By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Pelting rain and unseasonably chilly temperatures Sept. 9 failed to dampen the spirits of hundreds of Catholic faithful in the greater Long Branch area who gathered to celebrate the union of St. Jerome Parish, West Long Branch, and Deal’s St. Mary Parish which merged into the new Our Lady of Hope Parish on July 1.
The well attended inaugural Mass, held in St. Jerome Church, was celebrated by the pastor of the new parish, Father Peter James Alindogan who obviously enjoyed the outpouring of support from parishioners and area clergy.
Throughout the event, he called attention to the participation, thanking his “four brother priests "from Northern Monmouth County for concelebrating as well as the deacons and some seven altar servers from both houses of worship who assisted.
Students from the choir of St. Jerome School and choristers from both churches, he noted, united their voices in songs of praise and unity, the first of which was, “Sing A New Church.” The hymn set the tone for all that would follow, beginning with the formal reading of the decree from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., establishing Our Lady of Hope by melding the two parishes into one distinct entity with two worship sites.
In two moving sequences, the sacramental record books of each parish were solemnly carried to the sanctuary by members of each parish and the trustees. There, the beautifully bound volumes were handed to Father Alindogan who placed them on a table in front of the altar where they remained as symbols of unity throughout the Mass.
In his homily, Father Alindogan encouraged his parishioners to “remain open to the will of God in prayer and worship” in the days ahead, reminding them how much better life is when people “continually reach out to one another.”
“Being a member of parish church,” he said, “is not a matter of division, but of identification. Uniting two parish communities is not a matter of seeing what makes us different but on finding what makes us the same.
“… Our openness begins in knowing that we are a community of believers. We are God’s family who profess our common belief every time we gather to worship. Every move we make affects our community,” Father Alindogan said, and to make that community whole requires the ability to be open, to be part of a community.”
A New Beginning
Formation of Our Lady of Hope Parish came as the result of Faith in Our Future, the three year diocesan initiative implemented by Bishop O’Connell to help parishes meet the realities of a changing Church in the Diocese of Trenton. It is one of seven parishes merged out of 14 across the Diocese in the comprehensive effort to create a well thought out plan for a future likely to be impacted, as is the national Church, by a shortage of priests and shrinking demographics.
The commemorative bulletin created as a keepsake for the opening weekend of Our Lady of Hope Parishcaptured this precise moment in time with combined images of the past with glimpses of what the future might be for the faithful.
The bulletin noted that both parishes were founded in response of increasing numbers of Catholics in the area in population spurts separated by half a century. The first Mass in Deal was held in the Hathaway Inn in 1901 with the landmark “Stone Church” dedicated in 1905.
In 1956, St. Jerome Parish was established to serve West Long Branch and its surrounding communities with St. Jerome Grammar School quickly following to meet the educational needs scores of families moving into the area with the advent of the Garden State Parkway. Also noted was the fact that Our Lady of Hope is one of the few parishes in the area to maintain a grade school, pre-K through eighth grade which has been under the administration of the Religious Sisters of St. Lucy Filippini since its inception.
Parishioners reflected at the social that followed the inaugural Mass that the bishop, in choosing Our Lady of Hope as the patroness from a list of possibilities presented by parishioners, was focusing on hope for the future.
Theodore L. Ferraro, a member of St. Jerome Parish since 1991, and his wife, Maureen, were among among the leaders of the merger team. The couple, who raised five children in the parish and school, “always look to help.”
When they learned there was to be a merger, their first impulse was “to help. These (parishes) were great parishes. We’ve got to move forward,” he said. “We have key people to help, people with energy,” from both communities who moved things along and “made the light shine.”
“We’ve got a welcoming pastor,” he said of Father Alindogan. “There’s a lot of dynamic faith here. People want to work together.”
Like a number of people who commented during the social, Amelia Lopano, also a longtime St. Jerome member, who helped to found the ground breaking fashion shows that raised many thousands of dollars for the school, said she’s interested in reaching out to the students and young people in general to get them involved in the parish.
“I really want to encourage them to become involved. I’d like to see more people become active now that we are together,” said Lopano. “I think with Father P.J. (at the helm) there’s a lot of energy to help.”
Barbara and Victor Calvo, members of St. Mary Parish since 1982, are excited about the formation of the new pastoral council and the finance council. All in all, Victor Calvo said, he believes “more people will want to work together. We have a real need for volunteers and are hoping a lot of people will become involved.”
Victor Calvo shared that a recent presentation on the need for volunteers resulted in 60 people showing interest. “We are all hoping this works out well. Each parish had its good points – getting to know each other is all it takes.”