- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
First, there was St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pomfret. And then there was the United States of America.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church celebrated its 250th anniversary with a special outdoor Mass on Sunday afternoon attended by more than 850 parishioners and guests, followed by a picnic.
Several former church pastors were in attendance, including the Rev. John Dillon, who served the church from 2004 to 2008, the Rev. Julio Alvarez-Garcia, who served 1990 to 1994, and Monsignor John B. Brady, who served from 1974 to 1985.
After several Bible readings and singing by a combined choir from the church’s four regular Masses, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, spoke about the history of the church and its importance to present day worshippers at St. Joseph’s.
“The reason we have this tent, the reason we have so many people here today, the reason we’re going to celebrate” afterward, Wuerl said, was because of the church’s 250th anniversary. “This parish reaches very, very far back into the history of this country.”
The church is from the “early days of Catholicism in Maryland,” Wuerl said. Father Andrew White was a Jesuit who was part of the founding of St. Joseph’s. Wuerl reminded the parishioners that the church is “part of something larger”: a whole world of Catholics, and Sunday was also a celebration of 250 years of the Gospel.
“We identify ourselves as those first Catholics did” and try to follow their example, Wuerl said. He said the Pope teaches Catholics to hear and accept the Gospel as a family, and that listening to God’s word makes them a parish and a family.
The games and picnic to follow the Mass, Wuerl said, were also reasons to bring the parishioners together as a family. Wuerl said that the early Christians “came together to celebrate the Eucharist,” and Mass brought them together.
Wuerl added that except for the sound system used in Sunday’s Mass and the vehicles parked on the lawn that brought the parishioners to Mass that afternoon, today’s parishioners at St. Joseph’s worship the same as the first parishioners worshipped.
“We are God’s people. We are formed by God’s word,” Wuerl said.
Sunday was also a celebration of the church’s faithfulness, and who could say what worship will be like in the next 250 years, Wuerl said. He added that parishioners at St. Joseph’s in the next 250 years will look back and say that it was because of the parishioners in 2013 that they could worship another 250 years later.
The Rev. Mark Smith of St. Joseph’s read to the parishioners gathered recognition from Pope Francis of the church’s anniversary.
“We had more people than we expected,” said Edward Holland III, a parish council member who worked with Smith and the church’s 250th anniversary committee to plan Sunday’s celebration. Holland has attended St. Joseph’s since 2008.
Holland said that before Mass began at 12:30 p.m., the church bells rang 250 times.
After parishioners took Communion, 250th year medallions were given to young altar servers. Holland said that the medallions were passed out to various members of the church this year during preparations for Sunday’s celebration. He received a medallion, also. But the medallions received by the children on Sunday were particularly special.
“[Rev. Smith] saved the best for last,” Holland said. “He saved the children for last so the Cardinal could hand them out [on Sunday].”
Parishioners enjoyed an afternoon picnic. Rock climbing was available, moon bounces and pugil stick fighting for children, and live music.
Smith said that his favorite part about Sunday was seeing everybody come together. He said the church had 1,000 cars parked in the yard and fields nearby, and he estimates about 1,200 people attended the celebration.
“There was a great sense of community,” said Smith, who has served at St. Joseph’s for more than five years. He added that a “joyful spirit” was present.
St. Joseph’s was founded in 1763 when George Hunter bought 2 acres of land from George Clements with the goal of starting a mission church. Catholics in Colonial America and the early days of the United States were not permitted to worship in the open until 1777. Jesuit priests from Port Tobacco’s St. Ignatius Catholic Church visited parishioners in their homes for confessions, baptisms and the celebration of Mass.
The current parish of St. Joseph’s includes about 927 families.
To learn more
Want to learn more about 250-year-old St. Joseph’s Catholic Church? “An Enduring Journey of Faith,” a history of the parish, is available at http://stjoepomfret.weconnect.com/250-Anniversary-Book-Order-Form; by phone at 301-609-4670, or by mail at St. Joseph Parish, Attn: Book Order, 4590 St. Joseph Way, Pomfret, MD 20675.