Photos and story by Kay Cozad
For more photos visit the photo gallery.
FORT WAYNE — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish celebrates its silver jubilee this year as a vibrant and ever-growing service-focused parish. Situated on Fort Wayne’s southwest side, with over 7,000 members that represent 2,275 families, the parish offers myriad programs, ministries and opportunities, including Christ Renews His Parish, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus, and religious education, just to name a few.
The parish saw its humble beginnings in 1984 when parish priests travelled to a St. Joseph mission in Aboite to begin celebrating Mass in Haverhill Elementary School’s auditorium. In 1988, then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy appointed then-Father Robert C. Schulte as the founding pastor of the new parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, with its faith community of 375 families, and through fund-raising efforts and donated land, the first Mass was celebrated in the newly-constructed church building in 1990. Since then the parish has grown to include a rectory, athletic fields and a school building for kindergarten through fourth grades.
An expansion is currently underway to increase the education facility to house a full school of pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.
The dynamic parish community celebrated its 25-year anniversary of ministry and growth throughout the year with special events from a PBS program featuring interviews with founding pastor Msgr. Robert Schulte and current pastor Father James Shafer to bulletin accounts of portions of the history of St. Elizabeth Parish by Tom Castaldi and special contests.
On Nov. 3, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades joined the faithful to celebrate a special anniversary Mass at the church. Six fully vested priests, all of whom had served at St. Elizabeth in the past or were instrumental in the founding of the parish, along with Msgr. Schulte and Father Shafer, concelebrated the high Mass that was attended by the Knights of Columbus, three of the four seminarians from the parish and featured a special blessing and prayer.
During his homily Bishop Rhoades told the overflowing congregation, “With joyful thanksgiving to God we celebrate this 25th anniversary Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.” He spoke of the history of the parish’s growth and the pastoral leadership of its two pastors and all priests, deacons and lay leaders who has served there. A standing ovation ensued as parishioners showed their gratitude for their pastors.
Reflecting on the Gospel of Luke, Bishop Rhoades related that Jesus called the tax collector Zacchaeus by name “because this was His mission: to seek and to save the lost.”
He continued, “My friends, this Gospel teaches us that God sees in every person a soul to save. He seeks out the lost. Jesus came to save sinners, to save us. He offers all the possibility of redemption, of converting. This is the power of God’s love at work for the salvation of the world.”
Bishop Rhoades implored, “The mission of the Church and of this parish is to continue this mission of Jesus, the mission of salvation. We are to reach out to others with the love and mercy of Jesus. This is the power of faith, the power of God’s love that saves and renews the world.”
A truly vibrant parish, the bishop said, “is a community that evangelizes by word and action — reaching out to the poor, the outcast, those trapped in sin, those who are suffering, those without hope, those who are unchurched or inactive in the practice of the faith.”
Closing his homily, Bishop Rhoades, who has a personal devotion to St. Elizabeth, prayed, “May St. Elizabeth Ann Seton intercede for us and for this parish, that it may be renewed by Christ’s love. May we, like Zacchaeus, experience the joy of being visited by the Son of God, that we may bring His mercy to others. May God abundantly bless you and all the parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.”
A formal adults-only gala followed Mass that began in the atrium with cocktail hour, after which guests of the celebration gathered in the Parish Activity Center for a magnificent buffet catered by Blue Spoon Catering. The gala featured the musical entertainment of the University of Saint Francis jazz quartet.
Clergy and parishioners alike had uplifting comments to share about the jubilee celebration. Founding pastor Msgr. Schulte remarked, “Twenty-five years is certainly worth celebrating. I have a lot of good memories.”
St. Elizabeth’s parochial vicar Father Ben Muhlenkamp simply said, “It’s a joyous event. I’m happy to be here.”
Returning to the parish at which he began his priestly ministry, Father David Ruppert, current pastor of St. Anthony de Padua in South Bend, said, “It’s great to see the people again, to see the changes. … It’s exciting to see the growth here.”
Jeff Krudop, longtime parishioner, said of the event, “It’s a fitting celebration. We’ve celebrated all year with everyone in every way — the parish festival, with the school and now this. It’s wonderful.”
Beth Walsh was happy to see the returning priests and seminarians and said, “Tonight it’s a blessing for me to see the seminarians. I love those guys!”
Kristin Spoltman, parishioner since 2002, said of the event, “We’re celebrating the past and starting a future.” Her friend Cassie Lee added, “I love to see the support of the bishop. It’s nice to have him and the past priests here.”
Neysa Myers, who is new to the parish, remarked, “It’s nice to see the support for the future of the parish. We look forward to being a part of the parish for a long time.”
Before dinner, Bishop Rhoades blessed medals of St. Elizabeth that were distributed to the ladies in attendance by Sylvia Denice dressed as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton herself, after which he blessed the meal. Following the meal Father Shafer, Msgr. Schulte and Bishop Rhoades all spoke of the history and the future of the expanding parish of Catholic faithful named after St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Father Shafer, in his closing remarks, cited the real gift of the parish “is its people and the Lord that blesses them” and thanked the parishioners of St. Elizabeth Parish saying, “You are what makes St. Elizabeth what it is.”
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