A Church Community

March 18-24, 2004
A Church Community
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
St. Andrew the Apostle Church Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

In its long and rich history, St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse has stood out for its uniqueness. It is a parish that has embraced change but has remained true to its mission of love, faith and service. Church members have much to be proud of this year as they celebrate the parish’s 50th anniversary. “St. Andrew’s is a special parish,” said Sue McSweeney, parishioner and parish council member. “It is a gem in the diocese.”

St. Andrew’s was the vision of Msgr. Charles McEvoy. In 1951, while serving as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Syracuse, Msgr. McEvoy began the process of forming St. Andrew’s. According to church records, initially St. Andrew’s was called a mission, but from the start Msgr. McEvoy indicated his intent was to have a separate parish. Groundbreaking occurred on May 1, 1953; the church was opened and formally dedicated on Laetare Sunday, March 29, 1954 by Msgr. McEvoy. Parishioner Jack Sessler’s life history is entwined with St. Andrew’s history. Shortly after St. Andrew the Apostle Mission Church was dedicated, Jack Sessler and his wife Phyllis moved into a house next to the church. As Sessler reflected on the church’s history, he said that it was the early parishioners –– along with the support of Msgr. McEvoy –– who paved its way. “St. Andrew’s truly began as a traditional, neighborhood parish. It was the neighbors who petitioned to build the church,” Sessler recalled. At that time, Route 81 was not yet built and Salina Street was a major thoroughfare, making it dangerous for children to go from east of Salina to St. Anthony’s for Mass and religious education. “The neighbors wanted their own parish to keep everyone safe. It all was built up from there,” Sessler said. In the midst of St. Andrew’s history, several monumental worldwide events occurred, including Vatican II. These changes were mirrored by profound changes in the parish. After a parish vote, the first Mass facing the people was offered on Jan. 1, 1965; the first sung Mass in English took place Nov. 7, 1965, followed by the use of English.

“We put into practice the things allowed by Vatican II,” said Sessler. “Most parishes in the diocese were not thinking of doing what we did. They were shocked.” “We have always been a progressive church that still holds true to the traditional ideals and values,” added Katie Doucette, who serves on the parish’s marketing committee. Father Joseph Kane served as pastor of St. Andrew’s for 30 years and presided over a portion of those changes. He was open to new ideas, to leadership from the laity and was willing to institute new practices. Under Father Kane’s direction, the parish was the first to have a lay person serve as director of religious education. Father Kane believes that promoting lay involvement was one of the great things about Vatican II. He praised St. Andrew’s as a “model parish.” “We took Vatican II to heart at St. Andrew’s,” he said. “We were a model parish for the days we were living in.” Sister Pat Bergan, OSF, pastoral associate, said that St. Andrew’s has never been afraid to take risks. “We have done what we believed in. We are not as much concerned about the numbers as we are with being an inclusive parish,” she said.

According to parishioner Kip Parker, the diocese needs a unique parish like St. Andrew’s. “We need to have different parishes and different experiences in the diocese,” he said. Father James Mathews currently serves as pastor of St. Andrew’s and St. Lucy’s in Syracuse. Church membership at St. Andrew’s is around 200 families. Though it is a smaller parish, there is a blend of young families, professionals and older members. “Small is beautiful,” said Parker. The parish community reminds him of the basic Christian communities he saw serving as a missionary with Maryknoll in Latin America in 1980. “The pastor and the parishioners had face to face contact with each other. This is what a parish should be like,” he said. McSweeney appreciates the close-knit community found at St. Andrew’s. “In other parishes, you could sit next to someone for 10 years and not know their names. Here, everyone knows each other,” she said. “We are like a large family.” What started out as a “neighborhood parish” has grown to include parishioners from as far as Chittenango. Sister Pat estimates that 70 percent of parishioners live outside of parish boundaries. This is a credit to St. Andrew’s mission of acceptance and inclusion. In 1991 she began a parish organization for senior citizens. For a dozen years she has taken them into the community to participate in various activities, including nature walks and the theater. “Sometimes seniors feel a disconnect with the church. We want everyone to feel welcome,” said Sister Pat.

Starting in 1994, the parish has invited members of the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Community for Sunday Mass twice a month. The church’s continued mission for peace and justice for all has made an impression on the parishioners, and many believe that it is the quality that most embodies the church’s spirit. “There are in our pews people from all walks of life who are each in their own way living examples of God’s love,” said parishioner Lisa Neville. She grew up attending St. Andrew’s and now brings her own children to the parish. “There is something different about St. Andrew’s,” Neville said. “We care about each other and the larger community. These are the values that I want to pass onto my children.” Parishioners have planned a year’s worth of activities which began last fall with a Mass celebrating the Feast of St. Andrew and a potluck supper. A talent show with St. Lucy’s was held in February. The pinnacle of the year-long celebration will be the Anniversary Mass on Sunday, March 28 at 10 a.m., preceded by the Jubilee Dinner on Friday, March 26 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel.

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