WILMINGTON, Del. – From the time it opened its doors in 1869, St. Paul Church has been a model of cultural and ethnic diversity. The history and richness of this diversity, as well as the longstanding Franciscan presence, was on full display at a special Mass this spring that kicked off its jubilee year to mark the 150th anniversary of the storied parish that has been dedicated to one of the early Church’s extraordinary evangelists in St. Paul the Apostle.
The May 19 Mass began colorfully and festively – “worthy of the grandeur of a jubilee celebration,” according to pastor Rodolfo Ramon Cabrera, OFM – with a parade of flags commemorating the Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants that comprised the parish’s early founding communities, and showcasing present-day parishioners whose Latin roots include Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and nearly 20 South and Central American countries.
The friars of Holy Name Province — who have staffed the parish since early 1991 — were well represented at the jubilee year kick-off Mass. Rodolfo, who was received as a guest worker of Holy Name Province in December 2016, and parochial vicar Paul Breslin, OFM, served as concelebrants to Bishop Francis Malooly of the Diocese of Wilmington. Province photojournalist Octavio Duran, OFM, who also serves as editor of “The Anthonian Franciscan” magazine, recorded the historic Mass from behind the lens.
The anniversary Mass was also concelebrated by retired diocesan priests — Fr. William Hazzard and Fr. Bill Graney — who had served as pastors at St. Paul during the years leading up to the arrival of the Franciscans. Four deacons — three who had served the parish in past years — also participated in the Mass.
“The parish, its people and its environment are different from when it began 150 years ago. But today, many years later, St. Paul Church and its tremendous people continue to be an anchor in our city,” Bishop Malooly told the more than 600 parishioners gathered at the Mass.
“The early Church proclaimed the Good News, overcome with joy and gratitude for what God had done for them. The people of St. Paul’s continue that great witness, enthusiastically and with gratitude for all that God has done for you,” Bishop Malooly said.
Culture Big Part of Celebration
The Mass set the tone for 12 months of celebration of St. Paul Church and its culturally diverse parish community, past and present.
“Taking into account the rich multicultural tradition of our parish, there will be a great emphasis during this jubilee year on the integration of different Latin American cultures, especially in the celebrations of the various patron saint festivals. This will create a stronger unity and help us in our mission of evangelization,” said Rodolfo, noting that St. Paul Church is the only parish in the Wilmington Diocese that offers Spanish language Masses daily from Tuesday through Sunday.
The Mass, which was attended by alumni and former teachers of St. Paul School, as well as former parishioners who moved from the area, was followed by a fellowship where people shared stories and enjoyed refreshments. Octavio used the opportunity of the fellowship to meet with leaders of several parish ministry groups, according to Rodolfo, who was named pastor in July 2017.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and the City Council issued a proclamation to commemorate St. Paul’s anniversary and the church’s 150 years of “spiritual service to the city’s diverse cultures.”
Parishioners of St. Paul Parish are immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries.
A committee formed by the parish council has planned a series of initiatives, events, and projects that will take place through June 2020. They include a July 20 market bazaar fundraiser; picture day of families and parishioners on July 28; a comedy show on Oct. 6; an October 5k run/walk, and a beef and beer gathering on Nov. 8. A parish dinner-dance is being planned for Sept. 28 in coordination with the Knights of Columbus, and a food festival showcasing cuisine from the nearly two-dozen cultures represented in the parish population is scheduled for Dec. 20.
St. Paul was the first parish established in the Diocese of Wilmington, which was formed in 1868. It was a meeting 30 years ago between then-Provincial Minister Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, and then-Bishop Robert Mulvee – the two were friends from their days in the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. – that began the presence of friars of Holy Name Province at the parish. Prior to HNP, the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception served the parish for eight years.
HNP historian Dominic Monti, OFM, said the friars taking a leadership role at St. Paul Parish was part of a Province initiative at the time to broaden its reach through collaboration with laypeople and new types of ministry, including a move toward ministry in urban areas to meet the needs of the alienated, immigrants and poor.
After assuming care of the parish in 1991, the friars, in the following year, dedicated the Franciscan Center on Market Street, where they offered daily Mass, counseling, 12-step programs, prison ministry, and other programs. The center operated until 2005.
The Province and numerous friars have made an impact on the parish through the years. In 1999, a former convent building was renovated to become HNP’s novitiate. In 2010, the parish became home to HNP’s postulant program for three years before it was moved to Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., in 2013.
“This is a unique parish community that is very enthusiastic about its faith. It is our work as friars to continue the Franciscan footprint through the values and tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, embracing everyone and serving the poorest of the poor with joy and humility,” said Rodolfo, a native of Holguin, Cuba.
– Stephen Mangione, a public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y., is a frequent contributor to this newsletter.
- “Franciscan Influences: The Friars of St. Paul’s” — Dec. 8, 2015, HNP Today
- “St. Paul Community Marks Quarter Century of Franciscan Presence” — Dec. 9, 2015, HNP Today
- “Wilmington Parish Marks Closing of Year of St. Paul” — July 15, 2009, HNP Today
- “Friars Attend Bishop Installation” – Sept. 24, 2008, HNP Today