Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Faithful at St. Francis of Assisi Parish Bid Affectionate Farewell to Franciscan Friars

In the beginnings of St. Francis of St. Assisi Parish, Bishop John Shanahan, the third bishop of the Diocese, ordered a census in 1899 of the growing population in the Allison Hill section of Harrisburg located about a mile from the State Capitol on the bluffs overlooking the city’s downtown. That census showed a rapidly growing population of faithful Catholics in need of a neighborhood parish they could call home. So in 1901, Bishop Shanahan established the parish of St. Francis of Assisi, and in 1902 the church was built in the heart of Allison Hill along Market Street between 14th and 15th streets. After a tragic fire destroyed the church in 1905, it was quickly rebuilt, and the mighty brick structure still towers over the surrounding urban setting.

On June 8, a new beginning was celebrated as Bishop Timothy Senior offered Holy Mass at the church overflowing with faithful. All were there to bid an affectionate farewell to the Franciscan Capuchin priests who have faithfully stewarded the parish since 2005.

“Your ministry to this community has been so fruitful. Me, we, the Diocese of Harrisburg, thank you for your 19 years of wonderful service.”

The current parish administrator, Father Carlos Reyes, and two other friars, Fathers Morten and Rubus are returning to their religious community to be reassigned. This departure ends nearly two decades of service to the inner-city parish by numerous Capuchins who have faithfully nurtured the faith in this vibrant, diverse and visibly reverent community.

The parish will now be under the care of Diocesan priests; Father Anthony Dill and Father Aaron Lynch will become pastor and parochial vicar, respectively.

“Today is a day of joy,” Father Reyes said after Mass. “But it, too, is a day of sadness…. Change is necessary in this life. It helps us grow, it helps us learn…. Please welcome Fathers Dill and Lynch. They know how deep your faith is here. We do not follow priests in this faith, we follow Jesus Christ. The greatest gift you can give your priests is prayers. Please give them your prayers. And thank you for giving us those prayers all these years.”

Father Dill and Father Lynch will assume duties on June 17. “They are excited and happy to be coming here,” Bishop Senior said in his homily. “They know how faithful you are here. They have big shoes to fill, but I am certain that they will bring that same loving face of God to you here.”

After Mass, the 600-plus faithful gathered for an outdoor celebration that included food prepared by the parish families. The parish is bilingual, offering Masses in Spanish and English, and it also operates a community soup kitchen that has been serving the needy of the capital city for more than five decades.

Referencing the day’s reading that recounted Adam and Eve hiding from God after they disobeyed him, Bishop Senior remarked that “Shame is not the same thing as contrition. Shame is the instrument of the Devil. Shame means ‘I am afraid of God. I want to hide from Him just like Adam and Eve did.’ But God went looking for them and he goes looking for us…. He wants to give us His love and mercy, no matter if we do good or fail Him. We cannot hide from God.”

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

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