Tuesday, June 25, 2024

‘Our Heart Will Always Be Here;’ Redemptorists Withdraw from St. James Parish after 105 Years of Pastoral Care

The fruits of the Redemptorist Fathers who have served the Catholic community in Lititz for 105 years are embedded in St. James Parish and its people. From the beautiful imagery of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the Divine Mercy throughout the church, to Divine Mercy prayers and weekly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Redemptorist spirituality is imbued in the life of its parishioners.

And that spirituality is the parting gift the Redemptorists give to the people of St. James as the religious order withdraws from the parish and St. James transitions to the pastoral care of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

The order is withdrawing from parish commitments due to a shortage in vocations.

On the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 19, a Mass marking the transition drew numbers of parishioners and Redemptorist priests to the northern Lancaster County church, which traces its roots to 1914, when Bishop John Shanahan placed the pastoral care of area Catholics into the hands of the Redemptorists.

“As we celebrate today the Feast of Corpus Christi, and you look at the history of why Bishop Shanahan wanted the Redemptorists to take care of the area here and this parish particularly, it was because of the Eucharist,” said Bishop Ronald Gainer, the principal celebrant of the Mass. “Our ancestors, the first Catholics in this area, hungered for the Body of Christ and the sacraments – but most especially that they could gather to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ.”

“While it is a bittersweet day, it is an appropriate day,” the bishop said, “because it was the Mystery of the Eucharist that was really the purpose of the bishop and the Redemptorist priests accepting that responsibility so that the Body and Blood of Christ could be provided.”

The day also marked the end of the pastorate of Father James O’Blaney, CSSR, who had served St. James Parish since 2002. The 89-year-old priest has been assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis, Md. Father Ryan Fischer, a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg, arrived at St. James on June 20 to serve as its new pastor.

Several Redemptorists were present for the Mass to mark the parish’s transition, including concelebrant Father Paul Borowski, CSSR, Provincial Superior of the Baltimore Province; Father Gerard Szymkowiak, CSSR, pastor of St. James from 1993-2002; Father John Murray, CSSR, pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Ephrata; Father John McLoughlin, CSSR, former pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help; and Father Kevin Moley, CSSR, Redemptorist Superior of the community at Ephrata.

Bishop Gainer expressed his gratitude to the Redemptorists, thanking them for being “that presence of Christ in the priesthood, and that presence of spiritual Fatherhood here for the people of this region and particularly of this parish.”

“In a very particular way, I want to extend my sincere, personal gratitude to Father O’Blaney for 20 years of being the spiritual Father of this family,” the bishop remarked. “We take into our Diocesan care a very dynamic, alive, functioning family because of the great leadership of Father O’Blaney and the support and love you have given him,” he told the congregation.

A Lasting Gift

The first Mass in Lititz was celebrated on June 17, 1917, by Redemptorist Father William White in a small front room on Main Street. The Lititz congregation averaged 23 faithful that year, and was a mission of St. Clement Mission House in Ephrata. In 1919, the Redemptorists purchased the former St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the first Mass in the new St. James Catholic Church was celebrated on April 4, 1920.

The Redemptorists who served the St. James mission over the next several decades bolstered its growth and its people, establishing the Holy Name Society for men, the Altar Society for women, a Boy Scout troop, a Catholic Youth Organization, and Knights of Columbus Council 4191, and renovating the church and its grounds.

St. James was officially established as a parish on January 5, 1977, the Feast of St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest who became the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia.

Father Francis Nelson, CSSR, its first pastor, oversaw the construction of the current church, and the first Mass was celebrated there on July 2, 1978. Bishop Joseph Daley dedicated the new church on October 4 of that year.

Fostering community events such as a weekly bingo and an annual bazaar, and introducing religious education, the Divine Mercy chaplet and participation in the local ministerium, the Redemptorists continued to nurture the lives of parishioners.

Father Paul Borowski, CSSR, Provincial Superior of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorists, said that although the order is departing from the parish, their spirituality will remain.

“It is sad that we leave, but we can’t completely leave. There will always be a part of us that is here,” he told the congregation. “We hope we have instilled a great love not only for the Blessed Sacrament but also for Jesus’ mother, Mary…. As we leave with sadness in our hearts and in our eyes, we also leave our spirituality.”

Father Borowski expressed his gratitude to Bishop Gainer, the Redemptorists and the people of St. James.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for the Redemptorists to be part of the faith life of this parish. In a very special way, as I thank all the Redemptorists who have served here over these 105 years, I want to acknowledge two past pastors who are present here: Father Gerard Szymkowiak and of course Father James O’Blaney. It’s a testament of their dedication to this parish, their love for the people, their pastoral care, their care especially for the sick and those who are confined to hospitals, nursing homes or within their homes,” he said.

“My final thanks is to you, the parishioners of St. James. It is with sadness that the Redemptorists have to depart from this parish, but we do not completely leave. Our heart will always be here. Our spirituality will always be here,” he remarked. “Thank you for the gift of your faithfulness, for your care for one another, for your care for the Redemptorists. You have been an inspiration for all the Redemptorists who have served, and we thank you profoundly.”

‘A Part of Who We Are’

Delivering his final homily to parishioners during the Mass on June 19, Father O’Blaney focused on the Eucharist, reading the Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

“Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. This is a mystery, but a Mystery that is not something to be solved,” Father O’Blaney said. “We use the word ‘mystery’ to express the Truth that we can get into, live into, learn more about.”

He recalled the first Mass he celebrated the day after his ordination on June 22, 1958, and the immensity of consecrating the host for the first time. He also spoke about his first assignment as a pastor, recalling how he looked at the tabernacle for reassurance, and said, “You better be in there.”

“And I believe truly that He is,” Father O’Blaney said. “This is the living Christ that we are called to adore and consume and become like.”

Reflecting on his 20 years at St. James, Father O’Blaney told The Catholic Witness, “I’ve been so inspired by the faith of the people. I’ve enjoyed baptizing babies, spending time with people who are dying, being part of the life of the parish.”

The message he leaves the parishioners is simple yet profound: “You are loved by God.”

The people of St. James showered Father O’Blaney with admiration and affection over the past several weeks. Breakfasts, brunches, dinners and socials with religious education students, parishioners and staff filled his calendar.

“I’ve been shown so much love, I have to be careful not to get a fat head,” he said.

At 89, the priest with an endearing sense of humor says he has much more to give. Even during the last week of his assignment at St. James, he was celebrating three Masses a weekend and making visits to people in hospitals and nursing homes.

Like a shepherd who knows his sheep, Father O’Blaney still has a knack for remembering people’s names, preferring, he says, to greet someone by their name. He treats everyone equally. “There’s no playing favorites,” he said.

Father O’Blaney moved to St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis on June 21, where, he said, “I’m going to sit down with the pastor, who I taught mathematics in the seminary, and we’ll go over what my duties will be.”

“He said he will not have me on the schedule every day. He thinks I’m old, I guess,” he said with a laugh.

“Father O’Blaney has been an outstanding shepherd for us,” said Rose Barnas, Director of Religious Education and Parish Administrative Manager. “Helping him pack up his office, there was a story for everything we came across. There’s a story behind every picture and every memento he’s been given. Each story is a gift.”

“The spirituality and devotions the Redemptorists have fostered are certainly part of everybody’s life here, from the youngest to the oldest. It’s part of our heritage and who we are,” Barnas said.

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

 By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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