Bishop blesses restored St. Louis Besancon Church
By Michelle Castleman
NEW HAVEN — The responsorial Psalm 84 proclaims, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!” And lovely indeed is the beautifully restored church at St. Louis Besancon.
During the restoration process, this long-awaited day seemed like a distant dream, but on Sunday afternoon, March 23, an overflowing congregation gathered to create another page of history of the parish founded by French immigrants.
“For many of us, the privilege of experiencing a historical event like this may only happen once in a lifetime,” explained pastor, Father Stephen Colchin.
In the solemn liturgy, celebrant Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was joined by Father Colchin, Father Lourdino Fernandes of St. Rose of Lima, Monroeville, Father William Sullivan of St. John the Baptist, New Haven, and Father Kenneth Sarrazine, retired, second parish son who now resides at Saint Anne Home and Retirement Community in Fort Wayne.
In the dimly lit setting, the bishop reminded the faithful that the Catholic Church is built upon the foundation of the Twelve Apostles. He continued, “St. Paul wrote in our second reading, that ‘we are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone.’ This is something we must always remember. We are the living stones of Christ’s Church. The apostles are the foundation stones. The Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone! In blessing the renovations of this church building dedicated to the worship of God, we are reminded of the divine constitution of Christ’s Church and that His Church is apostolic. We profess the faith handed down to us by the apostles and their successors, the same faith that was professed by the parishioners of St. Louis Besancon these past 167 years.”
The bishop also prayed that the heavenly patron of the parish, St. Louis, King of France, would intercede for the people of Besancon as they work to extend God’s kingdom in this portion of the vineyard of the Lord.
Bishop Rhoades summed up St. Louis’ character by quoting the final words that St. Louis gave his son before he died, “Love God, do justice and serve the poor,” and encouraged the parish to follow their patron’s example.
After the homily, the entire ceremony that followed was full of rich tradition beginning with the Prayer of Dedication and sung litanies.
During the Anointing of the Altar, Bishop Rhoades removed his chasuble and donning a linen gremial, the bishop poured chrism oil on the middle of the table of sacrifice and each of its four corners.
He also anointed the walls at appointed locations of the freshly painted interior of the church. This was followed by the incensation of the altar and the church.
After the incensation, the altar was wiped clean by specially chosen ministers, with special sacred cloths that were to be buried or burned, the altar was covered with fine linen, decorated with flowers and candles were arranged. As the candles were lit, the lights of the church were brightened. The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed when the bishop kissed the altar for the first time.
In his closing remarks, Bishop Rhoades extended his sincere and heartfelt gratitude to Father Colchin for his vision and passion to see the project through. In turn, Father Colchin humbly thanked the bishop for his presence and then his congregation for their generous support of this huge and lengthy undertaking.
Father Colchin continued, “This church restoration project has united our parish family to a deeper understanding and ownership, not only of this sacred space, but more importantly to what faith in God requires throughout our pilgrimage in life.”
The St. Louis choir closed with “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” resounding from the newly blessed parish walls.
Parishioner John Rorick said the song brought back memories of his youth. “All I could think about was walking out of Mass or Holy Hour as a young boy to the same tune,” he fondly recalled.
Organist of nearly 50 years, Jane Lomont, could not have been more pleased with the choir at the celebration. “The newly tuned organ and acoustics are just heavenly,” she beamed.
As Father Colchin and Bishop Rhoades greeted parishioners after Mass, the emotional comments of the breathtaking beauty of the building and moving celebration seemed to be unanimously positive from young and old alike.
“I cried through the whole Mass,” admitted LuAnn Kennerk.
Second-grader Ella Beery simply stated, “It was awesome!”
Countless others echoed the same sentiments as they filed over to the parish hall for a potluck dinner. Hundreds gathered for food and fellowship in the same space that had served as their place of worship for the past nine months.
When asked if he ever thought this day would come, Denny Miesle smiled and the man of faith said, “Of course, I did.” Among his many duties during the project, Miesle was the chief engineer for the new altar, trim master and cabinet builder. He spent 10-12 hour days in the church for months during the process.
Not willing to take due credit, Miesle summarized, “We are each given gifts and talents. I was just happy to be able to share mine for His greater honor and glory.”
Like many in attendance, 11-year old Maggie Castleman’s ancestors came to this country from Besancon, France. When asked about her favorite parts of the dedication Mass, she detailed, “I thought it was so cool when the bishop put on the apron and anointed the new altar and I loved how Mrs. Rita (Brueggeman) sang the whole Litany of the Saints.”
All in all, it was a fitting finish for all to celebrate the completion of the historical project for the grand, little country church first built in 1871.
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