For Catholics in the rural community of Bonneauville, their parish couldn’t have a more appropriate name.
St. Joseph the Worker Parish – located five miles east of Gettysburg – is home to many who work with their hands. A vast majority of the farmers, carpenters, electricians, merchants and other tradespeople who make up the parish were born and raised in Bonneauville. Most of them received their sacraments inside St. Joseph’s 162-year-old brick church, and continue to practice their faith there, many decades later.
It’s a heritage they celebrate, notably so in this Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis from Dec. 8, 2020, through Dec. 8, 2021.
In his Apostolic Letter “Patris corde” (“With a Father’s Heart”) in December, Pope Francis recalled the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. He wrote the letter against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, and how it has helped reveal the importance of people who offer hope every day and, in doing so, resemble St. Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence.”
The quiet dedication and unceasing work ethic of Jesus’ earthly father go hand-in-hand with the parishioners at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, a connection that was observed by longtime pastor, the late Father Paul Rindos, who petitioned during his pastorate (1973-1995) for the parish’s name to be changed from St. Joseph to St. Joseph the Worker.
“A lot of parishioners have farms and own land. Most of the people were born and raised in this parish and they have devotion for St. Joseph, the man who listened without any doubt,” said Father Benny Jose, pastor since 2017. “In the way Joseph listened to God, I would say the people here also have a great devotion to St. Joseph and they know he is the patron of every family. The way he protected the Holy Family is the way he protects each of our families.”
With lay-offs, job loss and the cancellation of parish fund-raisers resulting from the pandemic, the community has faced financial struggles, but has bonded together in doing so.
“In every way, even though we are in a difficult time, the people of St. Joseph Parish are doing wonderful things the best way they can. Everybody is happy to take care of the needs of the church. I often tell my parishioners, ours is a small group of small families, but when everybody puts forward generously, everything looks beautiful and wonderful,” Father Jose said.
“Bonneauville is not a big town, so everybody knows everybody,” said lifelong parishioner Stephen Arthur.
“The parish is also an extension of your family. Everybody knows everything. If someone hears something that happened in your family, [they’ll ask] ‘Steve, are you ok?’ Eight years ago, my little brother passed away, and the whole parish was calling me. When I’d show up at Mass, they would come see me. It’s been a constant for me in this un-constant world. It’s a nice place to fall back on.”
Rooted in Faith
The parish was born of the steadfastness of Catholics who petitioned as early as 1850 for a church of their own. In 1859, Bishop John Neumann of Philadelphia directed Father Basil Shorb, pastor at Gettysburg, to build a church and rectory in Bonneauville. Father Shorb’s brother donated the land for the site, and the first Mass was celebrated there in February of 1860.
Father Shorb became the first pastor of the parish, home to 30 families at its outset. Today, the parish is home to 292 families representing 782 members.
One of the longest-living members of St. Joseph the Worker Parish is Deacon Richard Weaver, who will celebrate his 97th birthday in July. For many, his name is synonymous with the parish, which he has served as a member of the clergy since his ordination in 1978.
“Everyone in the parish has always seemed as though they were behind me 100 percent,” Deacon Weaver said in an interview with The Catholic Witness in late April. “We have lived together, we have journeyed together, we have played together, we have prayed together, we have laughed together, we have cried together. I feel as though I’m one of the luckiest men in the world. I feel as though everyone in our parish were always behind me in whatever I did in the ways of serving others.”
“I’ve been very fortunate with the pastors I have served with,” said Deacon Weaver, who began serving as an altar boy at the age of seven during the pastorate of Father Timothy O’Hanrahan in the early 1930s.
Deacon Weaver’s faith and vocation were nurtured in the parish. In the late 1970s, Father Rindos urged him to apply to become a deacon for the Diocese.
“I initially said no, but he told me I had better be thinking about it,” Deacon Weaver recalled.
When the day of the application deadline came, Father Rindos was ill, and Father Gerald Heintzelman came to fill in during his absence. Deacon Weaver remembered thinking, “I’m home free and clear; they can’t get me now!”
But at 8:00 that night, Father Heintzelman came to the Weavers’ home, carrying application papers.
“He dropped those papers on the dining room table and told me get writing. I never looked back. I’ve been very, very fortunate,” Deacon Weaver said. “I’ve loved everybody. I worked to help people in any way I could, and tried to bring people to Christ.”
In Joseph’s Footsteps
“One thing about volunteering in a small parish is, you’re a Jack of all trades,” said parishioner Stephen Arthur.
In his case, that includes training altar servers, singing in the choir, serving as a lector, coordinating the RCIA program and joining the finance committee.
“You definitely wear a lot of different hats,” he said of the close-knit community of parishioners.
“It is interesting to see the way each family participates in response to the parish needs in every way,” said Father Jose, acknowledging the plumbers, roofers and electricians who have volunteered their services for the needs of the parish. He also pointed to a number of active parish ministries that serve the parish and local community, including the Homebound Ministry, the Knights of Columbus and the Council of Catholic Women.
In the surrounding community, the parish is known for its monthly pot pie dinner, which has been a principal fund-raiser for 45 years. The popular community-wide event draws Catholics and non-Catholics alike to the parish on the fourth Sunday of the month from September to April. Due to Covid-19 safety measures, the parish put the brakes on the endeavor this year, but volunteers are keenly aware of how the event has become a means of evangelization in addition to an important fund-raiser.
“We are known for our pot pie dinners,” said Arthur, who volunteers with the event. “I’ll be in a store in town and someone will say, ‘Aren’t you the pot pie guy?’ Or people will ask when we’re starting it again. People come to the dinners and see everybody working together,” he said of the witness it brings.
The work ethic of the parishioners can’t be overstated. For lifelong parishioner Mike Clabaugh, a retired carpenter and farmer currently raising 24,000 chickens, it’s a way of life.
“I worked for Deacon Weaver for 11 years plastering, and then when I got out of plastering I worked for a turkey farmer and was a barn builder. It was a good life and it kept me busy, but I didn’t get much time to do work for the parish then,” he said. “After I retired, I got all kinds of time. We put the roof on the center. It was one of the biggest jobs that we did here. All the people of the parish helped work on it, and it was free labor. We also put a little pavilion on at the 4H center.”
“When everybody works together, everything goes so much easier and faster,” Clabaugh said. “We do have that around here, whatever we can to help with the church.”
Clare Crone, a member of St. Joseph the Worker for 43 years, said the Year of St. Joseph has given her an opportunity to pause and reflect on the patron saint.
“Until this year, I’ve never really considered the ways St. Joseph has really impacted my life,” she said. “He is so strong and prevalent here, and I am just waking up to it.”
Crone joined several parishioners in making a 33-day consecration to St. Joseph, which culminated on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1.
“I think the parish is so appropriately named for St. Joseph the Worker because there are many farmers and laborers here. We are a working parish, and St. Joseph the Worker has been there for us all these many years,” she said.
“My husband and I remain parishioners because we do like the small community,” Crone said. “The people are very faith-filled individuals. Many of them have lived here all their lives, and we were most welcomed as part of the community when we first moved here 40-plus years ago. We developed relationships along the way with them and worked together as a community to help one another out.”
Over the years, Crone has served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and coordinator of the RCIA and later the adult religious education program. She also helped initiate Divine Mercy devotions and a Bible study group in the parish.
Such service offers an opportunity for spiritual growth, she said of volunteering for her parish.
“You never think you’re educated enough or you know enough about how to begin leading a Bible study. It’s interesting how the Lord opens the doors. He leads the way and always provides the resources, the people. He makes things happen,” Crone said.
“It has been an interesting journey in that aspect, because from one ministry to the next I’ve grown so much in my faith as I’ve learned about it myself. You fall more and more in love with the faith and understand what the Church teaches and why. The more you seek, the more it is uncovered and the deeper you fall in love,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to be involved with different ministries and with different people. I’ll be interested to see where He takes me next.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness