By Vince LaBarbera
FORT WAYNE — On the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Fort Wayne, continued its centennial celebration with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. Father Timothy A. Wrozek, pastor since August 2001, concelebrated the 6:30 p.m. Mass on May 1, along with Fathers Philip DeVolder, Adam Schmitt, William Sullivan and William Kummer.
“I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate this 100th anniversary Mass of your beloved parish,” Bishop Rhoades began. “We gather on your patronal feast day, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker … instituted by Pope Pius XII on May 1, 1955.”
Bishop Rhoades explained the communist world was celebrating May Day, claiming this day as their own, a day for laborers.
“The Church established this day as a Christian feast,” Bishop Rhoades said, “to highlight the true dignity of human labor in God’s creative plan. And how appropriate that the humble workman of Nazareth, Joseph the carpenter, was chosen by the Church as the one to highlight the dignity of workers.”
“We can imagine how, in his carpenter shop, Joseph patiently and lovingly taught his Son, our Lord Jesus, the skills of carpentry,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Certainly St. Joseph educated our Lord in the Jewish faith and the law of Moses, but in fulfilling his fatherly duties, he also taught him his trade, carpentry.”
“Our Lord Himself sanctified and continues to sanctify human work, which He performed at the side of his earthly father, St. Joseph,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Bishop Rhoades related the history of the parish. The first parishioners of the parish were Italian.
“In Italy, there is great devotion to St. Joseph. I am not surprised that this parish, founded by Italian Catholics, was given the title of St. Joseph,” he said.
A devout Italian layman named Loreto Starace was the leader in organizing the parish. He appealed to the fourth bishop of Fort Wayne, Bishop Herman J. Alerding, to establish an Italian parish. The bishop appointed an Italian priest, Father Loreto Monastero, to work on this endeavor.
Starace and Father Monastero established the Italian Benevolent Society named after Pope Pius X to assist sick and needy members of the Italian Catholic community. Father Monastero moved to Chicago and was replaced by another Italian priest, Father Antonio Petrilli. He ministered to the Italian faithful and worked with Starace on the project of establishing a parish. Others helped them and went door-to-door recruiting future parishioners and raising money. Finally, they were able to purchase a two-story house on the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Bass Street. The church was located on the ground floor and the rectory on the second floor.
“This was the humble beginning of St. Joseph Parish, 100 years ago, in 1914,” Bishop Rhoades related.
Within two years, a simple wood frame church was built on Taylor Street. Shortly thereafter, St. Joseph School was established, staffed by the Sisters of Saint Agnes. In 1919, St. Joseph became a territorial parish, no longer an Italian national parish. But two years later, the parish was suppressed. The church and school were sold.
“It seems the pastor had told the bishop that the parishioners were not supporting the parish and it was in heavy debt. The parishioners were understandably upset,” Bishop Rhoades said.
After a year or two of turmoil, Bishop Alerding reestablished the parish and property was purchased at the corner of Brooklyn and Hale in 1923. In 1924, a brick church and school was built. The Sisters of Saint Agnes returned. A new priest was assigned.
“After that rocky start, the parish experienced stability and growth,” Bishop Rhoades noted.
Bishop Rhoades said hard work led to big building projects in the 1950s — a new rectory, a new school in 1953, and a new church dedicated in 1961.
“And now here we are in 2014 with another exciting new beginning, the re-establishment of a stand-alone parish school,” he emphasized.
The community of faith has so much to be thankful for today, Bishop Rhoades said. He cited the devout pioneers of the parish who worked to build it initially, all the parishioners through the years who have been hardworking and generous, and the many priests and sisters who served the parish.
“The parish has always served immigrants, beginning with the Italians 100 years ago and now a significant number of Latino parishioners,” Bishop Rhoades said. “This is truly a Catholic parish, not only in name, but in deed, a community that welcomes all with the love of Christ.”
“I pray that you will continue to follow the example of St. Joseph and his holiness,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“He teaches us to be industrious and not lazy in fulfilling our duties and in serving the mission the Lord entrusts to us, whatever our vocation,” the bishop added. “St. Joseph was a man of deep faith who was completely docile to God’s will and ready to serve God’s mysterious plan in the Child Jesus.”
“St. Joseph was the protector, the guardian, of the Holy Family. I encourage you to continue to be devoted to him as your parish’s protector and guardian,” Bishop Rhoades encouraged. “Next to Joseph, we always find Mary and Jesus. In loving St. Joseph, we are led to Jesus and Mary. May St. Joseph intercede for you as you look to the future.”
In the nearly 13 years he has served as pastor, Father Wrozek said he believes his greatest accomplishment is celebrating and inviting the Spanish speaking community to come and be a part of the St. Joseph parish family.
Father Wrozek also cited the “beautiful relationship” with “daughter parish,” St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, with whom St. Joseph shares a school until the end of this academic year.
“I am excited about the formation and re-opening of St. Joseph School here,” he told Today’s Catholic.
“The people of God at the parish are a most generous and wonderful people,” Father Wrozek continued. “The administrators and teachers of the school have been a real treat for me. First with Mary Schreiber and then with Lois Widner as principals, my job as pastor of a campus of the school was just so very easy under their able leadership. The teachers are all superb,” he added.
“I can see and anticipate growth for the parish,” he said, noting, “an expansion of the school on the horizon, due to the numbers of people who will eventually find their way to this school and parish.
“I am really happy to be the pastor. I was baptized, confirmed and received my first Communion in a parish named after St. Joseph the Worker, and would like to retire when the time comes from this parish,” he said. “I am excited about the future of this parish. It contains a diverse membership, which enriches me and all who are members. I am even learning Spanish,” Father Wrozek concluded.
Patty Sermersheim, the parish bookkeeper, told Today’s Catholic, “My husband, Jerry, and I moved here 40 years ago this May from Lafayette, Ind.”
“We worshipped at many parishes before choosing St. Joseph Church to be our family,” she said. “We felt very welcome here and still do.”
“We have had five children who have attended St. Joseph School and all have received their sacraments here,” Sermersheim said.
“Jerry and I started our ministry at the parish working with high school students and engaged couples,” she related.
“Life within our diverse parish family is challenging,” Sermersheim continued. “We have mothered St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, shared a joint school with them and now are set to open a new school in the fall. Excitement, anticipation and a little fear are in all of our hearts as we feel the Spirit of God nudging us in a new direction.”
“I most appreciate the deep faith, love, support and acceptance of my brothers and sisters here,” Sermersheim added. “They are generous beyond measure. We are led by a good shepherd, Father Tim, and have hope and trust in God’s plan for our parish.”
Marcy Kamaka, parish secretary, added, “I have been on the parish staff since 1999 and I love parish work, serving God’s people and being a part of our warm, welcoming Saint Joseph Parish family.”
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