By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent
In 1919, the Diocese of Trenton was just 38 years old. Newspapers cost one cent and the average wage was 28 cents an hour.
Photo Gallery: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, marks 100 years
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., referenced these historical tidbits during his homily for a Mass celebrating the 100th anniversary of Maple Shade’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. The Mass, held June 2, was followed by a parish-wide picnic.
Catholics in Burlington County had it “made in the Shade” in 1919 when Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish was founded, said Bishop O’Connell, referencing a well-known Maple Shade colloquialism.
“The 100th birthday of a parish is a celebration of family and community … generations of faith living out the promises of their Baptism together, seeking and finding Christ together in his Church and in our neighborhoods,” the Bishop said.
“It’s 100 years of generosity, of sharing, of charity, of living the Christian life,” Bishop O’Connell continued, elaborating on how a parish grows because of a hunger for living its faith, something the faithful need to depend on more in today’s world where “what feels good right now” is more important than years of Catholic faith and teaching.
“As your shepherd, let me suggest that we pray for our Church, our Diocese, our parish, that the love of God might be ever a source of unity for our parish community,” the Bishop said.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish was created in 1919 in response to the growth of the town. Prior to that, the Catholic community of Maple Shade had to travel to Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, for services. The first church was built soon after the parish was founded and accommodated 300 people. The first school classes were held in 1928 in the church and in 1929, Father Leo Dineen was named the parish’s first pastor. The current church, which is situated next to the school and seats 900, was built in 1956. At that time, the old church became part of the school.
A Century of Faith
Hundreds of faithful gathered for the anniversary Mass that was concelebrated by Father Joel Wilson, pastor; Father Cesar Tolentino, parochial vicar, as well as priests from neighboring parishes and those who had formerly served in the parish. The Mass was also an occasion to recognize milestones in the ministries of Father Wilson, who celebrates the 10th anniversary of his priestly ordination this year, and Deacon Ron Meyers, who marks 20 years as a deacon.
Father Wilson thanked the Bishop and priest-concelebrants for their presence at the anniversary Mass and his parishioners for “making our parish what it is.” There were also lots of smiles when Father Wilson recognized several groups of parishioners, including the one with the longest history with the parish, the longest married couple, the most recently baptized person and the family with the most members in attendance.
“It’s like being a part of something so much bigger than ourselves,” Father Wilson said, then added that a dynamic parish such as OLPH celebrating its 100th year is “a great sign of hope and life” for the Catholic faith.
One parishioner who enjoyed telling about her lifelong history with OLPH is 94-year-old Margaret Toth.
“It’s my whole life, I’m very happy here,” said Toth, who noted that she is a member of the parish’s Altar-Rosary Society.
When asked about the secret to OLPH’s vibrant longevity, Toth responded, “We have a lot of people who are good parishioners and who love this church.”
Other highlights of the day included a parish-wide picnic with a live band, activities for children and lots of food and fellowship. Most of the festivities were held outside on the parish grounds, but there was also the opportunity to cool off in the air conditioned basement where one could peruse various mementoes and artifacts collected over the past 10 decades.
The jubilee was a culmination of a year of festivities, including a beach party in January and a special performance by the Philadelphia Boys Choir at Christmastime.
“I just love it here,” said Bette Jane Nicgorski (nee Barlow), who received all of her Sacraments at OLPH, attended the parish school and was married in the church. Then noting that her eight-year-old grandson had just received his First Holy Communion the week before in OLPH Church, Nicgorski said she felt as if her OLPH parish experience had “come full circle now.
“I just love it here,” she said. “It’s a family.”
Dora Donovan, (nee Williams), is a third generation parishioner. Her grandfather was part of the parish since its beginning as a mission church of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, which were instrumental in the construction of the new church.
“My grandfather’s funeral was the first funeral in the church,” Donovan said, then told of how her parents were married in the original church, that she and her 16 siblings had all received their Sacraments at OLPH and that the 10 oldest children in the family had attended the school.
Now married and the mother of a 17-year-old daughter who also attends OLPH, Donovan admitted that her ties to the parish are as strong as they are deep.
“They give you personal presence,” she said about the parish staff and fellow parishioners. “It’s a family-like acceptance. The faith-ties here are just as strong as the family-ties among blood relatives.”