Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, will mark a century of faith at a Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. and concelebrated by its pastor, Father Joel Wilson, at 11 a.m. June 2 in the church at 236 East Main St. A luncheon will follow.
“It’s humbling, daunting and beautiful to be part of such a legacy,” said Father Wilson, who served as the Maple Shade parish’s administrator for about nine months before being named pastor April 14. “It’s an intensely, momentous event.”
Father Wilson said the anniversary Mass is the third major event in the parish’s year-long anniversary celebration. A beach party event last summer was followed by a concert of Christmas music performed by the Philadelphia Boys Choir on the first Sunday of Advent.
Reflecting upon the changes the parish has seen over the course of its 100 years, he continued, “Model T Fords used to be rolling down the street, and now it’s Teslas.”
The area, once a place where residents of Philadelphia might enjoy a summer getaway with fishing and swimming in the Rancocas Creek, has transformed to a year-round place to live, work and worship.
“I feel like I am at the helm of something much greater than myself,” Father Wilson continued. In a letter posted on the parish’s website, the priest expounded upon his view of the pastorate in the Maple Shade parish, writing:
“Joy and agony, triumph and suffering all buttress the reality that I am now your pastor. Makes sense ... a pastor shares in the good and bad times of his people. He accompanies the community through all the events of life. He celebrates Baptisms, First Communions, weddings and Confirmation, but also birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. A pastor also visits and comforts the sick, buries the dead and comforts those mourning. He extends a listening ear and compassionate heart to those suffering loneliness, depression, marital difficulties, and whatever other crosses his people are asked to carry. Yes, pastoring runs the gamut between tears of sorrow and tears of joy.”
According to parish archives, at the turn of the century, Catholics of the surrounding area traveled to Moorestown for religious functions. In 1919, the Catholic population of Maple Shade was deemed large enough to have its own parish; that May, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish was formed and the first Mass was celebrated in the silk mill on Stiles Avenue. Ground was broken for the first church, which seated 300 people, on Oct. 11, 1920. Then-Bishop Thomas Walsh laid its cornerstone on April 24, 1921.
In September 1928, school classes were held in the church building and the Sisters of Mercy came from St. Mary’s in Camden to instruct the children. Father Leo Dineen was appointed the parish’s first permanent resident pastor in May 1929. A Georgian colonial-style church that could seat 900 was built, and it was dedicated and blessed Nov. 4, 1956, by the late Bishop George W. Ahr.
The June 2 Mass will encompass two additional anniversaries: Father Wilson’s 10th year of the priesthood and Deacon Ron Meyers marking his 20th year in the diaconate.
For more information on the Mass, contact the parish office at 856-667-8850.