FORT WAYNE — Just as Ireland’s patron saint used the shamrock to symbolize the Trinity, the trefoil at St. Patrick’s Church in Fort Wayne represents the unity of three cultures; Vietnamese, Latino and English, blended in worship and bound by a common need for spiritual nourishment.
At St. Patrick’s 125 years ago, brass plates with numerals appeared on each pew signifying family membership — O’Brian, O’Connor, O’Hara, O’Malley. From the front row to the back, the list read like the manifest of a ship bound from Belfast to Boston.
Not so today. On any Sunday, Harrison Street strollers hear three different types of music coming from the church; at 9 a.m., an all American “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” is heard. Ninety minutes later, the nearly hypnotic Vietnamese chant, a sound that virtually floats on the air … and at 12:30 p.m., sounds of Mariachi strings and brass in the choir loft fill a packed church.
Do these three radically different ethnic sounds represent conflict or division? Quite the opposite; they represent the universal Church; God’s love and love for God all coming out of one house of worship on the same day.
Achieving harmony has been gradual, beginning in the 1990s when the staccato sounds of the Vietnamese language were first heard at St. Patrick’s in liturgy celebrated by Father Mark Than Tran, a modern day circuit rider from Indianapolis; here at the request of Father Jim Koons. Eventually a regular schedule was established and Holy Cross Father Martin Lam Nguyen, who made the trip from Notre Dame for the next eight years, celebrated monthly Masses in Vietnamese. It was Father Martin, who after doing his homework, suggested to Bishop John M. D’Arcy that the Divine Word Missionaries could possibly send a Vietnamese priest to be in residence at St. Patrick and the word was made flesh with the arrival of Divine Word Missionary Father Chau Pham, as an associate and eventually, pastor. Other multilingual Divine Word priests joined the staff and in 2007 became official administrators of the parish.
The inclusion of the Latino community was planned and programmed. With the suppression of St. Paul Catholic Parish, which was predominately Hispanic, the doors of St. Patrick Church opened wide to welcome the new parishioners on June 29, 2003. It was the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul and a festive spirit prevailed with a procession of St. Paul’s parishioners featuring costumed Mexican dancers and musicians led by their pastor Father Angel Valdez bearing the Blessed Sacrament. They paraded the streets of Fort Wayne holding aloft a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the intersection of Grand and Harrison stood Bishop D’Arcy vested with crozier accompanied by St. Patrick’s parishioners who ceremoniously joined the march and proceeded south on Harrison Street to St. Patrick’s for a noon Mass.
At St. Patrick’s today, the corporal works of mercy are evident in the form of a Food Pantry and the Clinica Madre de Dios where free medical assistance and medicine is available mainly for low-income Spanish speaking patients. But others in need are also served.
The Food Pantry, one of 27 in the Associated Churches system, is open on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 9-10:45 a.m. serving about 40 families per week. A typical family package includes canned goods, pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, margarine, cheese, hot dogs and bread.
Parishioners of St. Patrick Parish have much to say of the unique faith family there.
Donna Brooke said, “I have been a parishioner since 1995 and have grown to love the diversity and strong faith that is present between the many cultures in our parishioner base. We treat one another as family and thank God for the opportunity to worship and grow as a parish.”
“Since joining St. Patrick’s and making it my home, I have had the opportunity to personally know, love and respect over 25 priests who have spent time ministering to our parishioners,” Brooke said. “What a joy it has been for me to make the acquaintance of these fine presbyters. They truly have made St. Patrick’s a family.”
Paul Offerle spoke of the diversity of worship, “When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad took my brothers and me on a fishing trip in Canada. When we attended Mass on Sunday, the entire Mass was in French. I didn’t understand a word but was amazed at how I could follow along. The fact that we could be a thousand miles from home and yet the Mass was the same was my first experience with the universality of our faith. I just love that the Mass is the same everywhere in the world.”
He continued, “At St. Patrick’s, I am reminded of those events seen in St. Peter’s Square with people from every place on earth gathered together. I was told we have parishioners from over 32 countries. I can attend Mass in English, Vietnamese, Spanish, or all three in one of our special trilingual Masses. Special traditions such as Condolences to Mary on Good Friday evening and Lunar New Years are just two of many that I have been able to share in.”
Phil Dwire, Jr. added, “Over the last two decades our parish here at St. Patrick’s has seen a huge population shift from primarily English to Spanish and Vietnamese. With this change, would our beautiful, historic parish survive such a transition? At about this time St. Patrick’s rallied around a slogan created by a former pastor, Father Jim Koons that read, ‘Where the people are even more beautiful than our historic church.’ You’ll notice it doesn’t say anything about diversity or nationalities. It just says people. Just words you might say, but our Divine Word priests have taken on and weathered a massive task of blending our three cultures at St. Patrick’s, in order that its parishioners, its people, can practice their Catholic faith as one community. Today, the faces may be different, the language may be different, the food at our annual picnic may be different, but always you can say this about St. Patrick’s; the people are even more beautiful than our historic church. Happy 125th dear old St. Patrick’s!”
St. Patrick pastors
• 1889 — Father Thomas O’Leary
• 1889-1935 — Msgr. Joseph Delaney
• 1935-1962 — Msgr. Dennis Monahan
• 1962-1971 — Father Edward Miller
• 1971-1974 — Father Vernon Rosenthal
• 1974-1975 — Father Robert Hammond
• 1975-1981 — Father Raymond Balzer
• 1981-1983 — Father Thomas Doriot
• 1983-1991 — Father Richard Hire
• 1991-1998 — Father James Koons
• 1998-2001 — Father Glenn Kohrman
• 2001-2003 — Father Jeffery Largent
• 2003-2004 — Father Angel Valdez
• 2004-2005 — Msgr. Wm. Lester, Administrator
• 2005-2006 — Father Jack Overmyer
• 2006-2007 — Father Tim Wrozek, Administrator
• 2007-2011 — Father Chau Pham, SVD
• 2011-present — Father Thu Pham, SVD
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