by Jill Ragar Esfeld
SHAWNEE — Jayme Tomlin remembers when she first joined Good Shepherd Parish here and Masses were held in apartment complexes.
This June 9, she joined in the parish’s 50th anniversary celebration by reading a poem she wrote about its wonderful history.
The poem was titled “The Golden Thread.”
“I am a decorator and early on in my career they would teach us that every home needed a golden thread,” she said. “It could be a color, a theme or a feeling to tie a home together.”
When Tomlin joined the anniversary planning committee, she thought the golden thread would be a good theme for the parish’s golden anniversary.
Delving into the church history, Tomlin had no difficulty identifying that unifying thread at Good Shepherd.
As she writes in her poem:
“The golden thread is the people who care,
People who love, serve others and share.”
Indeed, Good Shepherd is known for its community spirit and service to others.
“We were formed in 1973,” said pastor Father Kent O’Connor. “And it was an exciting time in our church.
“Good Shepherd really capitalized on the excitement of the Second Vatican Council — the idea [Pope St. John XXIII] had of opening up the windows of the church and letting in fresh air and going out and being disciples.
“I think people really responded to that call.”
By 1994, the parish had grown to the point that it needed more space and made plans to build its current worship center along with its first school.
The worship center was dedicated May 27, 2000.
Today the parish includes 2,000 families.
The community is so enduring that many founding members reunited for this anniversary celebration, and Father O’Connor thanked them for their contributions to Good Shepherd’s faith-filled history.
“The church you helped start in 1973 looked very different from the church we are celebrating in tonight,” he said. “Although many of the exteriors have changed, our faith in Jesus Christ has not changed.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the principal celebrant at the anniversary Mass, echoed that sentiment in his homily as he reflected on the many Gospels preached and sacraments received over those 50 years.
“Through that time, many beautiful friendships have been formed,” he said. “Jesus didn’t come to save us as individuals.
“He gave his Gospel to a community of believers.”
Marcia Mielke saw that community spirit the night of the celebration.
A parishioner for 20 years, Mielke calls herself “the food person.” She coordinates the parish’s ministry at “St. Mary’s Food Kitchen” and organized the anniversary dinner.
Many volunteers signed up to help, but typical of this parish, many more jumped in at the last minute.
“Friday night, people came through the door right after Mass and said, ‘What can I do?’” Mielke recalled. “They put on aprons and just started helping.
“It’s just this feeling that we support each other; kind of like Jayme’s poem said — ‘Do for others what Jesus would do.’”
“This name of Good Shepherd is such a beautiful name for this parish,” said Archbishop Naumann, referring to the name Jesus gave himself in the Gospel of John.
Over its history, Good Shepherd Parish has been the hands of Jesus reaching out beyond its borders to help others, most notably in its sistering relationship with Tres Ceibas, a community in El Salvador named El Buen Pastor.
“Catholic social teaching was embraced from the beginning,” said Father O’Connor. “We have a very active outreach commission who stress social justice.
“We’re committed to loving our neighbor, basically.”
In recent years, the parish has embraced a growing Hispanic community.
“The faith is seen so clearly in the Hispanic community,” said Father O’Connor. “Their love for the Lord and the Eucharist, their love for family; it’s a whole breath of new life for our parish.”
“With our Hispanic community, we’re growing,” she said. “We have amazing young families and to see the children growing their faith — just to continue to see that happen would be amazing.
“They’re the future and that’s what we need.”
This 50th anniversary event was a perfect reflection of what Good Shepherd Parish has become and hopes for in the future, said the pastor.
“It was a lovely summer evening,” said Father O’Connor. “It was pretty much exactly as I hoped and pictured it would be — a celebration of who we are and who we have been and who we’re going to be.
“I hope we can continue to build on our strong foundation of dedication to our service to one another, being a source of hope and light and faith for the community and for this area of the world.”
To view more photos from the celebration, click here.