On an October day in 1948, Bishop John F. Noll dedicated a new Catholic church in Waynedale, on the southside of Fort Wayne, named after the French Carmelite nun, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Seventy-five years later, the parish is still striving to carry on the “Little Way” of its patroness by doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.
St. Therese Parish in Fort Wayne celebrated its 75th anniversary on Saturday, September 30, the eve of St. Thérèse’s feast day. The parish milestone also fell on the same year as what would have been the saint’s 150th birthday. To commemorate both anniversaries, St. Therese Parish held a celebration, beginning with a Fun Fest that featured food, games, and a tour of the church by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Afterwards, a special anniversary Mass was celebrated, followed by a formal dinner and silent auction at nearby Orchard Ridge Country Club.
Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, celebrated Mass in place of Bishop Rhoades, who was in Rome to participate in the Synod of Bishops. Assuring parishioners of Bishop Rhoades’ blessing, Father Gurtner joked that “it’s only the Holy Father, the pope, who kept him from being here with you tonight.”
“It is my joy to join you tonight in Bishop Rhoades’ place,” Father Gurtner said to the congregation. “Congratulations to Father [Glenn] Kohrman, to the parish staff, and to all of you in the parish who contributed to the planning of this great event.”
Father Gurtner expressed his gratitude to the Franciscan priests and sisters who served the parish for many years, as well as to the visiting priests who returned to the parish to concelebrate the anniversary Mass. Joining Father Kohrman, the current pastor, and Deacon Max Ortega, were former pastors Father Matthew Coonan, Father Lawrence Teteh, and Father Dave Ruppert. Father Keeton Lockwood, former parochial vicar, and sons of the parish Father Jason Freiburger and Father Stephen Felicichia also attended.
“It is amazing to imagine that this parish has been giving
spiritual nourishment to the faithful for 75 years,” Father Gurtner said. “It’s hard to imagine how many souls that might be – tens and tens of thousands. This is one of the reasons for celebrating anniversaries: to give thanks to God for His work among us. In your case, to give thanks to God that this parish has been a continual font of the Lord’s grace for all these years.”
In his homily, Father Gurtner reflected on Pope St. John Paul II’s writings on the fundamental importance of time and our duty to sanctify it. Because God entered into time in Jesus Christ, posited John Paul II, time itself can be made holy and set apart to do the will of God. This is precisely what parish patroness St. Thérèse sought through love of the Church. In her autobiography, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote: “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: My call is love. Certainly I have found my place. … In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.”
“On this occasion of this anniversary, all of us can continue to ask: How can I sanctify the time that has been given to me?” Father Gurtner said. “Indeed, we can ask the question that St. Thérèse puts before us: How can I be love in the heart of the Church? How can we, as a parish, sanctify the time that has been given to us how? How can we be love in the heart of the Church?” Father Gurtner challenged parishioners to accomplish this by worshiping God, serving those in need, and building each other up.
At the end of Mass, Father Kohrman thanked the anniversary committee for planning the event, the religious sisters for their attendance, and the choir for providing the sacred music. He also announced a new parish mission statement, recently finalized by the parish council: “Pursue the way to do even the little things with great love.”
“It’s just great to be here,” Father Kohrman said. “My heartfelt thanks go to the bishop, Father Mark, and all of you who came this day to celebrate this wonderful feast day of St. Thérèse, as we see our parish just doing our best.”
The celebration continued at Orchard Ridge, where the anniversary committee had beautifully decorated the main ballroom tables with homemade rose centerpieces, emblematic of St. Thérèse’s promise to “let fall a shower of roses” after her death. Parishioners had submitted memories from the past 75 years, which were arranged on a table near the entrance. A series of six cakes designed and baked by a parishioner honored key individuals and events throughout the parish’s history. And silent auction items wound around one end of the ballroom, which seated several hundred current and former parishioners, priests, and religious sisters.
During dinner, Father Kohrman invited these special guests to come forward and share stories or memories from their time at St. Therese. Father Felicichia recalled how parishioners got to participate in the construction of the new church over the old playground.
“We all took a big stone from the family, and we put it in the sanctuary floor,” remembered Father Felicichia. “So, where the altar is, if anybody remembers, there are all of these family stones underneath the altar supporting the altar and holding it up. The walls of the parish are one thing, but there is no faith unless the faithful show up to practice the Faith, and that’s what we were all called into. … You guys live it, you incarnate it, and you become the hands and feet of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Father Freiburger spoke of the influence of the Franciscans – who had a presence at the parish for nearly 38 years – and, in particular, Father Simeon Cleves.
“I was blessed several years ago when he was ill and getting near the end of his days, getting a chance to go visit him in Cincinnati and thank him for his witness, for his vocation, and what that meant for his years of service,” said Father Freiburger. “We were blessed to have their example.”
Father Kohrman told Today’s Catholic that, in the few months he’s been at the parish, he has been impressed with what he has seen from the faithful at St. Therese.
“I have encountered many dedicated parishioners who love their parish and are deeply committed to it,” Father Kohrman said. “We are gearing up for our 40 Hours devotion in early October, and I am deeply encouraged by the number of our students who have expressed an interest in serving at Mass. We also are working toward helping our people reinvigorate our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and hope to develop some small groups to deepen our relationship with Christ and each other. Our Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul, and our Armor of God men’s group have all shown enthusiastic interest in engaging those in our community.”
The many and varied blessings of St. Therese Parish were on full display throughout the anniversary celebration. As the parish embarks on the next 75 years of loving and serving others through the “Little Way,” may St. Thérèse continue to “let fall a shower of roses” upon all who call St. Therese Parish their home.
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