Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Our Lady of Mercy in Roaring Creek Celebrates Parish Centennial

Nestled along a hillside in the pastoral Roaring Creek Valley of Columbia County, the white belltower of the quaint Our Lady of Mercy Church stands out among the lush greens of the pastoral lands surrounding it.

A quintessential countryside church, Our Lady’s is off the beaten path to travelers who approach it from an offshoot of Route 42 between nearby Catawissa to the north and Mount Carmel further south – and yet the parish has been here for a century, beloved by its parishioners and the community alike.

In celebration of its 100th anniversary this year, parishioners filled the church on Sunday morning, September 24, for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior. Many of Our Lady of Mercy’s parishioners have been members their entire lives; some trace their roots to the Catholic families who were living in the Roaring Creek Valley in the late 1800s.

“Those who have gone before us celebrate with us today in the Communion of Saints in heaven,” Bishop Senior told the congregation. “It is important to remember all those who have served here over these 100 years.”

“Celebrating an anniversary is a perfect time to restore our own faith and to remember why we celebrate our faith,” he said in his homily. “We really need to reclaim our faith in today’s world so we can pass it along, just like those who have done so before in this parish.”

According to Diocesan history books, in 1897, priests from Danville and Bloomsburg traveled more than ten miles to celebrate Mass on a monthly basis, usually in a tenant building or a private home. By 1905, a schoolhouse on Slabtown Road was purchased, allowing for the celebration of Mass every two weeks by priests who traveled 15 miles by horse and buggy over the mountains from Mount Carmel and Marion Heights.

Bishop John Shanahan appointed Father Harry Strickland as the first resident priest, instructing him to build a church in Roaring Creek; until a rectory was built, the priest lived in a local hotel.

Our Lady of Mercy Church was completed on March 9, 1915; priests resided at the rectory until 1917, when the care of the faithful was returned to visiting priests from Danville, including Father Stephen Woznicki, who became the second Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950.

Our Lady of Mercy Parish was established on September 6, 1923, with 438 parishioners. Father John Onofrey was named its first pastor. Over the past century, the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary provided religious instruction to the children of the parish, which is now undertaken by parish volunteers.

Today, Our Lady of Mercy is home to 170 families and is a foundation of various outreach programs and activities for the community. Father Dennis Dalessandro has been its pastor for the past six years, following the nearly 30-year pastorate of Father Thomas Mannion, who died in 2018.

“The people are very devoted to the parish and they certainly want to see it thrive and grow,” Father Dalessandro told The Catholic Witness. “You have to give credit to the people because they’ve kept the parish very much alive for 100 years, especially in a small place that’s off the beaten path. If you didn’t know where the church was or didn’t have GPS, you would have a hard time finding it. But we’re still here, and the people around us know that.”

Our Lady of Mercy Parish extends itself into the community through its service and support of the local food bank, dinner fundraisers throughout the year, and the annual parish festival that draws crowds particularly hungry for ethnic foods and musical entertainment.

“One hundred years is certainly a great milestone to celebrate. We’re grateful that the bishop was able to be here with us. We had a nice full church, with some parishioners who have been here their whole lives, plus some new families that have just joined the parish,” Father Dalessandro said.

Gathering the congregation for the celebration of the anniversary Mass, Bishop Senior told the parishioners they assemble under the mantle and protection of the Blessed Mother.

“God has a passion for every soul – to bring eternal life to all souls. He is not ever going to give up on a soul – not ever. He wants to bring salvation to all.”

“God’s ways are not our ways – but we must think about how we can reveal the mercy of Christ to a troubled world, a troubled society,” the bishop said.

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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