by Marc and Julie Anderson
SCRANTON — Peggy Towle Foster was one of some 200 parishioners to attend the sesquicentennial celebration of St. Patrick Parish and the centennial anniversary of the church.
At age 86, Foster recalls making her first Communion at the church and, in 1949, marrying her best friend there.
“I had him for 65 years,” she said.
Joe Heise was another parishioner there to celebrate. At age 85, Heise is the third generation of his family to belong to the parish.
Before Mass, Heise recalled sometimes his family rode horses to Mass, especially if there was a lot of snow. His favorite memory is of being an altar boy.
“I started serving Mass under Father Portelance. That would have been about 1938,” he said.
“I was so little I couldn’t lift the book up high enough,” he added with a chuckle.
At the offering of gifts, Heise’s wife Johncie carried a ledger up to the altar — one of 12 gifts representing the parish’s history.
But one of the other gifts was bittersweet. It was a set of building plans carried by Monica Greenwood and Lee Kraus. Due to structural issues, the parish plans to build a new church.
Presided over by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by pastor Father Larry Bowers, the anniversary Mass was both a celebration of the past and a glimpse into the future.
In his homily, the archbishop recalled how the faith was planted in Kansas before the Pilgrims had even landed at Plymouth Rock.
“The Catholic faith was brought to Kansas at a very early time,” he said, sketching the life of Father Juan de Padilla, who came with the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in the 1540s, and stayed in the area after the explorer left. The priest died a martyr in 1542.
Elsewhere in his homily, the archbishop said anniversaries offer people not only a chance to honor the sacrifices of those that came before, but a chance to imagine the future. He expressed gratitude to parishioners — of the past, present and future.
Near the end of Mass, Father Bowers, too, thanked all “those families who have gone before us” and said that two of the original stained-glass windows given by Foster’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Towle, will be moved to the new church. He called it “a great way to honor the past.”
The move, agreed the archbishop, will be cause for mixed emotions.
“The important thing is that the faith will continue to be celebrated,” he said.
Helping to ensure that the parish offers its best with its new design is building committee member Lois Shuck.
She is the seventh generation of her family to belong to the parish.
“I was baptized in this church 73 years ago,” she said. “I’m a lifetime member. I never went anywhere else.
“My first memory of being in church was my sister’s baptism. I was 6.”
Not too long after that came her grandfather’s funeral.
“I was in third grade, and I remember the bell tolled as his body left the church. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I thought it was beautiful. People around town, of course, knew it and counted the number of times [the bell] rang,” she said.
Then, after being out of service for years, the bell was repaired — in time for her mother’s funeral.
Finally, when Shuck’s daughter was killed in a car accident, the bell tolled 23 times, once for each year of her life.
Although the bell tower is unsafe today, the bell will be incorporated into the new church, Shuck said. And she’s glad.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “It was meaningful, and it was awesome.”