WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Louis Canino, OFM, Myron McCormick, OFM, and Francis McHugh, OFM, concelebrated a July 26 closing Mass at St. Joseph’s Church here, a parish where 68 Province friars had ministered over the years.
Retired Bishop James Timlin presided with eight concelebrants at the closing Mass for St. Joseph’s, which will merge with St. Mary of the Maternity Church. Myron and Francis of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston represented the Province, along with Louis, director of the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, N.C., who gave the homily. The three priests are the last living Franciscans who served the church as pastor in its 119-year history. (To see a list of all friars who ministered at St. Joseph’s, click here).
St. Joseph’s closed due to the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., reorganizing its churches.
The Province withdrew from the parish in 2002, after having served the people there for 72 years, assuming the pastoral care of the parish in 1930. The church, which is in the Georgetown neighborhood of Wilkes-Barre, goes back to 1897.
A letter, written by Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, on behalf of Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, was printed in the last parish bulletin.
The three participating friars served as pastors at the Wilkes-Barre church: Louis from 1976 to 1982, Myron from 1985 to 1990, and Francis from 1999 to 2002. The parishioners, along with other consolidated parishes, are forming a new community at the existing Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church; the name of the new parish has not yet been announced.
In his homily, Louis acknowledged parishioners’ grief but encouraged them, saying that the spirit of St. Joseph’s will live on. “What I am sure of,” he said, “is that St. Joseph’s has been a stellar parish for many decades.”
Pride in Parish
“The first hallmark quality is something you should be very proud of. St. Joseph’s has been a parish community of inclusiveness. For at least one-half to an entire century, people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have been most welcomed and accepted here. They have prayed, played and worked together. Many people from different parishes consider St. Joseph’s their second home.”
Louis continued: “The next quality has to do with the parish’s faith life. The vitality of this parish has always been grounded in a strong faith. It’s a strong faith that is not based on great theological reasoning. It’s a faith-life that has been modeled and instilled from parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.”
Louis mentioned that St. Francis would be elated with this parish. The church, he said, has nourished people’s souls and filled their faith formation. Besides Mass, St. Joseph’s offered Tuesday Novena Services, the Sacrament of Reconciliation any time of day, faith formation for youth, spiritual direction and counseling. In addition, a “rich spiritual heritage left by the Sisters of Mercy on those who attended St. Joseph’s School.”
Not to forget the hard work of the parishioners, Louis referenced the church bazaar, which nearly 40 percent of members have worked on each year. “This was all done because the people of St. Joseph’s loved their parish. They worked long hours because their parish was a source of comfort and spiritual strength for them.”
Memories and Transition
Louis concluded by offering parishioners action steps:
“Celebrate the treasure you have had in being a vital member of St. Joseph’s parish community. May you cherish in your heart these wonderful memories. Be grateful to the Lord that His grace has touched you and your heart. Share the legacy of what you experienced at St. Joe’s with those in your new parish communities.
“If you do all the above, St. Joseph’s will live forever.”
After the church doors were closed, the celebrants and parishioners “made their way to St. Mary of the Maternity Church to begin the new merger,” said Frank. “Next July, parishioners of Holy Trinity Church, which is closing, will also join St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s to form a new parish community.”
A DVD is being produced of the closing Mass. In addition, a Facebook page will be launched so parishioners and fans can share photos as well as thoughts about what St. Joseph’s has meant to them. The photo above was taken at a Franciscan Mass and reception, held the day before the closing Mass.
“Our former parishioners have asked the friars to remember them at this challenging time,” Frank said. “This is the end of an era.”
Shown in the photo above are, from left, Myron, Frank, and Louis.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas, HNP director of communications, contributed to this story.