The members of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in York filled their historic church on a recent Friday evening to celebrate a special anniversary in the life of their parish.
July 16 marked the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the church, fondly known as St. Mary’s to many in the York area.
St. Mary’s was the first Catholic church in York County and one of the first in the Diocese of Harrisburg to be consecrated.
The act of consecration designates an object or a person for sacred use, service and worship of God. In order for a church to be consecrated, it must be permanently located and free of all financial obligation, as it cannot ever be sold or used for any purposes other than worship. The consecration of a church dates back to apostolic times.
The anniversary of a consecration is a solemn occasion in the Catholic Church. In observation of St. Mary’s centenary, Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated Mass at the church on July 16 for a large contingent of parishioners. He was joined at the altar by Father John Kuchinski, pastor, and by former pastors Father Jonathan Sawicki, Father Robert Gillelan and Father J. Michael McFadden.
“What a wonderful gathering of parishioners this Friday evening to join in this beautiful and joyful celebration!” Bishop Gainer exclaimed as he looked out on the congregation.
Father Kuchinski was likewise heartened by the presence of so many parishioners for the Friday evening Mass.
“For almost two centuries, St. Mary’s has stood as a beacon in downtown York. Our parish family is a diverse group of faithful Christians, trying to be holy, helping each other in times of difficulty and rejoicing in moments of celebration. The past 15 months have posed many challenges, and disrupted our communal life as the Body of Christ in many ways. I am grateful that we are able to celebrate this anniversary in person,” he said.
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish predates the Diocese of Harrisburg. Bishop (now Saint) John Neumann of Philadelphia authorized the purchase of property for its original church in 1852 amid the growing number of German Catholics in the area. He dedicated the parish’s first church in 1853.
Within three decades, the parish community quickly outgrew the first church. Construction of the current church began in 1884, and was built over the original so that Masses could continue without interruption. The first Mass in the current church was celebrated on Dec. 14, 1884.
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church was free of all debt in relatively short time, allowing for its consecration by Bishop Philip McDevitt, the fourth Bishop of Harrisburg, on July 16, 1921.
Today, St. Mary’s is a vibrant, bilingual parish, with weekend Masses in English and Spanish and a number of multi-cultural celebrations throughout the year.
Speaking on the history of the parish in his homily during the anniversary Mass, Bishop Gainer said the parish’s rich past focused on “forming and nourishing our ancestors in the faith.”
He also reflected on the Gospel for the Mass, directing Jesus’ question to his disciples – Who do you say that I am? – to the congregation.
“Like the disciples, you and I also must make our response,” the bishop said. “This question cannot be answered by words alone. The only true response must be given by our lives, just as our forbearers in the faith here had done. We tell the world who Jesus is by living lives of faithful discipleship, united to Jesus in the sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, in prayer and in generously serving the needs of those around us.”
Following the Mass, Bishop Gainer blessed the parish’s spacious atrium, which connects the church and the former school building. The brick walls of the edifices are complemented by the modern, new construction with high ceilings and windows that create a magnificent welcoming space.
The atrium was completed in 2019, but due to the transition between the pastorates of Father Sawicki and Father Kuchinski, and because of health and safety protocols concerning the pandemic, its blessing was delayed until the July 16 Mass.
The atrium project was completed at a cost of $1.8 million, made possible by a bequest from the estate of Dr. James and Beverly Mohatt, who are honored on a plaque inside.
In a message to parishioners, Father Kuchinski spoke of the significance of the church as a home for the members of Christ’s Body.
“While the celebration is connected to the church building itself, it is also about the members of the Church which together form the Body of Christ,” he said. “This building is our home, the place where we gather together week after week, to listen to God’s Word and to be nourished by the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is here that we are built up into the Body of Christ, to carry the saving news of the Gospel into our part of the world. And while the building is important, the spiritual reality that it signifies is more important still.”
“As we celebrate this anniversary, we are not looking simply to the past, but considering what God is doing now, and calling us to in the future,” Father Kuchinski said.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness