GREENE — Immaculate Conception Church was abuzz with activity in the hour leading up to a 2 p.m. Mass to celebrate the parish’s 120th anniversary on Sunday, Dec. 6.
The choir practiced nearby while the pastor, Father Thomas Ward, showed a new altar to Bishop Robert Cunningham. Altar boys moved precisely and reverently around the sanctuary lighting candles. The Knights of Columbus and visiting clergy were gathering in the social hall. Then, at about 1:45 p.m., the church went quiet. The silence was broken by the voices of parishioners saying the rosary.
Just two days short of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, about 200 people attended the Mass and dedication of a new altar. The altar had been used in the original parish church which closed decades ago. Until recent renovations, it was a side altar in the current church building.
“We need to emphasize and remember that you, the families, the people of this parish are the living stones on which the church was built,” Bishop Cunningham said during his homily. “The seed of faith has been firmly planted here, firmly planted in the lives of the people of Immaculate Conception parish.”
“As we gather in joy today, we thank God in a special way for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We pledge to them our continued efforts to keep the flame of faith alive here,” said the bishop.
The bishop reminded the faithful that the altar is the focus of attention in the church.
“Before this altar will stand men and women jointly pledging themselves to a lifelong union. From this altar they will set out and form new little churches, the Christian home. To this altar will be brought the bodies of those who fall asleep in the Lord. The church will sing over them songs of confident hope. Each week, and maybe more, parishioners gather to hear God’s word and to be nourished by his Body and Blood. Others will come in the quiet of the day to speak with the Lord and to silently listen as His voice speaks in their heart. The church building and the altar especially reminds us that we are first and foremost a holy people, the body of Christ,” the bishop said.
Bishop Cunningham noted that the dedication of the church to the Immaculate Conception is a “constant reminder of Mary, mother of God, mother of the church. She who is conceived without sin is patroness not only of this parish, but of our entire diocese.”
He added, “May she wrap the mantle of her love around you and your family today and always.”
In a ritual that followed, an altar stone was placed beneath the surface of the altar. The bishop then removed his chasuble, and put on a small apron. He poured Chrism on the altar’s surface, incensed it, and lit candles and offered prayers of blessing.
“Wonderful, wonderful.” That’s how 90 year-old Claire Henninge described the 120th anniversary Mass. As the oldest parishioner, she led the offertory procession. She was all smiles after the Mass, but didn’t recall much of when she’d joined the parish, perhaps 60 to 70 years before.
Her son Joe said Immaculate Conception has been a wonderful parish to belong to. “I can remember being an altar boy in the 5th grade and going all the way through to senior year in high school. There are a lot of great friends here in the parish,” he said.
The altar was made ready again right after the Mass by sacristan Mary Kimbark. She took a few moments to speak about the day. “It was a beautiful job,” she said. “Father wanted to do this so badly. I was just so glad to be a part of it. It’s a great celebration.”
“It was a great honor to have the bishop join us,” said Father Ward, “We’ve made renovations here over the course of the past three years. And of course, the crowning jewel of that would be the altar.”