By Dc. Tom Cuskey, editor
On July 16, 1858, the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous for the final time in a grotto in Lourdes, France. On the eve of that date, now in 2023, Mass was celebrated for the final time at the Mission of Saint Bernadette in Constantia, marking the completion of the church’s 64 years of service to the diocese and the people of Oneida Lake’s north shore.
“So, we chose that as our date to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving,” Father Christopher Seibt, pastor of the church, Divine Mercy Parish in Central Square and Sacred Heart Parish in Cicero. “And I just read recently that in that (final) apparition, Bernadette writes that Mary never appeared more beautiful.”
St. Bernadette’s has been a mission parish of Divine Mercy since 2015. Saturday vigil Masses and other events held there have been possible through the staffing and support of the Divine Mercy team. Fr. Seibt explained that the two parishes actually function as one, but the challenges of finances, clergy shortages and declining attendance have brought about this next step in the life of the parish.
Fr. Seibt recognizes the sadness that some will feel but also stresses the joy that St. Bernadette’s has fueled. “And we’re thanking God for the many years that this parish served its mission here in Constantia,” Father adds. “When religious orders come to their end, they call it ‘coming to completion.’ We use the same idea for parishes, when they come to their natural end, it completes the mission they had for that time.”
In his homily, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia, principal celebrant of the Mass, reflected on two images he put forth in his homily. “The first image is that of the fields. We know at times that we have to rotate crops and we even have to leave some fields go barren or fallow, as they say, so that that they might bear more later.”
The second image Bishop reflected on is the image of St. Bernadette herself and the profound richness that marked her brief life of only 35 years. Like the people of St. Bernadette, they are called to continue their journey as their patron saint did. “This is the night where we’re calling to mind the last apparition at Lourdes. And she (Bernadette) doesn’t stay there. She hears God’s call now to move to the convent at Nevers (France).”
At the end of Mass, Fr Seibt thanked the people who have been members of the mission parish and served their community, especially those attending the final liturgy.
Tom Rinefierd has been a member since 2005, moving to Central Square after 27 years on Tipperary Hill. He was directed to St. Bernadette by a friend, Deacon Don Mula, who assured him he would love it there. And he did.
“I came the next Sunday. Father Paul Mathis knew I was new. And he took me aside and he introduced me to people within the parish. And I told him, I said, ‘Father, this has to be the friendliest Catholic Church I’ve ever been in.’”
Tom and Charlotte Noonan joined the parish in 1977. St Bernadette was Charlotte’s faith home. “I became a Catholic here. My daughter was married in this church.” She said the parish has blessed her with “a lot of wonderful memories, so there’s a sadness. It’s been a community.” She adds that “we are looking forward to new things.” Husband Tom expressed similar feelings. “I have to say more bitter than sweet, only because I’ve really grown to love this. It’s been an absolute joy.”
Peg McCarthy joined the parish in 1961 but took a 30-year hiatus while she devoted herself to Unity Acres, a house of hospitality for chronically homeless men located further north in Orwell. She returned for the Mass and to be with her family who provided the music ministry for this Mass and many others. “Actually, Jim, my son first started playing here, right up there when he was 11 years old,” she shared. Jim, wife Dierdre and sons Cian and Shane will continue their ministry at Divine Mercy Parish in Central Square.
Lawrence Herbert became a member in 1959, when the church was established, and laughingly says he stayed “until they threw me out.” He was born in 1929 and shared his journey through different parishes growing up and living in Oswego County. As to the impact that changing home parishes has had on his faith, and also reacting to the closing of St. Bernadette?
He replies, still smiling, “See you on Sunday morning.”