Bishop Ronald Gainer’s pastoral visit to St. Joseph Parish in Milton this month was an opportunity for the parish community to unite in prayer for the protection of all places of worship.
Prior to celebrating the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass on Saturday, August 13, the bishop blessed the newly-installed awning that covers the front steps of the Northumberland County church, as well as the updated security enhancements at its front doors.
Fully covering the stairs that lead to the church doors, the awning was installed to help shield parishioners from sleet, snow, rain and the hot sun as they arrive or depart from the church, said Father John Hoke, pastor.
The blessing, he said, is an opportunity to “pray for our security and the protection and safety upon all who gather together.”
Father Hoke said the prayers for protection “are not only for our own parish church, but for all places of worship, and all places where people gather.” In a particular way, St. Joseph Parish is remembering and praying for the victims of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Twenty-one crosses bearing the names of the deceased have been erected along the upper front walkway of the church.
In his homily during Holy Mass, Bishop Gainer spoke about two kinds of peace: world peace and God’s peace.
“World Peace is where we must compromise with others or factions even, though we may not want to or like to. Wars end when two sides come to an agreement or compromise,” he said.
“The other peace is His Peace, and in His Peace we are at war with three realities: the world, Satan and the flesh,” the bishop said. “The world, the Devil, the flesh are not where we can compromise. We live in a world where vice is celebrated and virtue is not. Our flesh wants us to place ourselves first…. The Devil is not a cartoon figure or a fictional character. He is real and wants your destruction and to be separated from God forever.”
“If our faith becomes our true priority in our lives, not everybody will be happy with us,” the bishop said, encouraging the faithful to live out their Catholic values.
St. Joseph Parish traces its roots to the late 1700s, when Irish immigrants arrived in the area to work on the local canals. Soon after the turn of the century, Catholics there used a log cabin Mass house, located near the site of the current parish center just east of Route 147, for the celebration of Mass.
In 1844, its first resident pastor, Father Hugh Fitzsimmons, undertook the building of a brick church in town as the Milton population grew. A fire destroyed the church in 1880, but the parish soon purchased the land for the site of the current church, which has stood as a beacon on Milton’s “Academy Hill” since its dedication in 1883.
Described in Diocesan history books as the “gateway of the faith to central Pennsylvania,” St. Joseph Parish is the mother church of a number of parishes in the northern tier of the Diocese, including St. Monica in Sunbury, St. Joseph in Danville, St. Columba in Bloomsburg, St. Joseph in Berwick, Sacred Heart in Lewistown, St. Patrick in Trevorton and St. Pius X in Selinsgrove. Today, the parish is home to approximately 190 families.
“What a joy is our Catholic faith, our belief in the Communion of Saints,” Father Hoke remarked. “We are asked to help light the fire of the Holy Spirit to destroy the sinful evilness of this world and to bring about the transforming grace seen in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness