Parishioners present the gifts of bread and wine to Bishop O'Connell.
Parishioners present the gifts of bread and wine to Bishop O'Connell.
A parish anniversary usually commemorates the year that the parish was founded or the church was dedicated, but on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., joined the community of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, for a unique golden jubilee Mass that focused on, as Father Jeffrey Lee, pastor, described it, “the parish as we know it today.”

Though St. Mary Parish traces its roots to the 1850s and was served by a succession of clergy from various parishes throughout most of it first 100 years, the evolvement of the current parish that includes the building of the present church on Phalanx Rd. and Route 34, and having a resident pastor and parish staff, dates back to 1972.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell, principal celebrant of the Mass, explained that the number 50 has great spiritual significance. “Today, as we celebrate this Eucharist on Pentecost Sunday, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary in St. Mary Parish, we should open ourselves to the Spirit so that we too, like those first Apostles, might learn the new language of the Pentecost and speak it boldly, in word and action, to a waiting world.”

St. Mary Parish has witnessed substantial growth in the past five decades. Along with witnessing an increase in the number of parishioners, there has also been a significant growth in ministries, including religious education offerings for children and adults, social justice, and outreach efforts. The parish has also undertaken various building and property renovations and expansions.

In addition, reflected Father Lee, having a full-time resident pastor “who lives with the people, prays with the people, dreams with the people and serves with the people is important for creating community in a parish. Through the years the pastors assigned to serve the parishioners have each in their own way worked hard to build a solid foundation on which the Catholic community rests.” Since 1972 there have been five pastors, including Father Lee.

Among those with longtime ties to St. Mary Parish is Deacon Jim Knipper who recalled being 17 years old when his family relocated to Colts Neck from North Jersey and joined St. Mary Parish in 1976. Deacon Knipper attributes his experience in the parish and the leadership of then-pastor, Father William Bausch, as inspiring him for his future vocation as a deacon.

“Living in a vibrant parish, with incredible leadership under Father Bausch and hearing each Sunday, a well-structured and insightful homily opened my eyes to my own gifts and how to best use them,” said Deacon Knipper, who now serves in St. Paul Parish, Princeton. “For me, it was very powerful and more emotional to come back some 46 years after I first walked through the doors of St. Mary. Never did I think when I was 17 that I would return as a deacon to serve the 50th anniversary Mass. It meant a great deal to be there.”

“The 50th anniversary is a nice landmark for us to celebrate,” said Maureen Staub, a parishioner for 56 years and Rite of Christian of Initiation of Adults team member. She recalled witnessing various changes in the parish as pastors continued to build on the legacy of their predecessors, adding that the presence and support of a pastor fosters a sense of familiarity in which “the parishioners get to know him, and he gets to know us.”

Parish trustee Roger Zurro recalled how inspired he and his family were by the spirit of the parish when they joined in 1978. “It seemed to stand out,” he said, noting that the anniversary commemorates “the starting points of a permanent community in the area,” and the presence of a resident pastor “who becomes the anchor of the parish.”