October 10, 2023 // Diocese

St. Mary Celebrates 175th Jubilee with Renewed Commitment to Serve the Community

In a heartfelt celebration of St. Mary Mother of God Church’s 175th jubilee in Fort Wayne, parishioners, clergy, and special guests came together to reflect on its remarkable history and unwavering commitment to both faith and service during a special Mass and luncheon on Sunday, October 1.

Photos provided by Dan Stockman
Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, celebrates a special jubilee Mass at St. Mary Mother of God Church in Fort Wayne along with Father Wimal Jayasuriya, at left, Pastor of St. Mary. The Mass coincided with the parish’s 175th anniversary.

Throughout its 175 years, St. Mary has been known for its charitable outreach and deep-rooted commitment to serving Fort Wayne’s downtown community. One of the most remarkable aspects of the outreach of St. Mary is its soup kitchen, which has been serving more than 250 meals daily for 48 years. Father Wimal Jayasuriya, Pastor of St. Mary, highlighted the interconnectedness of poverty, as he explained: “Somebody who is materially poor is also poor in health, education, manners, and morals. Our doors are open, and we are never judgmental. Our doors are open for everyone.”

Beyond the soup kitchen, St. Mary offers a daytime hospitality home for those in need of basic necessities, including mail receipt, showers, warm clothing, laundry facilities, nourishing meals, and access to the internet to search for employment. Visitors can pick up food from the soup kitchen and eat it there, cool off from the heat or warm up in the colder months, and enjoy social interaction with others in a warm and inviting environment.

Members of the choir at St. Mary Mother of God sing during a jubilee Mass marking the parish’s 175th anniversary on Sunday, October 1, in Fort Wayne.

“[Those we serve] not only have different faiths, sometimes they don’t have any faith,” Father Jayasuriya said. “We are totally devoted to serving all of humanity. We have such good-hearted people [here].”

In addition to its multitude of charitable giving, the parish has an established scholarship program to assist families whose children attend Catholic schools. The parish’s scholarship program has awarded approximately $80,000 to date.

During the celebration, Father Jayasuriya emphasized that jubilees serve as reminders to recenter our lives around God and to unite with one another. St. Mary, with its 175-year history, stands as a testament to the enduring commitment of its congregation to both faith and service to their community.

Kasia Balsbaugh
Members of the St. Mary community gather for a luncheon to celebrate the parish’s 175th anniversary on Sunday, October 1.

“[A] jubilee is always important for us,” Father Jayasuriya said. “It is there already in the Bible, with biblical backing. It is a time to get back to God, get back to ourselves, and get back to the people. It is a renewal of the covenant with God, with ourselves, and with one another. God is the center, and being united with Him, we [are] united with ourselves, our roots, and to others.”

Looking ahead, St. Mary has several important events on the horizon, including a Thanksgiving meal served on-site for more than 1,250 people. This tradition has continued for 35 years and was adapted to continue to serve the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the parish will launch the Christmas Box program this year, which provides food boxes for more than a thousand families in need, and the Angel Tree program, which ensures underprivileged children receive gifts during the holiday season.

Father Jayasuriya expressed gratitude for the support from generous donors and volunteers from diverse backgrounds who come together to serve humanity. He mentioned that although the parish consists of approximately 160 families, they receive donations from across the United States. For more information about the parish’s charitable contributions to the community, and to volunteer, visit stmarysfw.org.

The Mass to mark the parish’s 175th anniversary was celebrated by Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Father Gurtner was the principal celebrant with Bishop Rhoades being unable to attend because of his participation in the Synod of Bishops in Rome. In a letter to Father Jayasuriya and St. Mary parishioners, Bishop Rhoades pledged to celebrate a special Mass for the community at St. Peter’s Basilica during his trip to the Vatican.

“Throughout the past 175 years, St. Mary’s, one of the oldest parishes of our diocese, has been a beacon of faith, hope, and love in the Fort Wayne community,” Bishop Rhoades wrote in the letter to the parish.

He continued: “St. Mary’s is well-known in Fort Wayne for its charitable outreach to the poor and needy, especially through the soup kitchen, which has been in operation for 48 years. The parish’s commitment to feeding the hungry, and its tender care in doing so, is a beautiful example of Christian love. … As you remember in your prayers all your ancestors in the faith at St. Mary’s, I pray you are also inspired by their example as you move into the future. Together with your devoted pastor, Father Wimal, your excellent parish staff, and lay leaders, I hope that you will be renewed in your evangelizing mission, with special attention to the faith formation of the children and youth of the parish. I pray that you will continue to engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the works that flow from an ever-deepening faith and love for the Lord, nourished by prayer and the sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, and by a lively devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.”

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