Such anniversaries ‘direct us forward,’ bishop tells parish

By Deacon Tom Picciano | Contributing writer

BINGHAMTON — “It’s pretty much home,” said parishioner Bill Coughlin.

He started attending St. Thomas Aquinas Church when he was a child, and raised three daughters in the parish.

“Between the old church and this new church which is 50 years old, I’ve been going here for a long time,” he said.

A member of the parish’s 90th anniversary committee, Coughlin was among the greeters at the Mass for the celebration on Sunday, Oct. 22.

“There’s been a lot of preparation going on. We’re finally culminating it with the Mass,” Coughlin said.

“We’ve done a lot of improvements over the last three or four years. We’re constantly looking forward,” he added.

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was joined by a dozen priests and a deacon for the Mass. During his homily, the bishop said that anniversaries, including the 90th anniversary of the parish and the 50th anniversary of the dedication of a new church building, are significant and call for celebration.

“All of you faith-filled parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas — you help make this parish a special place,” he said. “This is more than a chronological celebration. It’s when we thank God for the many blessings bestowed on this parish.”

The bishop said two words — yesterday and tomorrow — came to mind when he was preparing his homily.

“Many yesterdays have passed. Today you remember past parishioners, many who have been your relatives or friends. You recall the dedicated and holy priests who have served here. You remember the special occasions that have been celebrated here. You recall the rich history and traditions of St.    Thomas Aquinas,” he said.

Bishop Cunningham said generations have come to worship each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. And they’ve come to celebrate the sacraments: baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, and matrimony.

“Anniversaries are not only about history. They are also about tomorrow. They direct us forward,” he said.

Then, sharing the words of Pope Francis, the bishop said, “Every single action of a Christian is to be a step closer to God and with his neighbor. The church is always on the move, always reaching out.”

“Your 90th anniversary calls you to keep moving. To keep following Jesus who goes before you and accompanies you on a journey,” he said.

It’s a journey, the bishop said, that takes every baptized Christian into the world to work with others.

“They see in our faces the joy of when we encounter Christ. How often the Holy Father reminds us that we are to be missionary disciples,” the bishop said. “This special occasion is the perfect time to renew your commitment to Christ.”

“I’m confident that the living stones of this generation will continue to go ahead and to build a church from a cornerstone which is the Lord,” he concluded.

Much was done in the months leading up to the 90th anniversary. The building was renovated with improved lighting and new floors, ceilings, and seating. The sanctuary is more accessible with a circular ramp that winds behind the tabernacle. Large screens with video projectors are easily visible throughout the church. One section of the church is now devoted to the choir, organ, and piano.

After Holy Communion, Msgr. John P. Putano, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, thanked Bishop Cunningham.

“We’re glad that he’s here. We thank him especially for his message,” Msgr. Putano said. “It’s great that he’s able to be with us and help us celebrate this special anniversary.”

In addition to thanking all who planned or took part in the Mass, Msgr. Putano pointed out someone with ties to the very first year of the parish.

“We have the first person who was baptized at St. Thomas Aquinas here today. Her name is Theresa Buckley,” he said.

Theresa, the sister of retired Father Gerald Buckley, stood and was recognized by the entire congregation with applause.

After Mass, Joe Mihalko was one of the parishioners who spoke to Bishop Cunningham on the way out of the church.

“It was very nice to have him here for Mass,” said Mihalko, who headed up the 90th anniversary committee.

Mihalko looked forward to the dinner celebration.

“We’re going down to Terra Cotta [Catering] to see some 16mm film that we’ve had converted that goes back to 1928 through 1930,” he said. “[It shows] the beginnings of our parish. And we’ll get to see some of the people which were original parishioners.”

Deacon Tom Picciano is a journalist and longtime contributor to The Catholic Sun. He serves at St. Vincent de Paul Blessed Sacrament Parish in Vestal.

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