I remember very clearly, back in October of 1978, the College of Cardinals made history when they elected the Polish Cardinal of Cracow, Poland, Karol Wojtyla, to the Chair of Peter. It was historic! For the newly elected Pope, John Paul II, was the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years, and the very first one from Poland! (My grandmother, from Naples, Italy, cried for two weeks!) When the new Holy Father came to the balcony to speak for the first time to a waiting, excited world, he said to the people of God, “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!” I keep these words close to my thoughts and in my heart as I continue my ministry to you, the people of St. Jude the Apostle Church. It is an unspeakable honor to serve here as your Pastor. As many of you may know, my parents, Art & Jeanette, were founding members of this parish, shortly after the first anniversary of their marriage. In that first year, they bought a little home at the corner of Oxer Road and Fairfax Road by the airport, and were excited to be among the first people to worship with Fr. Tom Griffin at the Chapel of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, the site of the first Masses for the newly established St. Jude the Apostle Church. My brothers and I were all baptized here; with my brothers Art and Bill at the Orphanage Chapel by Fr. Griffin, and my brother Scott and I in the new church/gymnasium by Fr. Francis Gallagher. My parents adored these priests, and their years as members of this parish. (I was six months old when we built our home by McDowell High School, and joined Our Lady of Peace Church, where we all grew up.) My parents never abandoned their devotion to this parish for all of the remaining years of their lives. God rest their souls.
I was ordained to the priesthood on April 22, 1988 by Bishop Michael J. Murphy, after having graduated from Cathedral Prep (’80), Gannon University (’83), and St. Vincent Seminary (’87). (I was ordained one year after my brother, Scott … the Pastor of Holy Cross in Fairview). And, ironically, out of the almost-twenty four years of priesthood, all but three of them were on Route 20! When I was ordained, I was at St. John the Evangelist Church in Girard until June of 1989, where I was, then, assigned as Parochial Vicar to Sacred Heart Church. In July of 1995, I went next door to Blessed Sacrament as PV until August of 1999. It was then that I, finally, left Route 20 to become Pastor of St. Titus Church in Titusville and its mission, Immaculate Conception Church in Mageetown, just east of Centerville. I came back to Sacred Heart … and, Route 20 … in July of 2002, and served them as their Pastor for ten years.
Since 1991, I have also had the honor of serving the officers of the Erie Police Department as their chaplain … even with the rank of “Captain”! (This has truly helped to secure my driver’s license in several states, but that’s another story for another time ….) I have always had a deep devotion to these officers, as well as so many from all the surrounding departments; especially, Millcreek Township, where my brother had served for 33 years. Even though the Church itself sits in Millcreek, much of the parish is in the City of Erie, I will continue to serve the officers of the Erie Police Department, and offer any help I can give to Millcreek Township Police and the State Police, as well. These officers go out every day, not knowing if they will come home. The very least that I can do is to serve them in any way I can, as long as I can...giving them all the support that they need. No one has a job like theirs. God bless them.
Well… there’s my “story”, for the most part. What about the future? Like any parish since the Last Supper, St. Jude’s has had a wonderful history filled with great times, powerful moments, “glory days” … as well as times of darkness, frustration, and sadness … just like Sacred Heart Church … or, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York … or, even, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a reality of human nature, mixed with normal parish life. But, today begins the “next day” in the life of St. Jude the Apostle Church. As your honored Pastor, sent here to serve you, and to bring you God’s Word of peace and new life, I will always make the weekend Mass experience the very center and focus of our parish and our ministry, for it is the Word of God and the very presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in that one hour a week, that sustains and empowers us in our discipleship for the next 167 hours. I will never, ever preach to you a homily that is not prepared … or, long! In my formation years, I had always been, and still am (!), in awe of the preaching gift of Msgr. Henry Kriegel. Along with being one of my closest priest-friends, I have always used Henry as my model in preparing and delivering the Word of God to the people entrusted to my care. I have always made “Preaching the Word of God” the most important thing that I do as a priest. And, I pledge to continue that as your Pastor. I am convinced that if we truly enjoy our prayer and worship together each week, everything else in the parish will just fall right into place. I do believe that that is what Jesus intended.
Again, I have been ordained since 1988. And, I will, honestly, tell you that I have not regretted it for a single moment. Not once. Not even close. Sure, there have been tough and painful days. But, sometimes, I feel like I am just getting into it! The Pastors and priests that I am following, and now living with, are good, decent, loyal servants of God, who truly did the best they could to serve the Lord and His people. I am honored to join them in the history of this wonderful parish. Please be patient. Please be forgiving. Please offer your prayers to myself, our ministers, and our staff. There is much for us to do and to learn. May the future, simply, be a time of prayer, hope, forgiveness, and peace … just as Jesus intended. “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!” It is wonderful, and an honor, to be here!