WILMINGTON, Del. — Last month, the people of St. Paul Parish commemorated with music, a Mass and a festive meal the 25 years that the friars of Holy Name Province have served the community.
They combined the celebration with the feast of Our Lady of Divine Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico. “The feast, like that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is a big day here,” said Todd Carpenter, OFM, pastor. “Puerto Ricans make up about 50 percent of the parish, with the balance being mainly Mexicans and Dominicans.”
The Nov. 13 weekend celebration began Friday evening with a concert by troubadours from Puerto Rico. “They sang for more than two hours traditional Puerto Rican songs that are very popular with the community,” said Todd.
On Sunday, Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, who had been stationed in Wilmington from 1996 to 2002, celebrated the 10:30 a.m. Mass that was attended by roughly 700 people.
“A group of parishioners in historical dress began and ended the Mass with a traditional Puerto Rican dance up and down the aisles of the church,” said Todd. “The dance group was international – a good representation of the parish since it included Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Dominicans.”
Todd continued, “In his homily, Larry asked the parishioners how many friars who had served at St. Paul’s over the past 25 years they could name. They named many of them very quickly. After the Mass, the celebration continued with a festive dinner in the school hall. Various dance groups and choirs provided entertainment. It was a great weekend!
“The only regret from the parishioners was that Larry couldn’t stay longer,” Todd added. “Many parishioners gathered around him to take photos.”
The Move to Wilmington
The Province began staffing the parish, on West Fourth Street, in early 1991. The friars assumed leadership of St. Paul Parish after the Provincial Administration decided to pursue new ministries in urban areas.
The move was part of Holy Name Province’s “refounding” initiative through which the Province sought to broaden its reach through collaboration with laypeople and through new types of ministry. Holy Name’s leadership had decided, as part of the Council’s “refounding” program, that it would move into urban areas.
“We were looking to expand geographically, to the south, and also into other cultures,” said David Schlatter, OFM, a member of the Provincial Council in the late 1980s.
“We realized that we needed to do some things differently “said Kenneth Himes, OFM, also a Council member at that time.
“The emphasis on new urban ministries flowed from the Provincial mission statement adopted in 1988,” said historian Dominic Monti, OFM. “It emphasizes reaching out to the alienated, the immigrant, and the poor. These populations are much more prominent in urban areas. Up to that point, many of our parishes had been in suburban areas, and were a little more homogeneous, middle class ‘family-centered’ parishes.
“The new urban centers could reach out to business people, minister to the needs of the poor and marginalized, and reach out to alienated Catholics,” added Dominic, who teaches at St. Bonaventure University. “Traditional sacramental ministry to a worshipping community was there, of course, but these urban centers could be doing a lot of other things to make the Reign of God more present and alive to a more diverse population.”
Representatives of a committee established by the Council visited various dioceses to research potential sites, said David, now stationed in Silver Spring, Md.
The Wilmington parish became part of the Council’s discussions when then-Provincial Minister Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, received a call from Bishop Robert Mulvee, who Anthony knew when he was a priest in the Diocese of Manchester, N.H.
“He frequented Rye Beach, N.H., when I was director of the retreat center there,” said Anthony. “He wondered if we were willing to consider taking responsibility for St. Paul’s. When I told him I was willing to discuss it, he hopped the train to New York that afternoon. I told him we would not simply take a parish. We also wanted to develop an urban ministry center as an aspect of our Franciscan ministry. He was excited by such an idea.”
Anthony recalled an amusing incident about the discussions.
“At the next Council meeting,” he said, “we had a lengthy discussion. The Council was open to the idea of taking on the new ministry but wondered who could lead such a venture. David Schlatter had left the room briefly and when he returned, I said, ‘Congratulations. You are the new director of ministries in Wilmington.’ I think it was the last time David ever left the room during a Council meeting.”
“That ministry has grown in many diverse ways through the years,” said Anthony. “It has always remained faithful to its resounding vision.”
Offering Spiritual and Social Services
St. Paul Parish was founded by Bishop Thomas Becker in 1869, one year after the founding of the Diocese of Wilmington. At its establishment, the parishioners were mainly Irish with some Italian immigrants. It evolved through the years, adapting to suit the community. New buildings were erected — a school in 1887, a replacement church in 1913, and a rectory in 1930 — and new ministries were offered.
In the 1950s and 1960s, St Paul’s welcomed a growing number of Puerto Ricans, said Todd, who provided highlights of the parish history. In the mid 1960s, the first Spanish Masses were celebrated. In 1983, Third Order Regular friars took over pastoral ministry of the parish from Wilmington Diocese. Since the 1980s, St. Paul’s comprised a large number of Mexicans come as well as Dominicans and other Latinos.
After assuming care of the parish in 1991, the Holy Name Province friars began planning a center that would offer spiritual and social services to the downtown community, according to David.
In February 1992, Anthony dedicated the Franciscan Center on Market Street, diagonally across from the Grand Opera House.
“We see the future of the center as being a collaborative effort between the local church and the laity,” said David, who served as the center’s director with Barry Langley, OFM, pastor of St. Paul Parish, as his assistant.
The center offered a daily noon Mass, counseling, 12-step programs, prison ministry, Come Home programs and other services. Meeting rooms, offices and a library reading room were located on the second floor of the building where the Secular Franciscan also had offices. The Bells of Remembrance Project was established at the Franciscan Center after Sept. 11, 2001.
The friars operated the center until 2005 when finding necessary finances and personnel became challenging, said David. “It is important to have the right team of both friars and laypeople and, of course, beneficiaries. The Province discovered that having a free-standing center doesn’t work as well as having one that is part of a parish.”
“The work we did at the center in Wilmington was wonderful because it was a multi-pronged approach,” David continued. “It was an exciting time for us as a Province. We worked hard while we were there, but we know that, as Franciscans, we make a contribution and move on.”
In 1993, the friars assumed care of another parish in Wilmington — St. Joseph’s, a historically African American parish. It was operated by David, Barry and later Henry Fulmer, OFM.
Over the years, St. Paul’s was home to several levels of the Province’s formation program, first the novitiate program and later, for several years, the postulant program. Today, St. Paul’s is almost entirely a Hispanic parish, with few Anglo and African-American families, said Todd, the pastor since 2008.
Supporting the Community
In October 2014, the parish’s services and welcoming spirit were featured in an article published in Delaware Today magazine titled “St. Paul’s Church a Haven for Hispanics” highlighting the fact that “Todd Carpenter opens his heart and arms to all.”
Ana Schmitt, a parishioner for more than 20 years, said she feels blessed because of the ways the Franciscans share the Gospel values. “These followers of St. Francis provide unconditional support,” she said. “The friars also care for the homeless and work to stop violence.”
“The people of the parish appreciate the friars because we know they are there for everyone,” she added. “The friars to try to learn about different cultures.”
The parish offers a variety of ministries. Among the most popular, said Schmitt, are the Charismatic Renewal and Cursillo and John the XXIII movements. Other programs are the Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent De Paul Society, Young Adult Group and a family counseling center.
St. Paul’s also offers to parishioners events tailored to their needs and their cultures. Committees arrange celebrations for the patrons of a variety of countries, including Mexico, whose celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is this week, Dominican Republic and Ecuador, said Schmitt.
Every January, the parish commemorates the Martin Luther King holiday with area faith communities. Several years ago, the community participated in marches for nonviolence and racial harmony initiated by Michael Tyson, OFM, to advocate for peace.
Earlier this fall, anniversary celebrations took place at two other parishes — St. Anthony-St Patrick in Hartford and Holy Name of Jesus Parish in New York City — both of which marked a quarter century of Franciscan presence this year.
“As I reflect on all these ventures,” Anthony said, “what strikes me is that, while location is significant, the friars chosen to lead is far more important. A perfect location without energized and visionary leaders simply would not have succeeded. I’m grateful that we landed on these locations but far more grateful to the friars, both living and deceased, who have made them uniquely Franciscan places of welcome and participation.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “The Friars of St. Paul’s” by Ana Schmitt — Dec. 8, 2015, HNP Today
- “Wilmington’s St. Joseph Parish Marks 12th Anniversary” — Oct. 20, 2014, HNP Today
- “Wilmington Parish Marks Closing of the Year of St. Paul” — July 15, 2009, HNP Today