At St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg, parishioners take the lead of their patron saint when it comes to following God’s call.
Like St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, they too are called to take on the role of fostering.
“Our parish mission statement is that we are ‘to foster the presence of Christ,’ and that was inspired by the title that St. Joseph has as the foster father of Jesus,” said Father Thomas Rozman, pastor. “Everywhere we go, we realize that we know the Lord and that we need to make sure we are helping to make his presence felt and known and understood.”
“Like St. Joseph, we are very serious about who God has called us to be. It might mean that we don’t understand it all the time, but we have that trust that Joseph was able to grow into himself as he was called to be the foster father of Jesus. The whole idea that we’re fostering the presence of Christ is an important aspect of who we are at St. Joseph,” he said.
The parish nurtures this identity through ministries, outreach, education and evangelization efforts so numerous and diverse that anyone can share their gifts, be it through ministries for personal growth, service or connection.
The recent development of several programs has also strengthened parish community, specifically as the parish’s Senior Leadership Team worked through Divine Renovation, a step-by-step guidebook by Father James Mallon on building community. A resulting ministry is one of hospitality, which includes ushers, greeters, a welcome kiosk in the narthex and a Card Blessings ministry.
“These ministries work cohesively to foster a very welcoming culture here. They are incredibly simple gestures with a very powerful impact,” said parishioner Marlene Steinour, who serves as a hospitality coordinator.
“When one of our guests was here, she shared with me that she was searching for a church. It was our welcoming culture that made her decision very easy,” she noted. “We had another person who said she felt very discouraged when she came to Mass one day because of personal things going on in her life, and it was our welcoming ushers and greeters that just made a whole difference for her that day. We also had someone receive cards from our Card Blessings ministry made by our St. Joseph School students and religious education students. He was so inspired that he bought supplies for the entire class.”
“These are part of our welcoming culture that everyone has embraced,” Steinour said.
“At St. Joseph’s, I feel very inspired by our priests and parishioners to grow in love and faith to serve the Lord,” Steinour reflected. “I’m in this whole community of faith-filled people, led by our wonderful pastor, Father Rozman, and that’s why St. Joseph Parish is special to me.”
From a Young Girl’s Persistence to a Family of 7,500
St. Joseph Parish’s history begins in the mid-1800s with the devotion of a 15-year-old girl named Mary Brindle who lived in Mechanicsburg. Her father was an Irish immigrant and her mother was a Presbyterian, and it is said that Mary was the only Catholic among the town’s early settlers.
According to parish history, Mary led devotions in her home for several Catholics living in the Cumberland Valley at the time. She continuously visited and wrote to the bishops of the Diocese to petition them to send priests to celebrate Mass in Mechanicsburg and provide a place for worship. After 21 years of persistence and prayer, the first Mass was celebrated in Mechanicsburg in a local home in 1879.
In 1900, a chapel was built on Arch Street, accommodating 125 people. It was named for St. Joseph and was a fitting title: Mechanicsburg was named for the mechanics there who repaired wagons, and St. Joseph is the patron of laborers.
The first weekly Masses began to be celebrated for the Catholics in Mechanicsburg in 1936, some 20 years after Mary Brindle’s death. In 1950, after 40 years as a mission of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle, St. Joseph became a parish. Its church and school were dedicated in 1953.
With rapid growth in the area, the 200-seat church was quickly outgrown, and the parish’s social hall and cafeteria, which could hold more than the church, began to serve as the main worship space. Ground was broken for the much-needed, sizable church in 1980.
Two parishes in Mechanicsburg were born from St. Joseph Parish: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1977 and Blessed (now St.) Katharine Drexel in 1989. St. Joseph School moved into its new building on the parish grounds 15 years ago, and the Blue Ribbon School currently enrolls more than 460 students in PreK-8.
“We have approximately 2,750 families, which translates to just over 7,500 souls on our records here,” said Father Rozman, who is in his seventh year as pastor. “It’s a huge parish, and sometimes it’s overwhelming how large everything is. But I am blessed with a wonderful staff – people who have been here for a number of years, and others who just started recently. It is the commitment to the Gospel, it is that whole sense of ‘I have a vocation to helping here at the parish, and I’m going to be a member of the team.’ That’s a big blessing that I find here.”
Emulating St. Joseph
On December 8 of this year, the universal Church concluded its celebration of the Year of St. Joseph. The year was a special commemoration announced by Pope Francis to mark the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of St. Joseph as the patron and protector of the Catholic Church.
St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg is one of nine parishes named for the foster father of Jesus. The others are in Berwick, Bonneauville, Dallastown, Danville, Hanover, Lancaster, Milton and York. Bishop Ronald Gainer visited each of the parishes during the special year (December 8, 2020-December 8, 2021), celebrating holy Mass for the community.
In observance of the special year, St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg welcomed the bishop on December 8 for Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated for members of the school community.
In his homily, the bishop spoke about the significance of giving gifts, and of the greatest gift of all.
“Some of you might be thinking about Christmas and the gifts that you might receive,” he told the students in the congregation. “As we celebrate this Advent season, we’re preparing to remember the greatest possible of all gifts – the gift that the Father gave to humanity in the coming of His Son among us in the flesh. These four weeks of Advent are meant to get us ready to share and celebrate the wonderful Mystery of the Incarnation and the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.”
“We should remember, if we really do live Advent well…the gifts and generosity of others are tokens that represent the greatest gift. It’s our joyful celebration of what the Father has done for us that we give gifts to one another,” the bishop said.
The Mass on December 8 closed the Year of St. Joseph, however the parish also engaged in special events and liturgies throughout the year, including social gatherings; a physical prayer chain of parishioners’ virtual prayer intentions; a focus on the USCCB’s poster and images of St. Joseph as the Defender of Life; and the distribution of Matthew Kelly’s book, “I Heard God Laugh,” and his 21 Days of the Classroom of Silence prayers during Lent.
Moreover, the Year of St. Joseph was an opportunity for parishioners to reflect on how their lives and the life of the parish emulate St. Joseph to the community.
“There are so many powerful ministries here, and clearly there is a ministry for everyone to share their gifts if they so desire,” said Steinour.
In addition to her role as a hospitality coordinator, she serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, as a member of the Parish Advisory Council, and as a facilitator for the parish’s Senior Leadership Team meetings.
Steinour is a member of the advisory board for New Hope Ministries, which fosters the love of Christ by serving people in need in the local community. “My role is that I get to understand what their needs are and communicate them to our parish. I’ve discovered that this parish is not only friendly, but extremely generous and giving. This past year, we donated 12,000 lbs. of food and Father Rozman gave a $5,000 check for New Hope Ministries’ angel tree project,” she said.
The list of programs and ministries at St. Joseph Parish are too numerous to share here. They range from a diverse music ministry and adult education offerings to Scouting, an active Knights of Columbus council and Masses and ministry to those who are deaf. Collectively, these and other efforts create a welcoming community dedicated to fostering the love of Christ.
“After all this time here at St. Joseph, 36 years, this is my family,” Steinour said. “This parish is inspired by our patron, St. Joseph. He said yes to the will of God, and we are inspired by that…. Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?”
“People really want to feel like they belong,” Father Rozman said of the welcoming culture at the parish. “Here, people are looking to belong. They want to come and pray, following the teachings of the Church in the way they live out their life, and they want to support the mission that we have. I think the sense of belonging to the Body of Christ, the community of faith, is something that we are promoting here. We still have a long way to go; the culture is certainly not supporting the idea of belonging to a church, but we do share that sense of, ‘You are important, not only in God’s eyes, but in the eyes of your fellow Christians here at St. Joseph.’”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness