anniversary of St. John Paul II Parish, how its patron suffered through the death of his family members, Nazism and Communism, but persisted in his priestly vocation and was elected pope on the feast of St. Hedwig (Oct. 16, 1978). He said St. John Paul II teaches people the importance of remaining faithful.
Speaking of the Scripture readings, Bishop Rozanski talked about God dwelling with believers of old and about believers today receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. He spoke of Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” as a question for today’s worshippers and their ancestors.
The bishop talked about living out Jesus’ teachings. Challenges today include apathy, secularism, bias against anything religious and hostility toward Catholic teachings. But, he said, Jesus promised to be with his people to the end and the Blessed Mother, under the title of Notre Dame, continues to inspire and guide them