St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Quarryville is celebrating founders, saints and the handing on of the faith this year, the 175th anniversary of its presence in southern Lancaster County.

Bishop Ronald Gainer celebrated an anniversary Mass for the flock on Sunday, May 19 in their 20-year old church.

“This is an amazing birthday for your parish. Think about 175 years and all the faithful that have gone before you, passing on the faith to each generation,” Bishop Gainer addressed the congregation. “St. Catherine of Siena once said, ‘Nothing great has ever been achieved without endurance and hard work.’ That is the story of your parish – it has endured for all these years.”

“It is the Holy Eucharist that draws the faithful together here, for 175 years. It was the hunger for Christ. At this altar is where we lift everything up to our Lord,” he said.

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In celebration of the 175th anniversary, the parish undertook a “Bringing out the Saints” church enhancement project to add statues to its interior. When the current church was built in 1999, statues were not part of the plans.

Through the enhancement project, the parish added statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. Catherine and St. John Paul II. A relic of the former pope accompanies the statue; one of the parish’s 20 relics of saints.

“With the addition of the statues, the parishioners are really enjoying the saints. The way the statues are placed, it looks like they’ve always been part of the church,” said Father Mark Speitel, pastor.

“We’ve been here 175 years in southern Lancaster County, which many people see as an Amish and Protestant area. I think it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate our roots here,” Father Speitel told The Catholic Witness. “Going back to the Irish immigrants who established the parish, our families have passed on the faith from generation to generation. That is critical. I want our families to know how important it is that everyone help in passing on the faith to the next generation.”

Tradition of Faith and Service

The verdant fields of southern Lancaster County hold the roots of Catholicism there. Work at an iron furnace in Drumore Township drew Scotch-Irish Catholic immigrants to the area in the early 1800s, and priests traveled from nearby Lancaster or Chester County to tend to the faithful.

The first Mass in St. Catherine of Siena Parish’s history was celebrated in a grove that is now the site of St. Catherine Cemetery.

St. Catherine’s Chapel was built in 1844 on the property of a parishioner who bequeathed his home to the parish. Bishop Francis Kendrick of Philadelphia dedicated it on May 4 of that year. According to parish history, St. Catherine’s was almost named in honor of St. Patrick. Bishop John Neumann, recognizing the number of churches named for St. Patrick in the then-Diocese of Philadelphia, instead named the Quarryville church for Catherine, given the number of women in the parish of the same name.

When the Diocese of Harrisburg was established in 1868, St. Catherine’s became first a mission of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, and then of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, both in Lancaster.

Ground was broken for a church at Third and St. Catherine streets in Quarryville in 1896, and Bishop Thomas McGovern dedicated it on Nov. 8 of that year. The church was home to several generations for more than 100 years. As the population increased, so did the need for a larger church. Plans and fundraising for the current church lasted through much of the 1990s. The first Mass for the current church – located on Robert Fulton Highway – was celebrated in July of 1999.

Parish expansion continued, with the construction of a community room in 2005, featuring classrooms, offices and a spacious and equipped kitchen for social gatherings.

Members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, named for a Doctor of the Church (1347-1380), continue to follow in the example of their patroness, known for bringing food and clothing to those in need, and caring for patients suffering from a plague. “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!” she once said.

Among the parish ministries are a Good Samaritan Group, which visits the sick and homebound, and sends them remembrances on birthdays and holidays. The parish tithes to help financially support A Woman’s Concern, a pro-life pregnancy and parenting resource center, the Solanco Food Bank, and funds for the poor. In addition, Father Speitel is a member of the Solanco Pastors Fellowship, an ecumenical group that works together in support of the community.

The parish is home to high school and middle school youth groups, and a “vibrant Knights of Columbus council and St. Catherine’s Women’s Group, which are an integral part of the parish with social events and liturgies,” Father Speitel said.

“We are a community-minded parish with a lot of volunteers who help at community organizations and give of themselves in many ways for their neighbors,” he said.

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness