Columbia City parish interprets faith through service
By Jeannie Ewing
To describe St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church in Columbia City as a hospitable parish would be an understatement. The community at St. Paul’s is thriving, due in large part to its longstanding history of service to others in need. In other words, they bear a missionary spirit that’s evident in their history and the ministries that continue to flourish.
What began as a humble Mass in the home of a Columbia City resident, offered by then-pastor of St. Mary’s in Fort Wayne, Father Edward Faller, in the 1850s, eventually blossomed into a full-fledged parish. By 1867, Bishop John Henry Luers dedicated the church and named its patronage after St. Paul of the Cross.
In the 1980s, St. Paul was growing so rapidly that an expansion of its building project was needed. The small parish couldn’t afford the enormous financial burden, however, so, true to the charism of the parish community, parishioners gathered together to volunteer their time and skills for carpentry work, cleaning, wallpapering and painting. Now the St. Paul of the Cross campus includes a community center, which is used to house the parish hall, a gymnasium for social activities and the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.
Aside from its interesting history, St. Paul of the Cross serves Whitley County through its thriving food pantry that serves an average of 88 people each week, according to parish secretary Jeanne Stefanko. There is an active youth and young adult ministry, as well as a meal ministry to serve those who have been hospitalized or recently had a baby.
Father Gary Sigler, pastor, and the people of St. Paul’s are very active in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Explained Stefanko, “The youth take an annual mission trip to Kentucky to do needed work for chosen community members. These projects include activities such as shingling roofs, carpentry work, yard work and porch floors. They are best known for the many wheelchair ramps they have constructed.”
Parish youth minister Stephanie Hamilton elaborated. “When I was about 5 years old, my dad served as a chaperone for the mission trip to Prestonburg, Ky. That was 20 years ago, and our youth have returned every year since.”
“Each year we never know exactly what work needs to be done until we arrive,” shared Hamilton. “In the past, we built the ramps for people whose homes aren’t able to accommodate their wheelchairs. We’ve also remodeled an entire living room of a home and helped renovate the Pia Rasp school. The teens do whatever is needed, and they are eager to serve.”
The Pia Rasp school, which is run by an order of priests with the same name. Is an apostolate devoted entirely to education.
They offer their time for babysitting, too. Whenever the young adult ministry gathers, the teens watch the children of families who attend. “I love their willingness to serve,” said Hamilton. “They are always ready to help with various ministries in our parish, and they do so with great enthusiasm.”
In addition to their annual mission trip, Hamilton explained that the youth do an annual food fast, which consists of a 24-hour time period that they use to collect canned food, visit a nursing home, volunteer at a local soup kitchen and eventually collect money after Mass at St. Paul’s to benefit Catholic Relief Services. “Everyone in our parish works together,” said Hamilton. “The adults chip in to help out with teen events by volunteering to chaperone, raise money, whatever needs to be done. We all help each other, and I think that’s what makes our parish continue to grow.”
Sister Rose Clare Ehrlich agreed. “You really have to come to St. Paul’s to witness the joy our parishioners exhibit in serving others,” she said. Sister Rose is the music director and also trains the extraordinary ministers of communion, lectors, cantors and is on the RCIA team.
In addition to the adult choir, Mark and Chris Schilling lead a youth choir that includes older children and teens.
Hamilton, Sister Rose and Stefanko hope that St. Paul’s will continue its mission work through local evangelization efforts and hospitality. “My hope is that we make people feel welcome and accepted in our parish, since we are a growing parish with many young families and baptisms. We are the Body of Christ, and St. Paul’s serves the Body with generosity and joy,” Hamilton said.
Sister Rose added, “It used to bother some of our members to hear lots of babies crying at our 10:30 a.m. Mass, but now we all realize that it means young families feel as if St. Paul’s is their church home. “Because so many are willing to give of themselves — it’s reflected in the involvement of our younger generations — it means we are doing something right.”
St. Paul of the Cross
315 S. Line St.
Columbia City, IN 46725
Saturday: 5 p.m.
Sunday: 8 and 10:30 a.m. Weekday: Monday, Thursday, 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 8 a.m. Adoration every Friday 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reconciliation: Saturday 3:45-4:45 p.m. Friday 11:30-12:30 p.m.
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