By Samantha Pallini | Contributing writer
BALDWINSVILLE — “United by one spirit; Ignited by the fire; Still burning through the ages; Still present in our lives.”
The lyrics to “One Spirit, One Church” brought hundreds of St. Augustine parishioners together this past weekend, not just in song, but as a church gathered to confirm 21 young people and to kick off their 50th anniversary celebration.
High school sophomore Kaitlin Sinclair was one of the confirmands, and she said that the Golden Jubilee anniversary made her Confirmation day all the more meaningful.
“I will remember this for a long time,” she said. “This church is special, and it’s taught me that it doesn’t matter what culture or background or whatever you are — people are welcome and accepting here. To me, that’s really great.”
St. Augustine’s pastor, Father Tom Servatius, expounded upon Sinclair’s reaction, saying he felt St. Augustine’s congregation embodies what it means to be Catholic in both faith and in action.
“I am continually struck by how this parish moves the phrase ‘All are welcome’ to a place that is beyond the words,” he said. “They sing it, and they live it. Visitors continually tell me about the warmth and welcome they feel here — and not just by the priest or the deacon.”
The parish has planned a series of events spanning from June 2016 through May 2017. From hosting a “Fun Run,” to throwing a birthday party for their church’s patron, to holding Earth Day activities and a dinner dance, events are all tied back to the theme of the anniversary year: “Our Spiritual Home.”
“The tagline actually came from the parishioners,” chair of the Anniversary Planning Committee and 28-year parishioner Carol Barnett said. “We put a survey out in the bulletin asking people to finish the phrase ‘St. Augustine’s is.’ We got responses that had this whole feel of home and family, so that’s where ‘our spiritual home’ came from.”
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Costello, who concelebrated the Mass and confirmed the students, said the parish has grown “leaps and bounds” since its inception, causing him to be thankful for the parish’s faith, love, and service to those inside and outside its walls.
“You just get the sense that the spirit is alive here,” he said. “You can even see it; the church is full! It’s really an excellent parish, and, of course, Father Servatius is just a superior pastor.”
St. Augustine’s began as a meeting space for various celebrations and community activities, serving as an overflow location for St. Mary’s. However, in June of 1966, what was a tiny hall with folding chairs and a mobile altar became the site for the very first Mass.
Peg Colosimo, one of the attendees of that very first Mass, said the parish made such an impression on her and her family that they’ve been with St. Augustine’s ever since.
“It started out as a little community center,” she said. “But that first Mass, it was wonderful. We all had young families and brought our little children, and it was just a nice refuge and place to get to and to be together.”
Barbara Pedrotti, also at the parish’s very first Mass, said St. Augustine’s has played a significant role in her life — starting with her childhood and now extending into the lives of her own children.
“My parents raised me in this church,” she said, “and ever since I was little, I can remember coming to Mass every Sunday, getting my First Communion, and John and I got married here in the old church before it was renovated.”
Barbara’s husband, John, is a deacon at St. Augustine’s, and he said the love and the kindness that this parish family exudes can be best illustrated by one of his favorite memories from his wedding day.
“Barbara and I were married in the church back when it was just folding chairs, and my mother was always used to the big cathedral churches,” he said. “When she walked into this church, she looked at me and asked me, ‘Well, where’s the church?’ Father Tom McLaughlin overheard her, and he came over, took her by the arm, and took a walk with her around the church. After five or ten minutes of talking with her, my mother came back, and [St. Augustine’s] was suddenly the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception! That’s how wonderful and gifted that man was. I’ll never forget that.”
With 50 years, seven priests, and lots of renovations and expansions, it seems St. Augustine’s is not done growing in faith, love, or size just yet. Thankfully, Father Servatius says, that is one of the messages the parish wishes to send to the community.
“On a recent Sunday, we encountered the story of the woman washing the feet of Jesus with her tears,” he said. “There are plenty of places you can go with that Gospel passage, but an important lesson is that Jesus continually surrounded himself with a people who were anything but perfect, and he trusted them. So the message from St. Augustine’s? It doesn’t matter how messy your life is. The litany of mistakes doesn’t matter. Regardless, God loves you, and God believes in you.”