Bishop Robert J. Cunningham celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes Parish’s 100th anniversary Mass May 5, 2019. (Sun photo | Katherine Long)
By Katherine Long | Editor
One hundred years of faithfulness were honored and celebrated May 5 as Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Utica marked its centennial with a special Mass.
Celebrating 100 years is “wonderful, a joy,” said Larry Hagan, a parishioner of 29 years. “We look forward to some more!”
Parishioners old and new — including the faith community’s newest member, baby Violet Grace, who was baptized during the liturgy — filled the church for and participated in the joyous celebration. The parish choir, along with an orchestra, provided a stirring accompaniment to the liturgy celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham and pastor Father Joseph Salerno. Also concelebrating were parochial vicar Father Tom Servatius, former pastor Father Donald Karlen, Father Paul Drobin, and Msgr. James Lang. Sister Mary Anne Heenan, CSJ, a native of the parish and the province director of the Albany Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and members of the Daughters of Charity and other congregations who ministered in the parish, were also present for the occasion.
Sister Margaret Walker, DC, read a letter from Sister Kathleen Appler, DC, a Utica native and the Superioress General of the Paris-based worldwide Daughters of Charity community. Sister Kathleen ministered in the parish for 13 years and captured the spirit and soul of the parish in her reflection:
“You truly walk your talk as one who seeks to be faithful to the ways of God, revealing his compassionate face to all. It is evident to me that you strive to serve the needs of everyone and anyone who comes to your door whether it be for spiritual support or for assistance in meeting their daily needs,” she wrote. “You have also developed a priceless sense of community among yourselves, valuing your ability to pray together as well as to socialize and laugh with one another. Truly our world hungers for parishes like Our Lady of Lourdes. Thank you for being such a vibrant example of the ideals of Pope Francis that he frequently mentions, offering healing, hope, and happiness to parishioners and strangers alike.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Father Salerno, who will begin his 17th year of ministry in the parish in July. How to describe the Our Lady of Lourdes? “It’s young, it’s old, it’s vibrant, it’s rich, it’s committed, it’s living stones. I lead but we have hundreds of people involved in ministry,” he said.
Patricia Durante, a parishioner of more than 30 years, is one of those people. A cantor and an alto in the choir, she proclaimed the parish to be “one big family.”
“Even if we don’t know the names, we know the faces and everybody looks out for each other,” she said. “Even though it’s a large parish, it’s very close knit.”
Serving as pastor at the momentous milestone, Father Salerno said he was greatly honored “to represent six other men before me and their pastoring. Father [James] Collins, who was the founding pastor, was here for 40 years and we all built upon his vision.”
Looking to the next 100 years, “I pray that Lourdes will continue to be a strong presence in this part of the city,” Father Salerno said, noting especially outreach not only among the Catholic community but also interfaith collaborations with neighboring Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities. “I hope that will grow and blossom.”
In his homily, Bishop Cunningham thanked all who helped prepare for the celebration.
“Most importantly, we thank all of those who on a daily basis minister by word and action: the people of this parish community,” he said.
“A parish church is a treasure. For you, the parishioners, the living stones of this edifice, it is in some sense a home, the place where faith is nourished, relationships formed, and support readily available,” he continued.
Bishop Cunningham drew on Pope Francis’ comparison of the Church to earthly mothers, citing how they “show us the correct path to follow in life; help to lead us back when we stray; accompany us in mercy, offering forgiveness; and never grow tired of interceding for us.
“If you, the flesh and blood that give life to this building, the living witnesses that reach out to all within the parish boundaries and beyond, live these maternal qualities, I think Our Lady of Lourdes will warm hearts and lead people home, a noble task as the parish moves into the future and the next 100 years,” he said.