Wilmington’s St. Joseph Parish Marks 125th Anniversary

Loretta Young In the Headlines


After St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington, Del., commemorated its 125th anniversary on Oct. 5, a staff member who helped plan the celebration wrote a report with reflections. She feels blessed to have celebrated “the warm and welcoming church on French Street.” Information about the history of the parish, founded in October 1889, was published in a Sept. 24 HNP Today article.

WILMINGTON, Del. — The meditation song “Awesome” summed up the feelings that most attendees of the Oct. 5 Mass and celebration shared, including the thoughts of Bishop W. Francis Malooly, of Wilmington, the principal celebrant. The Mass was a blessed celebration in praising the Lord and giving him thanks for his goodness to the parish.

While the celebration was 125 years in the making, the planning and work actually began in December 2012 with a vision from Barbara Willis, the church historian. I assisted with the planning and together we saw the vision to fruition. As the weeks progressed, the committee grew to 12 faithful parishioners who worked tirelessly to make this day a reality. I know God is pleased with the work of this small parish, founded in 1889 for the purpose of ministering to African Americans.

Fr. Paul Williams, OFM, was assigned in the spring of 2013 as the first African-American pastor. His appointment fulfilled a dream expressed by the first pastor, Fr. John DeRuyter. In investigating the parish history and visiting the archives of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Aston, Pa., as well as the Josephites’ archives in Baltimore, researchers found a letter written by Fr. DeRuyter in 1889 to his superiors, advising that the parish could benefit from the assignment of a “colored pastor.”

While this dream took decades to be realized, it was fitting that we celebrated 125 years as a parish with the first African-American pastor. God has really blessed St. Joseph’s.

Inspiring Music
The Wilmington Diocese Gospel Choir, accompanied by a trumpeter, hosted an inspiring musical prelude that stirred the soul of the guests. Like many, I was on the verge of tears most of the day, but immensely proud to be a parishioner. I watched the processional that included the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mother, the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with lectors, altar servers, deacons, concelebrants and our celebrant. We sang with the gospel choir — it was majestic indeed! Parishioner Deborah Robinson described the choir as being “worthy to sing God’s praise” and said “their mellifluous tones were almost ethereal.”

The newly formed Junior Sodality was introduced to the bishop, and he promised to highlight this group of young ladies in an upcoming issue of The Dialog newspaper.

Just the week before, I was honored to write the prayers of the faithful for the Mass. This summarizes my thoughts during the liturgy as I sang hymns with the gospel choir, listened to the homily and reflected on the prayers.

For the 125 years that God has nurtured, fed us and has shown us his grace, let us pray to the Lord.

For the 125 years that God has given himself to us in word and sacrament, and empowered us with his Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

For the 125 years that God has made us his witnesses in the world and placed us in loving fellowship with one another, let us pray to the Lord.

For the 125 years of Josephite and Franciscan priests and brothers who have ministered to us and guided our spiritual growth, let us pray to the Lord.

For the 125 years of being a faith family who has devoted ourselves to serve in the parish and throughout Wilmington, let us pray to the Lord.

For the 125 years of remembering our parishioners who loved this parish and who have been born into eternal life, let us pray to the Lord.

Prayer to Patron
At the end of Mass, the entire congregation prayed to St. Joseph, our patron saint. The prayer was written by our pastor, Paul, and was led by parishioner Vincent Caesar:

As we commemorate our parish’s 125th anniversary, we invoke you, St. Joseph, whom we are honored to have as our patron saint. We humbly ask that you keep us in your protective care. By way of your powerful intercession, obtain for us through your divine Son all the spiritual blessings needed for our parish to continue to grow and be faithful to Christ.

As you were the foster father of Jesus, we humbly ask that you be our spiritual father. We know that without your interceding on our behalf, we could not have succeeded for these past 125 years. We ask you to continue to intercede for us so that Jesus may be pleased to give us the spiritual blessings and graces needed, so that we remain a welcoming parish to all God’s people. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

After Mass, which Deborah said had the “pageantry of a royal coronation,” the celebration moved just a few blocks away to the Hotel Dupont Gold Ballroom for a luncheon gala. Parishioners, families, friends of the parish, corporate representatives and politicians gathered to extend well wishes. Nearly 250 attended.

The Dixon Trio provided music during the reception, and the silent auction was available for bidding. The keynote speaker was the Most Reverend John Ricard, SSJ, bishop emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Special speakers included Fr. William Norvel, SSJ, superior general of the Josephites, United States Senator Chris Coons and United States Congressman John Carney. All present enjoyed the fellowship and fine dining, and felt blessed to have shared in celebrating the 125th anniversary of the warm and welcoming church on French Street.

As parishioner Earl MacFarlane remarked, “God smiled on our celebration. Parishioners and friends from far and wide came together to show their love on this special occasion.”

Loretta Young is the secretary of St. Joseph Parish.