Port City Gem

St. Joseph’s Parish alive and well in 2003

OSWEGO — In November, members of St. Joseph’s Church gathered for a parish renewal entitled “Lift Us Up, Lord.” And that’s exactly what happened. After a forgettable year of challenges, the Oswego parish is moving on with enthusiasm.

“We want people to know that our church is alive and well,” said Father James Cesta, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish. “We had over 30 new families join in the past year. There are so many things going on at St. Joseph’s. We are looking forward to the future in Oswego.” At the beginning of the new year, St. Joseph’s is busy with activities geared for all ages. Sister Mary Alice St. John, CSJ, director of faith formation at St. Joseph’s Parish, said children are one of the age groups most active in the church.

“The children do so many different things. For example, we have activities planned during the Lenten season, including our annual Easter traditions for the parish with an Easter egg hunt,” Sister Mary Alice said. “We have a good number of small children, and we have a great pre-school religious education program.”

Service is a major component in the religious education of the church’s children, Sister Mary Alice explained. “We have a good healthy number of kids who are altar servers and then they grow up to be Eucharistic ministers and so on. Our service is growing. The kids man a booth at the bazaar and participate in planning and working on other events. The children here continue to serve the church, but they do without seeking recognition.”

Sister Mary Alice said the comfortable atmosphere the church provides has drawn families with young children. The children have been a true blessing to a church intent on looking ahead. Many long-time St. Joseph’s parishioners remain vital parts of the ministry at the church. Rosemary Skillen, a part-time secretary at the church, said the St. Anne’s Society visits people in local nursing facilities, bringing joy to residents. “They just love having us go,” Skillen said. “They really look forward to it.”

Other ministry groups visit the sick and homebound. And some just pray. A spirit of ecumenism drives the parish to reach out to the community. “We have a strong human development committee,” said Mary Helen Colloca, a parish trustee. “We have a St. Joseph’s table in March and we collect food before St. Joseph’s Day. In June and July, we collect coffee and other things for Unity Acres. Then in November, we have a table to collect food for Thanksgiving.”

Another group with many participants is the Golden Age, said Deacon Joseph Chillemi. Golden Age membership requires a minimum age of 55. “We are open to everyone,” Deacon Chillemi said. “This is a very active group that meets once a month. We go on trips and love getting together.” Members of St. Joseph’s Church gather frequently for festivals and other special events. The St. Joseph’s Festival, held on Father’s Day weekend each year, is one of the most popular. However, a few new additions are making headway. On Feb. 8, the church will hold its Rose Renewal Day, a day retreat of renewal and enrichment for married couples featuring a romantic candlelight spaghetti dinner and music. St. Joseph’s will reintroduce its Mardi Gras celebration on March 1.

Father Cesta said the church’s choir has been a source of great inspiration for the whole parish. “Things have really perked up with the choir. It’s growing quickly with an infusion of energy and creativity,” he said. The growth has been a result of new choir director Ryan Schaffer, Father Cesta explained. “Things have really been great. Ryan is young and talented and he is very excited about being here at St. Joseph’s,” said Laurie Ohnmacht, one of the church’s cantors. “The music just comes out of his being. He has a true love for music.” Deacon Chillemi said St. Joseph’s is being more innovative with its liturgy, which has helped to draw people into the pews.

“We are going more contemporary because of the people,” he said. “You have to adapt in society today. You have to reach the spiritual needs of the people — that’s the bottom line.” Colloca said Father Cesta has done a wonderful job bringing the Gospel message to the people. “People can’t help but be attracted to his church. I enjoy the services because Father Cesta puts everything in the language of the laity,” Colloca said. “He’s an excellent homilist.” Father Cesta said it’s the people of his parish that make it run so smoothly. The church currently is working on a photo wall, with all of the families and people associated with the parish. The project, titled “God’s Love Revealed Here,” has provided a physical representation of the size of the parish.

“It’s just another thing to bring a few smiles,” Father Cesta said. “On the front of the bulletin, if it isn’t a special event, I put pictures of people participating in the activities our church has. It’s not about the brick and mortar, it’s about the people.”

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