By Laurie Kiefaber
WABASH — Heat and humidity did not dissuade the more than 250 parishioners, priests and area faithful from attending the St. Bernard Church sesquicentennial Aug. 24.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated the anniversary Mass along with a dozen priests during the church’s 150th anniversary.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades told the congregation, “The city of Wabash is most famous in history for becoming the first electrically lighted city in the world. This event happened March 31, 1880. St. Bernard Parish was already in existence since it was established 16 years earlier, in 1864. That is what we celebrate with thanksgiving and joy today — not the electrical lighting of the city, but the spiritual light that has shone here in Wabash for 150 years — the light of Christ and the light of faith.”
Bishop Rhoades also highlighted the church’s immigrant beginnings, the Sisters of St. Joseph and laity who taught at the 92-year-old school and the large stained-glass rose window with scenes from Mary’s life.
“Every time I come here I admire the magnificent stained-glass windows, particularly those of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the choir, maybe the most beautiful in the diocese,” he said. “St. Bernard, your patron saint, had great devotion to the Mother of God. Your devotion to her continues that of earlier parishioners who adorned this church with these beautiful windows.”
Bishop Rhoades also encouraged attendees to remember the past with gratitude, but also to move forward.
“We reflect on the parish’s mission to build up the Body of Christ here in Wabash: to continue to spread the faith, to ensure the strong Catholic upbringing of our children and young people, to reach out with love to those who are not practicing the faith, to serve the sick and the poor, to console the suffering and to help one another to grow in holiness,” he said. “I wish to encourage you in your mission of evangelization. A truly vibrant parish is one that reaches out to others and is not turned in on itself.”
After the Mass, many of those present pondered the day’s events.
“It was wonderful! It was like a homecoming for me,” said Sister Patricia O’Bryan, a Sister of St. Joseph. Sister O’Bryan was principal of St. Bernard School for four years, taught 13 years there and now lives in the Greensburg area.
Emily France, who attended St.
Bernard School, and is now children’s choir director and cantor, enjoyed reuniting with Sister O’Bryan.
“She was my music teacher, principal later and first-grade teacher,” France said. “She was always a huge inspiration in my life; she literally introduced me to Jesus. That part of the day was very emotional for me, to see someone who had made such an impact in my life.”
Mike Davis, who was on the sesquicentennial planning committee, said parishioners began discussing the big celebration Jan. 13. He was pleased with the result.
“I worry about the younger generation,” he added. “Events like this bring their faith back.”
Dick White, who is often an altar server, also saw the implications on youth.
“(The 150-year anniversary) is a witness to our faith and we’re lasting,” he said. “A lot of other churches come and go in 150 years. … The servers and younger kids, hopefully they’ll be there in the coming years.”
Parish secretary Ann Unger felt at peace when the day was over.
“It was a perfect, joy-filled day,” she said.
Ron Trautvetter, a parishioner of seven years with his wife, Kay, of Marion, enjoyed the celebration and felt called to service.
“I was impressed with the bishop because he went to Vernon Manor Home for Children (in Wabash before coming to Mass),” he said. “He challenged us to be like Mother Teresa and take care of the poor and needy in our area.”
About 150 parishioners attended the feast of St. Bernard Mass Aug. 20, which kicked off the parish’s sesquicentennial. During the Mass, Father Sextus Don, pastor, also reflected on the church legacy.
“We have the privilege to be part of this celebration,” he said. “But this faith community must go on. We have to be an example to (the children of the parish). … Our faith in Jesus Christ must continue.”
He also talked about the coming of Christ.
“There are two comings of Christ,” Father Don said. “His first coming into history and the second coming (in the future). But the middle coming of Christ comes to us today (through reading the Bible).”
Father Don also blessed the time capsule, which will be stored in the church and opened at the bicentennial celebration.
Many of the priests attending the sesquicentennial had church connections. Father Ben Muhlenkamp served the parish when Father Don was recovering from a heart attack earlier this year. Fathers Tim Wrozek and William Kummer were former pastors. Msgr. John Suelzer and Father Adam Schmitt were associate pastors. Father Henry Byekwaso often serves as pastor when Father Don visits his home country of Sri Lanka after Christmas. Fathers Polycarp Fernando, Danney Pinto, Andrew Curry and Sebastian Twinomugabi have helped with hearing Confessions. Father Adam Mauman is pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Peru.
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