Diamond Jubilee -- The atmosphere around St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, was quite festive July 23 as the community gathered for a Mass of Thanksgiving to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat. Here, outside St. Mary of the Pines Church, Bishop O'Connell greets musicians who provided music and entertainment at the picnic that followed the Mass. At left is Father Richard Basznianin, pastor of nearby St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, who joined in the parish celebration. Jeff Bruno photos
Diamond Jubilee -- The atmosphere around St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, was quite festive July 23 as the community gathered for a Mass of Thanksgiving to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat. Here, outside St. Mary of the Pines Church, Bishop O'Connell greets musicians who provided music and entertainment at the picnic that followed the Mass. At left is Father Richard Basznianin, pastor of nearby St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, who joined in the parish celebration. Jeff Bruno photos

Story by Dorothy K. LaMantia, Correspondent

The atmosphere was charged with jubilation as St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, commemorated the 75th anniversary of its founding.

To view photos from this story, click here.

Hundreds of parishioners filled St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, one of the parish’s two worship sites, as they gathered for a July 23 Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Among the concelebrants were those who serve in the parish: Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor, and parochial vicars Father Marcin Kania and Father Nestor Chavenia.

A most meaningful moment occurred during the entrance procession when parishioner Melvin Peters carried the original cross that had hung in the sanctuary of the parish’s original worship site, St. Mary Church, Barnegat, in 1942. Peters, who was one of the parish’s original altar servers, had restored the cross especially for the anniversary.

More Than Bricks and Mortar

Expressing his delight in being able to be present for the diamond jubilee of St. Mary Parish, Bishop O’Connell, in his homily, spoke of anniversaries as being milestones, occasions of joy and opportunities to remember.

“For a Catholic parish ... it is not buildings or property that we remember. The 75th birthday of a parish, this parish, is a celebration of family and community – families and communities – who have been ‘generations of faith,’ living out the promises of their Baptism together, seeking and finding Christ together in his Church and in our neighborhoods. Seventy-five years of Sacraments: bringing to life and confirming life; feeding with the Bread of Life; mending and reconciling lives; marrying into new lives; handing lives over to God,” said Bishop O’Connell.

He continued that for the parish community, the anniversary meant “75 years of hearing God’s word; 75 years of generosity, of sharing, of charity, of living the Christian life. That’s what parish anniversaries celebrate.”

Likening the day’s Gospel Reading about the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Bishop spoke of how “this parish has grown.”

“A parish begins and a parish grows when and because there is a hunger among the Catholic people of an area: hunger for God, for the Word of Life, for the Bread of Life,” said Bishop O’Connell. “Well over 75 years ago, that hunger was felt keenly by Catholics here in Barnegat, Manahawkin.

“How blessed we have been, how blessed we are and how blessed we will continue to be as we follow our God in faith and on the path where God leads,” he said.

Near the end of the Mass, John Spodofora, mayor of Stafford Township, presented Msgr. Tuzeneu with a proclamation of thanks for his service to the community.

“You are an integral part of the community,” said Spodafora. “When we face an emergency, we can count on St. Mary’s, on Msgr. Ken and his staff to help us. On this 75th anniversary, we honor and thank you for all the good you do for the community, by offering shelter to those during the storm and feeding the hungry.” 

Celebrating Our Mother, Each Other

Following the Mass, the congregation joined in singing “Hail, Holy Queen” and  processed from the church to the parking lot, where a shrine to the Blessed Mother was created. Once gathered at the shrine, members of the Spanish community led a prayer service. Joyful music accompaniment, complete with guitars and brass, was provided by a local band, Mariachi Bustamente.

The music created a perfect segue from the solemn to the festive as the Spanish community sang and English speakers hummed and swayed to a lively rendition of “Las Mananitas” then prepared to enjoy an indoor/outdoor reception.

Under blue skies and mercifully cooled off temperatures, people queued up for the hot buffet composed of food donated by 40 local restaurants. They picnicked under tents set up outdoors while children munched on popcorn and ice cream, enjoying the activities that were available just for them. Inside the parish center, Bill Fredericks’ Entertainment, a guitar and keyboard duo, provided music as other parishioners enjoyed their meal. It came as quite a surprise when Bishop O’Connell decided to provide a little entertainment of his own. With microphone in hand, he performed a solo of “Under the Boardwalk.”

As he surveyed the festive tone of the day, Father Kania noted, “The people are jubilant and so grateful to the priests and for the presence of the Bishop. There is so much joy and enthusiasm.”

Carol Butera remarked on how she had “never seen such a 75th anniversary.”

“The Mass was beautiful,” she said, adding how happy she was that the Bishop was able to be present. She also remarked on the donations of food and entertainment the parish received for the anniversary. 

“That’s what this parish is about – the people in it are so phenomenal because they give their time and effort.”

Barbara Vidal, whose daughters were altar servers for the Mass, commented, “This celebration is spiritually beautiful – down to the consecration to Mary.  It is so wonderful to be part of this parish, especially with this pastor who leads by example. This Church is family, as large as it is, it’s our home and family.”

Julie Manhart reflected on the joy of the day and the history that was celebrated.

“It is a day of joy and gratitude that this parish grew from one tiny church,” she said, recapping history such as how Masses had been celebrated in people’s homes.

“Then a church was built, and now we have two wonderful churches as one parish family because of the growth and participation of so many wonderful people. It has become a family all looking to serve the Lord and save our souls,” she said.