By Kay Cozad
COLUMBIA CITY — St. Paul of the Cross Church was filled to capacity on Sunday, Oct. 24, with parishioners and friends who gathered to celebrate the parish’s 150th anniversary at a special Mass concelebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and St. Paul’s pastor Father Larry Kramer. “It is a joy to be with you today, my first visit to St. Paul of the Cross Parish here in Columbia City, on this happy and blessed occasion, the 150th anniversary of your parish,” said Bishop Rhoades as he began his homily.
Noting the rich history of the parish, Bishop Rhoades reminded the congregants that it was in 1860 that the first Catholic church was built in Columbia City by “generous and faith-filled parishioners” who furnished the labor and materials for the simple wood framed church. He added that seven years later, in 1867, a larger church building was constructed and then dedicated by Bishop John Henry Luers, who gave the church the title St. Paul of the Cross.
Bishop Rhoades speculated on Bishop Luers’ reasoning behind his choice of names for the country church, noting his discovery that it was in the same year that Paul of the Cross was canonized a saint. “I imagine he wanted to name a parish in honor of the newly canonized St. Paul of the Cross,” Bishop Rhoades said.
There were looks of delight on the faces of those in attendance as Bishop Rhoades informed the congregation that he had recently been to Rome for the canonization of Holy Cross Brother André Bessette, and prayed for St. Paul Parish and its parishioners while visiting the church where St. Paul is buried.
Bishop Rhoades told those assembled that St. Paul was an 18th century Italian priest and mystic who founded the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, members of which lead a life of contemplative prayer as well as giving missions focused on the passion of Jesus Christ.
Of the parish he said, “Here at St. Paul of the Cross Parish, people have encountered Christ’s love, most powerfully revealed on the cross, through prayer, the sacraments and catechesis for the past 150 years. Christ on the Cross teaches us true wisdom, that through the self emptying of sacrificial love, we find true life, authentic freedom and victory over death. Having St. Paul of the Cross as your patron is a good reminder to meditate often, as he did, on our Lord’s Passion.”
Bishop Rhoades then spoke of the Gospel’s message on the need for humble prayer. “When we pray with humility our prayer always reaches God and attains its end,” he said.
The bishop concluded his homily with gratitude for the many devoted priests and sisters who have served at St. Paul throughout its history, including current pastor Father Kramer. He also said, “We thank the Lord for all the devoted parishioners, past and present. And we ask the Lord to continue to bless this parish community that it may be an evangelizing community that attracts others to Christ and His Church, a holy community that continues to grow in the virtues, especially in faith, hope and charity.”
Throughout the joyous liturgy the St. Paul of the Cross choirs raised their voices in angelic hymns, while the congregation responded in kind. And in a special final blessing, Bishop Rhoades concluded Mass by holding a relic from St. Paul as he made the sign of the cross over those gathered.
After greeting parishioners in the gathering area of the church following Mass, Bishop Rhoades joined Father Kramer and his flock at a special dinner in honor of the jubilee.
Lifelong St. Paul of the Cross parishioner Mike Weigold, who ushered at the anniversary Mass, thought highly of the history of the parish. “I think it’s neat that the Catholic Church has been here in Columbia City for 150 years,” he said and added, “I wonder what the founders, that small group of people, envisioned — what it would be like? I think they’d be very happy.”
Erin Shidler, and her 18-month-old son Jacob, celebrated the jubilee Mass with joy. “We’re relatively new here, but St. Paul has been very welcoming to us,” she said. “They have an active young adult group here. It’s a very active parish, and I appreciate that.”
Carl and Joan Baermann, parishioners for 14 years, said of the jubilee celebration Mass, “It’s wonderful! The choir worked so hard. We’ve been involved in funeral dinners, Bible studies and just love this parish. Father Larry is excellent!”
And Father Kramer was delighted with the number of people who helped put the celebration together. “It was glorious. A lot of people worked heard and really enjoyed doing it. This is really good for the parish. Unfortunately it only comes along every 150 years,” he said with a grin. “The people here are active,” he continued, “and that’s what we want to see. Of course there’s always room for improvement, otherwise we’d be out of business.”
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