At that time in our diocese we served in a parish for a year as a deacon and then towards the end of our year serving in the parish, we were ordained in the parish church. I had never been in Our Lady of Lourdes Church before I was assigned there but by the time my ordination rolled around I felt very much at home. The parishioners were very good to me and helped me greatly in making the transition from the deaconate to the priesthood. I will always hold the memories of their kindness in my heart.
Every time I visit at a parish church that has been a part of my faith journey it brings back many memories. My faith journey began for me not in the Rochester diocese, but in Diocese of Albany at St. Mary Church in Oneonta. I have been back to St. Mary Church on various occasions and each time I am flooded with many memories. I received my First Communion in St .Mary Church, I can still recall many aspects about that day and of many other celebrations and events that happened in my life growing up in St. Mary Parish. I was baptized in the Old St. Mary Church on Main Street, and I remember attending there as a young boy. One event I remember there was my sister, Sharon’s, graduation ceremony from St. Mary School. Our family was sitting near the back of the church and the ceremony seemed long and boring to me, I was five at the time. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and ended up falling asleep standing up! Another memory I had of the old church was a boy swiping a fifty-cent piece on the front steps of the church and running down the block. I am not sure if it was from the collection basket or from the paperboys who would peddle their newspapers in front of the church on Sunday mornings.
My First Communion class I believe was the first group to receive First Communion in the new church on Walnut Street. I remember my face turned so white when I received Communion that my teacher asked me if I was feeling okay! Sister said my face was as white as my suit! I felt okay; I guess I must have been aglow in the Spirit! One sad experience that I remember celebrating in the new church was the funeral Mass of a classmate, her mother and two of her siblings. The four of them were killed in an automobile accident. It was the first funeral Mass that I had ever attended and I remember vividly seeing the four caskets lined up side by side. It was one of my first memories of dealing with the death of people I knew. I remember Father Philips saying words of consolation and hope about Jesus’ promised gift of eternal life.
One celebration that I remember in the new church took place right after my ordination to the priesthood. I celebrated a First Mass in my home parish on Mother’s Day which was also the day of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary! The school kids from St. Mary School where I had attended as a child gave me a banner and a blue and white stole with a big M on it. The principal asked the children if they knew what the M stood for; one little boy piped up Moorby! A good answer, but she was looking for Mary as the answer!
As a priest I also had the honor of celebrating the wedding Mass for two of my cousins and I celebrated a memorial Mass for my Uncle Don when he passed away. I mentioned all these memories of the parish of my youth because I realize that the memories and experiences, the celebrations of sadness and joy are an integral part of my faith experience and have helped define who I am as a person, as a child of God.
This past year, when I attended school reunions I also visited St. Patrick Church in Oneida that was my parish in my junior high years and St. John the Evangelist in New Hartford which was my parish church during my high school years. Both parishes are in the Diocese of Syracuse. I received Confirmation at St. Patrick Church. I would often make a visit to the church at night on my way to the movies or to visit with friends. The church was very dark but there were always candles glowing that made me feel comfortable as I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.
When my family moved to Hew Hartford we had attended Mass at the old church for only a few months before a brand new St. John the Evangelist Church was opened and dedicated. The church was built in the round and I felt a strong sense of community that was enhanced by a spirit -filled music group. We used to get release time from high school to walk a short way down the street for our religious education period each week. It was also at that church where I began to attend weekday Mass during Lent. Looking back I suppose God was forming me in each of the parishes in which I belonged.
The journey in faith for most of us comes about from the formation we receive in our families and through our parish community. I thank God for the ways I was nourished in my faith by my parents and the parishes I have been fortunate to be a part of through the years. I thank God most of all for the grace he continues to bestowed upon me serving you the people of Good Shepherd Catholic Community.
God’s blessings and Peace, Father Bill