GLOUCESTER CITY – Gazing around the Msgr. Edward Lucitt Hall, 70-year-old Joe Kain couldn’t help but smile as he stood surrounded by old friends on the familiar hardwood where he used to play basketball as a student at Saint Mary’s elementary school and Gloucester Catholic High School.
Earlier that morning, he had attended Mass in Saint Mary’s Church, the place where he was baptized and, with his parents and seven siblings, was a regular at the 9 a.m. Sunday children’s Mass.
“I spent a lot of time here growing up,” he recalled, continuing with a note of gratitude. “There’s thankfulness in me, for the priests, sisters and friends who have been here over the years, providing that sense of family. This community here has touched my heart and touched my life.”
Kain joined friends, fellow faithful, priests who served the parish or school, religious, and staff and students of Gloucester City’s Catholic high school Jan. 22 for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Dennis Sullivan and festivities recognizing the 175th anniversary of Saint Mary Church, and the 150th anniversary of the Dominican Sisters of Hope in the area. Among those to concelebrate Mass were Father George Seiter, current pastor, and Msgrs. William Hodge and Harry Jordan, former pastors of the parish.
Legacy of Service
In the mid-19th century, the Irish-Catholic population boom in Gloucester City necessitated the need for a church where families could come together in worship and communion. On Sept. 24, 1848, Bishop Francis Kenrick of Philadelphia blessed the cornerstone of the new church, at Cumberland and Sussex Streets. Bishop Kenrick’s secretary, Father Edward Waldron, was its first pastor.
Looking “to the past with gratitude and to the future with hope,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan implored all to “make a great prayer of thanksgiving and seek God’s blessings” for the Saint Mary’s community.
Joining Bishop in remarks during the liturgy was the prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, Sister Cathy McConnell, OP. “My community and I extend heartfelt congratulations on your 175 years as a notably warmhearted and generous parish,” she said.
In 1873, four women of the then-Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary of Newburgh, N.Y., (the congregation has since merged and is now Sisters of Hope) arrived in Gloucester City to begin working with the faithful. Since then, 358 more sisters have passed through, engaging in ministries that have included education, administration, clerical work and pastoral care.
“These sisters were honored to have the opportunity to play an integral part in the education, pastoral and spiritual life of Saint Mary’s parish,” Sister Cathy said. “The delightful and touching stories about life here, shared over the years clearly reveals the mutual bond of love and respect that existed between you and the sisters.”
“Our sisters will forever be grateful for the privilege to be in loving communion” with the community, she continued. “Our journey with you has truly been a gift. May our loving God continue to bless you and keep you close.”
Father Seiter called on parishioners to remember not only the Dominican sisters “for their great sacrifices these many, many years,” but also “everyone who went before us” – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and all relatives who laid the foundations of faith.
“These remarkable women and men who helped build up this parish, we hope that today, praise God, they are praying for us from their places of heaven,” he said.
Generations of Faith
Like Kain, Mary Ann Saunders is also a lifelong parishioner who attended both Saint Mary’s school and Gloucester Catholic. She has spent 70-plus years engaged in the Saint Mary’s community – as a parish lector and member of its Saints and Singers music group, as well as an assistant principal and teacher at Gloucester Catholic High School.
Her great-grandparents, John and Mary Ann Breen McKenna, were founding parishioners, and she heard many stories of them from her parents and grandparents. “My great-grandparents would always buy food and shoes for the sisters, who were cloistered then,” she said. “This place has always had good people who supported the church.”
A member of the parish’s 175th anniversary committee, she is excited about the planned monthly events to celebrate the occasion, which include a wedding anniversary Mass on Feb. 12 and a Back to School event in September for past graduates.
Father Mark Cavagnaro, a retired priest of the Diocese, said Saint Mary’s will always hold a special place in his heart, as it was his first assignment after being ordained a priest in 1971. He fondly recalled his three-year tenure as parochial vicar.
“I came back to see the kind, generous people,” he said as he greeted families entering Msgr. Lucitt Hall for fellowship and refreshments after Mass. “I’ve always appreciated the good history of the faith here and parishioners’ dedication to their priests. And as an Italian, it was nice to get a little flavor of the Irish, and understand that culture,” he added with a laugh.
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Culture and tradition were indeed on display throughout the morning Mass and afternoon festivities. During his homily, Msgr. Jordan, parish pastor from 1995 to 2003, not only shared stories of the community’s 21 pastors and Dominican sisters, he remembered getting the church bells to work again after 38 years.
“The 10 bells in the church, named after Saint Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Thomas, Saint Michael, Saint Patrick, Saint Dominic, Saint Alphonsus, Saint Ignatius, Saint Benedict, and Saint Vincent de Paul, all chimed again on Aug. 15, 1998, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, at 6 p.m.,” he said.
“They chimed the Bells of Saint Mary’s, which goes,
‘The Bells of Saint Mary’s
Ah, hear they are calling
The young loves, the true loves
That come from the sea
And so my beloved when red leaves are falling
Love bells shall ring out
For you and me.’”
In recognition of its 175th anniversary, Saint Mary’s Parish will be celebrating a special event each month. On Feb. 12, all couples married in the church in the past 25 years are invited to a Mass in celebration of World Marriage Day. To R.S.V.P for the Mass, which will begin at 11:30 a.m., contact chairman Harry Fox at email@example.com. Saint Mary’s Church is located at 426 Monmouth St., Gloucester City.
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