St. Charles Borromeo Church, on the city’s northeast side, has 2,100 registered families. New pastor Father Tom Shoemaker has found the parish to be very welcoming. “I’m also impressed by the number of people coming for daily Mass and confessions, as well as rosaries and other devotions. This is a parish of prayer,” he said.
St. Charles Borromeo Church was established in June 1957 by then-Bishop Leo A. Pursley as the 79th parish founded in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Father Edward I. Hession was named the first pastor of the church, and the first Mass was celebrated there on Christmas Day, 1958. The next year, St. Charles School opened with an enrollment of 247 students.
Father Hession remained pastor at St. Charles for 29 years, then lived there in retirement. He was succeeded by Father John Suelzer, who served there for 30 years until his death in 2016. Both priests were invested as prelates of honor, with the title of monsignor, by Bishop John M. D’Arcy in 1995.
This year marks the parish’s 60th anniversary, with only two pastors having led the faithful over its long history. There is also a strong tradition of continuity in its parish families. Father Shoemaker pointed out: “Many of our families have attended our school for three generations, and it’s surprising to find how many parishioners remember events from the early days of the parish.”
Another strong tradition at St. Charles is that of fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life. “St. Charles Borromeo was instrumental in founding a system of seminaries in the 16th century, and we have taken on that focus as well,” Father Shoemaker said. He cited an active vocation committee, which keeps the focus strong. A prayer for vocations is also said at the end of each Mass. A vocation cross is taken home by a family each week; an annual bake sale provides funds for seminarians, and this year a special event also contributed to the Franciscan Brothers Minor seminary fund. A St. Charles bus trip transported parishioners to visit seminarians in Indianapolis and Emmitsburg, Md., and to tour the schools.
“We are seeing the fruits of all that focus this spring,” Father Shoemaker said. Deacon Eric Burgener will be ordained a priest, Nathan Maskal will be ordained a deacon and Jacob Schneider has been accepted to begin seminary studies this fall. All three men are St. Charles parishioners.
Religious education at St. Charles is handled by co-directors Amy Johns and Lisa Schleinkofer, while Casey Ryan is coordinator of RCIA and adult formation classes. Johns said there are 100 students in the program, and she and Schleinkofer also assist with sacramental preparation at the school. “It’s great working with the families,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be part of that program.”
The music ministry at St. Charles rests in the hands of Karen Hope and Tim Robison. Father Shoemaker called attention to the adult choir, a children’s choir, a handbell choir, a contemporary guitar group and many talented cantors as evidence of a musically active parish. And parishioners also “like to participate,” he said.
One of the largest organizations at St. Charles is the Rosary Society, headed up by co-presidents Kathy Yaggy and Mollie Blume. Though all parish women are considered members, said Blume, there are 120 active members of all ages. Activities include a bingo party for Byron Health Center residents in February and the annual Christ Child Festival at Franke Park in December. The members bake pies for the parish craft bazaar in November and provide funeral dinners for the parish. Kathy Seaver heads up that effort.
The men of St. Charles stay active with the K of C, said president Steve Lutz. Knights of Columbus Council 451, established in 1899, was the first in Fort Wayne and the second in the entire state of Indiana. The council found a permanent home at St. Charles Parish just two years ago and boasts a membership of 455, with many coming from other parishes in the area. “Our purpose and goal is to be the right hand of the priests,” said Lutz.
A hallmark of St. Charles Borromeo Parish is its Catholic school, headed up by 16-year principal Robert Sordelet. With more than 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, it is accredited by both the state of Indiana and nationally by AdvancEd.
“We have a reputation of graduating students who are well rounded academically, physically and spiritually, and who are prepared to meet the challenges of high school,” said Sordelet.
He continued: “In addition to sound curricular offerings, our fine arts and athletic programs further offer students broad opportunities for participation, education and development. The success of these programs is a credit to our instructors and parent volunteers who work so effectively with our young people.” The principal also credits a strong and visionary school board, along with a dedicated Home and School Association, for helping to further the best interests of students, parents, teachers and staff.
“We are a Christ-centered Catholic school, faithful to the church and to the development of the souls of our young and old alike” said Sordelet.
“The Holy Spirit is with us, and we embrace our Catholic faith every day. Our Catholic identity is the rock upon which our school is built.” The school’s mission, “To teach, love, live and learn as Jesus did,” is in evidence each day.
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