Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Parish Anniversary at St. Bernard’s in New Bloomfield Calls Parishioners to Give Thanks, Move forward in Faith

The first seeds of the Catholic faith planted in Perry County in 1798 are flourishing today in the faith and devotion of the people of St. Bernard Parish, who gathered on Sunday, October 15 to celebrate their parish’s 75th anniversary among the mountains and hillsides of New Bloomfield.

Parishioners filled to capacity their beloved church, built 20 years ago under the leadership of Father Robert Sharman, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary as pastor there.

The parish anniversary Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior, was a joyful occasion for its people, who rightly have much to celebrate as a community of faith.

“Anniversaries are an opportunity, first of all, to give thanks to God…. We always give thanks to God when we come together for the Eucharist, of course, but be grateful in a very special way as we celebrate this Mass today for the gift that the parish has been,” Bishop Senior told the congregation in his homily.

“There is a reason for this parish, that is the reason for every parish – it is here within the context of this community that we encounter Jesus Christ through the incredible gift of our Catholic faith,” the bishop said.  “We hear his Word proclaimed, we come to understand and to know the teachings of our faith, to live them and to help and support one another in this community, to encourage each other in the faith, to receive His presence in all of the sacraments…but most of all His presence in His precious Body and Blood.”

History reveals a presence of Catholics in western Perry County long before St. Bernard’s was established. In 1798, Franciscan Father Stanislaus Cerfoumont bought property in Perry County, a tract of 150 acres of land containing buildings, barns and stables. The land, however, located north of New Bloomfield, remained undeveloped.

In 1907, two priests assigned by Bishop John Shanahan discovered Catholic families scattered throughout Perry County. In 1937, Father Joseph Schmidt began celebrating Mass on Holy Days at Carson Long Military Academy for students and for Catholics in the area. Father Schmidt was eventually appointed pastor of St. Patrick’s in Carlisle, and began celebrating Mass on Sundays at the academy.

In 1946, land was purchased on McClure Street in New Bloomfield for the site of a chapel for the 75 Catholic faithful known to be living in the area.

St. Bernard’s was officially established as a mission parish of St. Patrick’s in Carlisle in 1948. It was named for the great saint and in memory of Father Schmidt’s father, Bernard. The original church was made possible by the generosity of the Schmidt family and through the Missionary Cooperative Plan. The church was dedicated on May 13, 1948, at the time of Father Schmidt’s 30th anniversary as a priest. More than 150 parishioners were members at the time of the parish’s founding.

St. Bernard’s remained a mission until 1965, when it was established as a parish and placed under the care of the Glenmary Fathers and later to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. A rectory was dedicated in 1970, and the church was expanded 15 years later to accommodate 185 worshipers.

The parish has continued to grow and flourish over the past several decades. Father Robert Sharman, who became its pastor in 1998, was tasked at the time of his appointment by Bishop Nicholas Dattilo to build a new church to accommodate the growing number of parishioners. As a result, the current church and parish complex were dedicated in 2003 on a 20-acre parcel of land along Route 274 with a rectory, education center, social hall and garage built to meet the parish’s growing needs.

“The Diocese of Harrisburg and the Church beyond has been blessed with this community, and the great gift of vocations to the priesthood, to the diaconate, to consecrated life that have come forth from this parish,” Bishop Senior said.

Among the religious vocations are Msgr. Bernard Galic, a retired priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who was present for the anniversary Mass; Diocesan priests Father Samuel Dubois and Father Benjamin Dunkelberger, and Deacon Michael Pray, a seminarian in formation to be ordained to the priesthood next summer. Religious Sisters who are natives of the parish include the late Sister Kathleen Carroll of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy; Sister Mary Jordan Hoover, O.P.; Sister Augustine Marie Molnar of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; and Sister Kiersten Lane of the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles.

The bishop also acknowledged the 25th anniversary of Father Sharman as pastor of St. Bernard’s, and the gift of his leadership to the parish.

“It’s been the blessing of my life to be pastor at St. Bernard’s,” Father Sharman said in an interview with The Witness. “I stand at the altar and see the fruits of my ministry filling the pews. That’s the glory of the priesthood—to bring people closer to Christ.”

“People deserve the best you have to offer as a shepherd, and that responsibility falls on my shoulders, but it’s more of a sacred privilege,” he said. “I’m baptizing the children of people I baptized and married and gave First Communion to. There is such a connectedness and joy in those moments, and on the other side, you’re deeply saddened when you have to bury them because you love them. They are your family.”

Father Sharman spoke of the evident love and generosity of the people of St. Bernard’s, which stems from their faith. “They are the most generous, loving people that I’ve been privileged to serve, and I think that’s because of having good priests throughout the years and in tackling the problems of our world and how we apply our faith to what is going on around us,” he said.

In celebrating a parish anniversary, parishioners realize it’s not solely of their own merits that they reached the milestone.

“We must think of all those who went before us whose shoulders of faith we’re now privileged to stand on,” he said. “We’ve inherited what they sacrificed to build and what they pass along to us by their faithfulness, generosity and example. We are who we are not because we’ve blossomed all of a sudden, but because there has been a whole history of this pilgrim people,” he reflected. “It’s a privileged moment because we can look back in thanksgiving for all that’s happened and all the lives lived in faith, and they push us forward. Every generation has to hear the Saving Message and touch Christ through the sacraments.”

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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