“I don’t know where I’d be without this parish,” an emotional Bryan Ness said of St. Joseph’s in Dallastown, where he’s been a member since 1982 and where he became a Catholic ten years ago.
“The love we have for each other is amazing,” he said of the parishioners. “When someone gets sick, it doesn’t take long for word to get around that we need prayers for this person or that person. We have a very good nucleus of people, probably like all parishes…but the group we have here is outstanding.”
As the universal Church celebrates the Year of St. Joseph – announced by Pope Francis on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as the patron and protector of the Church – the Catholic community in Dallastown is showing how it emulates their patron every day.
“We have an awesome community here at St. Joseph,” Father Mark Weiss, pastor, said of the 1,200 families who call the parish home. “Since I’ve been here, I have met a wonderfully diverse amount of people who have been enthusiastic about their faith.”
Their enthusiasm was especially evident on Aug. 15, as parishioners welcomed Bishop Ronald Gainer for a pastoral visit and the celebration of Mass on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The bishop is visiting all nine parishes named for St. Joseph in the Diocese this year.
It was a long-awaited celebration in Dallastown, as the Mass had initially been scheduled for Feb. 7 but was rescheduled due to winter weather.
“Every good husband is pleased and delighted when someone praises his wife, so I think the good St. Joseph…is pleased and delighted to know that his wife will be lifted up and praised as we celebrate the solemn feast of her Assumption into Heaven,” the bishop said in his homily. He focused on the Blessed Mother, and in particular her Magnificat.
“In her Magnificat, she says, ‘My soul shows the greatness of the Lord.’ What a profound thought that should be for us as we celebrate Mary’s feast today,” the bishop remarked, asking the congregation to ponder,“How well do I acknowledge and live the greatness of the Lord? There are those who think, ‘If I allow God that greatness, I am somehow diminished. My will isn’t my own. My life isn’t my own. He becomes too powerful, too controlling.’”
But only by knowing and living the truth of God’s greatness can we live in our own greatness, Bishop Gainer said.
“A human will never know his or her true dignity if they don’t exult in the greatness of God, because we are made in that image. The more we diminish God, eliminate God, marginalize God, the more we diminish ourselves and every other human person,” he said.
“Let us, as we celebrate this magnificent feast, pray for Mary’s intercession, that we can understand the greatness of our God and allow our words and our actions to magnify that greatness before the world. Only when we do that will we know our own dignity and the dignity of all others,” he said.
St. Joseph Parish traces its roots to the early 19th century, with record of early German Catholic settlers in the Dallastown area. They traveled to York or New Freedom for religious services, until St. Joseph’s first church was built in 1853.
The first priests to serve the parish were Redemptorists from Baltimore and Jesuits from Conewago, and later priests from St. John the Baptist in New Freedom and Immaculate Conception in York. St. John Neumann made a canonical visit in 1853 and returned in 1857 for Confirmation.
Bishop Philip McDevitt dedicated St. Joseph School in 1927, and, as the population grew, groundwork for the construction of the current church began in the 1950s. Bishop George Leech celebrated the first Mass in the church on April 1, 1963, and dedicated it two months later. In 2019, St. Joseph School closed and consolidated with St. Patrick School in York to establish Holy Trinity School.
The parish is blessed by a number of ministries and outreach efforts, several of which provide support to the local community.
“We have a good number of men and women involved in our St. Vincent de Paul Society, and that truly is a treasure for our local community in providing services for those who might be struggling. We have a wonderful Knights of Columbus organization and countless fundraising and volunteer efforts in the community,” Father Weiss said.
Parishioners contribute to collections for Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in York, and Emmanuel’s Closet food and clothing pantry for Dallastown and Red Lion residents; past efforts have resulted in more than 3,000 lbs. of donated food.
“I couldn’t be more proud as a pastor of all of our volunteers, all of our organizations and the love they have for the Gospel and wanting to share that with other people,” Father Weiss said.
“It’s very important to our local community, being a presence here in the Dallastown/Red Lion and surrounding areas, especially during the pandemic as people desire to find their anchor in Christ,” he said.
“Our parish is one big family. We love each other and really look out for each other,” said Pat Germick, a member of St. Joseph’s for 58 years.
She and her husband were the second couple to be married in the church, dedicated on June 9, 1963. Germick was raised in a Methodist household, and decided to join the Catholic Church when she married. As she underwent instruction with Father Edward Gerrity, the pastor at the time, Germick was fortunate to catch many glimpses of behind-the-scenes efforts as the church was being constructed.
“I felt like I was in on some of the ground work for the church,” she said.
It’s a fitting assessment, given that Germick is part of the parish’s foundation herself. She was one of the first women in the parish to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and also helped bring the parish’s music ministry to where it is today.
As a young mother of three and a professional nurse, Germick stepped in as organist and pianist during a time when the parish was without a musician at Mass. Her time and talent playing hymns for Mass eventually propelled her to help establish the parish choir.
“I’ve been doing this ministry for 24 years, and the group of people in the choir loft is just wonderful,” she said. “Everybody is willing to give their time and talents. The Holy Spirit is in that choir loft and beautiful sounds come out of there!”
Bryan Ness is in the choir loft too – and nearly everywhere else throughout the church. In addition to singing in the choir, Ness serves as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, greeter and collection counter. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbus and St. Michael’s Guard.
“There is just something about the parish, and I love the interaction with the people,” he said of his desire to serve.
Ness and his wife married at St. Joseph’s in 1982. He converted to Catholicism 28 years later.
“I wish I would have done it 28 years sooner,” he said. “It seemed there was always something missing. It was just time to join. I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit pushing me, saying, “Bryan, it’s time for you to step up.” It was the best thing I ever did.”
For Ness – a husband, father and all-around servant in the parish – the Year of St. Joseph takes on added meaning. As silent as Joseph is in the Gospels, he teaches us volumes about trust and obedience to God, Ness said.
“St. Joseph is my Confirmation name. I chose him because he was a worker and a father,” he said. “His example is my motto: God is first, everybody else is second, and I am third. That’s what I live by.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness