A quarter of a century ago, faithful parishioners of a newly formed parish in the western reaches of Mechanicsburg gathered in a humble volunteer firehouse to celebrate Holy Mass on a hot July day.
There that day was founding pastor Father James O’Brien and Bishop William Keeler, as they concelebrated Mass and spoke of a bright future for the parish to be named Blessed Katharine Drexel, who was about to be beatified by Pope John Paul II months later. It would be the first parish in the world to be named after the future saint, who was canonized in October 2000.
Father O’Brien, now pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Chambersburg, returned for the parish’s 25th anniversary on a sunny July 28 to celebrate Holy Mass in the parish’s beautiful light-drenched church that was built in 1991 and sits atop a gentle rise in the heart of Rich Valley in the greater Cumberland Valley a few miles west of Mechanicsburg.
“Anniversaries are about yesterday, today and tomorrow,” Father O’Brien said in his homily. “It’s a time to look back, a time to reflect on the present and a time to look to the future.”
St. Katharine, or Mother Katharine, as she was known to her loyal congregation of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was born in Philadelphia to a very wealthy investment banker. Born just prior to the Civil War, she lived to nearly 100 years old, dying in 1955 after living a devoted life to helping the nation’s poor, especially the socially excluded and oppressed Native American and African-American peoples in America. St. Katharine turned her back to her own wealth and avoided opulence to live a life devoted to the needy and oppressed.
More than 500 faithful gathered to celebrate 25 years of devotion to the Eucharist and a commitment to helping the marginalized in society. Joining Father O’Brien at the altar was Father Stephen Weitzel, who has been pastor since 2002, and Msgr. Vincent Smith, who has made his retired residence at the parish for more than a decade. Also concelebrating were Father Louis Ogden, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg, Father Paul Schenck and Father Brian Wayne. Moreover, several Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament were in attendance to honor their foundress and the 25th anniversary of the world’s first parish named after a Pennsylvania saint. While her sacred mission was to help educate and lift up peoples, she had a sincere love for the Eucharist that in her later infirmed years was evident to all her knew her.
“Looking back on yesterday, we can all give thanks to all who gave so much to make this parish come into existence,” Father O’Brien said. “This is just a small part of Cumberland County and we must continue to grow to make it part of the bigger kingdom.”
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness