Coming Together -- Parishioners from St. Joseph and Jesus the Lord Parishes pray during the inaugural Mass for the new Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport. John Batkowski photos
Coming Together -- Parishioners from St. Joseph and Jesus the Lord Parishes pray during the inaugural Mass for the new Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Keyport. John Batkowski photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

With a salute to the past and abundant hope for the future, Keyport’s Catholics opened the door to a new chapter in the life of their community July 1 under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima.

Photo Gallery: Inaugural Mass for Our Lady of Fatima Parish

More than 700 faithful from St. Joseph Church and its neighbor, Jesus the Lord, which will both remain open, gathered July 1 to witness the inaugural Mass that officially merged the two parishes under a new name: Our Lady of Fatima. A luncheon attended by more than 500 followed in the parish community center.

The bilingual Mass reflecting the cultural diversity of the new parish was held in St. Joseph, the larger worship site, where the atmosphere was reverential and joy filled, highlighted by music and readings specifically selected to convey welcome, said Daniel Neff, director of music and assistant parish manager.

“The big consideration was that (the Mass) was going to be welcoming for all – that both the English speaking and Spanish speaking communities were going to feel that they were part of the liturgy. That no one would be excluded,” said Neff, a member of the committee that planned the liturgy.

Members of all generations from St. Joseph and Jesus the Lord churches and their ministries participated he noted. Children from both were altar servers, so were members of the hospitality teams, and related ministries. Deacons from both churches participated in the liturgy, he said.

Father Rene Pulgarin, pastor of the new parish, celebrated its first official Mass. Concelebrating were Msgr. Edward J. Arnister, regional dean and episcopal vicar of Monmouth County, who read the decree proclaiming the new parish and eight priests of the diocese.

In his homily, Father Pulgarin, who was named pastor of St. Joseph Church in 2016, likened the creation of Our Lady of Fatima Parish to a “new chapter in the same book. … A book that dates back to 1854” when the Catholics who had begun to settle in the Bayshore built a little brick church. It was replaced in 1879 by the fulfillment of the “big dream come to life,” a beautiful Gothic church to accommodate the growing number of Catholics.

During each phase of the community’s existence, Father Pulgarin said, God has always provided. When the beautiful Gothic church was found to be structurally unsound 94 years later and another was needed, the community rallied to build the modern church that faithful know today.

With the arrival of the Hispanic faithful, Jesus the Lord was established, he said. “Today, we are writing a chapter in the book just like we were in 1854. We have been called by God to strengthen our faith, by uniting our effort, talent and time in forming one parish again.”

“God knows our needs and has provided us with this blessing of the beautiful things we can do under the protection of Our Lady of Fatima.”

And indeed, Father Pulgarin asked everyone to continue to pray to Our Lady of Fatima, whose new shrine is a focal point of St. Joseph Church, said Cathy Strauss, pastoral assistant at the parish.

Since arriving two years ago, Father Pulgarin has made it a mission to have a prominent place for the Blessed Mother in the worship space. “His main goal was to get a statue of the Immaculate Conception,” Strauss said. “But when he went in search of such a statue, he could not find it and instead picked one of Our Lady of Fatima.”

“He brought it back and she stayed in the sanctuary … when we had the (parish wide) ballot to pick a name for the new parish, it was anonymous and down to three names and the Bishop picked Our Lady of Fatima,” said Srauss. “Now, as Father Rene likes to say, ‘we didn’t find her. She found us!’”