In this 2016 photo, Cori Scotti, music and liturgy director in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, directs the combined choirs from her parish and St. Anthony Claret Parish in singing during a BlueClaws baseball game. The two Lakewood parishes are preparing to merge July 1. John Blaine photo
In this 2016 photo, Cori Scotti, music and liturgy director in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, directs the combined choirs from her parish and St. Anthony Claret Parish in singing during a BlueClaws baseball game. The two Lakewood parishes are preparing to merge July 1. John Blaine photo
" As we start working together, we can become a stronger Catholic presence in Lakewood. "
There’s a lot of positive energy and hopeful comments being shared about the coming together of St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret Parishes and what it could mean for the Catholic community in Lakewood.

The whole thing about the merger, said Divine Word Father Bou, “is about unity.”

“I believe we can become more dynamic and stronger and be more of a witness to our community,” he said.

“There’s a lot of faith, talent and devotion among parishioners,” Zulma Mercado said of the town’s two Catholic parishes which are set to merge on July 1. “As we start working together, we can become a stronger Catholic presence in Lakewood.”

A New Day

With the signing of a decree on June 1, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., officially declared that St. Mary of the Lake Parish and St. Anthony Claret Parish, both Lakewood, will cease to be individual parishes and be merged into the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.

The decree marks the final change resulting from the Diocese’s pastoral planning initiative, Faith in Our Future, which is an eight-step pastoral planning process that was commissioned by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in 2015 and designed to strengthen and enliven parishes in the Diocese.

As St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret Parishes transition, some of the logistics that were defined in the official decree on the merger include the name of the community, which will be Our Lady of Guadalupe; the geographical boundaries; the use of worship sites; the disposition of goods and debt currently belonging  to the two separate parishes, and the retention of sacramental records from the two parishes.

As a territorial parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish will serve the needs of those who reside in the parish territory. However, the parish has also been designated as a Center for Ministry and will provide special outreach to Hispanic Catholics and Polish Catholics. The parish will be under the care and leadership of the Divine Word Missionaries with Father Bou, current pastor of St. Anthony Claret Parish and St. Mary of the Lake Parish, becoming pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The other priests assigned as parochial vicars are Father Guilherme Andrino, Father John Pastuszczak and Father Pelagio Calamba Pateno. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish will also operate St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery, which retains the name under which it was dedicated.

In preparation for the merger, clergy and staff members from both parishes are working on logistics such as determining Mass schedules, which will also include the celebration of Masses in Polish and Spanish and the use of what Father Bou calls “three very beautiful buildings in which we can share to build upon and make something great.” The buildings he refers to are St. Mary of the Lake Church, which was established in the 1890s, Holy Family Church and School building, built in the 1970s and 80s, and St. Anthony Claret Church, also established in the 1970s.

Naming The Parish

Father Bou said that in the fall, the FIOF communication committee surveyed parishioners from both St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret about possible names for the new parish. Ultimately three were sent to Bishop O'Connell for his review: Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. John Paul II and Holy Trinity.

When Our Lady of Guadalupe was chosen by the Bishop, Father Bou said he was pleased with how it can serve as a reminder of unity for the parishioners. He pointed out that Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Mary of the Lake Parish is named in honor of the Blessed Mother. Also, while Our Lady of Guadalupe is well known in Mexico, she holds special meaning for the Polish community because of the great devotion that St. John Paul II had to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Holy Father, in 1999, had declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas, he said, recalling when the Blessed Mother had appeared in Mexico at a time when there was a tremendous conflict between the Europeans who arrived in the New World and the indigenous people in 1531.

The Blessed Mother brought a message of hope, reconciliation, unity and healing, Father Bou said. "That message has carried us through centuries. I believe that it is just as relevant today, when we look at what is going on around the world. We need her message as much today as ever before." 

Collaboration Is Key

In order to make the merger work honestly and effectively, both communities realized that sharing of resources and genuine collaboration among parish staffs and parishioners needed to be made a top priority.

That’s a point to which Cori Scotti, music minister in St. Mary of the Lake Parish for the past 15 years, was pleased to say that “we are ahead of the game” on as she cited one example of how it was about four years ago when the music ministries in the two parishes began working together in providing trilingual music for various events and liturgies.

Keeping in mind that the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish will have more than 4,600 families, with records indicating that St. Mary of the Lake having 2,625 families and St. Anthony Claret having 2,038 families, Father Andrino added that both parishes “have a lot of good things to share.”

“There are three church buildings and three language groups (English, Polish and Spanish) worshiping in those churches. We do not even count how many different cultures/countries there are, because we are rich in diversity, however united in one faith,” he said.

To help foster the growth and success of the new parish, Father Andrino focused on how he and his brother priests should strive to take a team approach and make a “strong commitment” as Divine Word clergy to working in community.

“Hardly ever will you find a Divine Word priest or brother working alone,” he said. “It helps us to have a strong sense of collaboration. This is a plus for this merging situation because the community will also sense the working together for the good of the parish.”

Along with blending two faith communities, great emphasis on unity will also need to be placed as the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish strives to serve folks of multiple ethnicities and of varying ages and economic backgrounds. That’s a concept that Josette Peterson, a lifelong member of St. Mary of the Lake Parish who is in her 80s, said she finds “exciting.”

In St. Mary of the Lake, the English speaking and Polish speaking communities, she said, learned to worship and practice their faith together, and now with the Spanish speaking community joining us, “that will add to our diversity and we will learn how they practice their faith and about their culture..

“I look forward to growing together and learning from each other,” she said. “That’s the beautlful part of diversity, learning from each other.”

David Roman, director of religious education for both St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret Parishes and chairperson for Cohort 22, said he believes the merger “will help feed the needs of the community as a whole as it is the only Catholic Church in Lakewood.” And even if some challenges arise because of the cultural differences, he also believes “that this can be overcome as long as we all respect and understand the differences in our cultures.

“I pray that our community continues to grow as one in Christ for the common goal of spreading his Good News,” Roman said.

“I have every confidence that whatever challenges appear, our new parish will be able to find solutions to address them,” added Mercado, a member of St. Anthony Claret Parish for about five years, the past three of which she was involved as a member and chairperson of the Communications Committee for Faith In Our Future.

Father Andrino noted that he has always believed that “diversity enriches our faith.”

“I hope our unity in our diversity will show Lakewood what the Gospel is about,’ he said. “When we come together to pray to God, we are God’s sons and daughters, and I strongly believe that our message is of unity, peace and love.”