Overlooking the growing community of Hanover, St. Joseph Parish stands as a beacon of faith and a model of its patron saint along the suburban ridge of Grandview Avenue south of town.
Tracing its roots to the first celebration of Mass for a handful of Catholic families in 1806, St. Joseph Parish today is home to more than 7,200 parishioners – a vibrant and active community of Anglo and Hispanic members.
During this special Year of St. Joseph – declared by Pope Francis from Dec. 8, 2020, through Dec. 8, 2021 – the parish is celebrating the richness of its community of faith, and illustrating the way it emulates the saint for whom it is named.
“When you look at Joseph’s role, it’s almost beyond comprehension. He’s the foster father of the Savior of the world, and the husband of the Blessed Mother. That’s a pretty good bar for us to meet,” said Msgr. James Lyons, pastor since 2012.
“Joseph was a server and protector. He made sure his family was taken care of. What we try to do in emulating St. Joseph is provide for the needs of the community,” he said.
That effort is undertaken through a wide variety of 68 committees and ministries, which developed new ways of continuing their efforts throughout the pandemic. Among them: the Council of Catholic Women, who assisted in outreach to the homebound; parish participation in the efforts of the Hanover Area Council of Churches; distribution of food donations from a local grocer; and volunteer efforts to cook and serve 5,000 meals to people facing financial hardship.
“People in the community know that they can come here when they need help, and that’s a good thing, to know the Church is here,” Msgr. Lyons said.
“We’re always trying to keep St. Joseph in the forefront, and focus on how, in his humble way, he did amazing work. He was a person of great faith and action. We try to emulate his humility and his dedication to the Lord and to Mary in whatever we do,” he said.
A Diverse Community
Situated in an area that is home to a growing Hispanic population – upwards of 12 percent in Hanover – St. Joseph Parish is blessed with a diverse community of parishioners and cultures.
“The Hispanic community, while being part of the larger parish community, offers the Quinceañera program and Masses, baptisms and weddings, celebrated in Spanish, which is great,” Msgr. Lyons remarked. “Even though a lot of the younger people can understand English, it’s great that they are bilingual. I think that makes this parish special in a particular way.”
“We also have the population that calls themselves ‘Hanoverians’ – which represent an elderly population that has seen the growth in this area and in this parish. At the same time, we have a lot of young families with young children,” he said. “So we have a combination of people who have been here a long time, and people who are new; of people who have raised their families, and young families who are just starting out. It’s a really interesting mix of people. We have both in great quantities. I think that’s a rich part of who we are, too.”
Kimberly De La Torre, a member of the Hispanic community at St. Joseph’s, said she is grateful for the opportunities to serve there. She is a lector, a Spanish-speaking instructor for the parish’s School of Religious Instruction (SRI) and the coordinator of the Quinceañera program.
Both programs give young people a solid faith formation at an especially critical time in their lives. Offering lessons in English and Spanish serves to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the faith, De La Torre said.
The SRI program provides catechesis to young people who haven’t received all three Sacraments of Initiation, so they can enter the Church
“I myself am bilingual, but if I hear something first in English, it will make more sense to me to hear it in Spanish,” she said. “It processes differently, and I think that’s the same way for these young people.”
The Quinceañera program is a tradition in Mexico and Latin America that celebrates a girl’s transition into young womanhood when she reaches the age of 15. A religious and social event, it emphasizes the importance of family and faith in a young girl’s life.
“They go through a program where they learn things about themselves, their values, women’s roles, and their relationship with Jesus,” De La Torre explained. “It’s making sure they know what they believe in, and brings them closer to the community. We get them in the program at 14 or 15, so these young teens are new to the world. Having some sort of role model plays a big part during that time in their life.”
De La Torre expressed her gratitude for the parish and the opportunities it offers members to share their culture and gifts. In the Hispanic community, that extends to an annual celebration on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross around the parish grounds.
“I’ve found a lot of opportunities here,” she said. “I’ve always been a person who likes to get involved and see where I can help. I’ve met a lot of people just from volunteering and in the different organized groups. There is a lot of networking and opportunity here.”
Parishioner John Lecorchick has seen the growth of the parish, and the blossoming of its diversity, throughout his 36 years as a member of St. Joseph’s.
“With the arrival of the Hispanic community, they’ve shown us the love of the family and the importance of the family institution,” he said. “They’ve shown us the beauty of it all, and I’ve seen our community embrace that as well.”
“We’re not two separate communities, but rather one parish family,” he added.
Handing on the Faith
St. Joseph School is located on the parish campus, offering a Catholic school education to children in grades PreK-8.
When the parish was founded in 1864, the school was immediately established.
“The parish didn’t have a church building then, so they bought a Methodist church and utilized that. They immediately began a Catholic school within that building, so the church and school came into existence at the same time,” Msgr. Lyons noted.
The parish built its own church in town in 1877 and built a school there soon after. When the current church on Grandview Avenue was constructed in 1975, St. Joseph School remained in town for a time, and gradually relocated the current campus. Middle school grades arrived first, and the remaining grades eventually followed, bringing the entire school community together at the current site in 2017.
“For all of our school families to be part of that St. Joseph School family, it’s really important that we’re all in one place. We’re able to pray together, we’re able to celebrate things like holidays and Masses, and participate together in Catholic Schools Week and make it a big celebration for everyone,” said Amy Miller, the school’s Director of Marketing, Development and Enrollment.
“Our students actively participate in Mass at least once a month. Being able to have that accessibility to the church and to take an active role in applying what they’re learning in the classroom about the parts of the Mass or what Adoration means, provides a well-rounded experience for the kids,” she said.
Similar to schools throughout the Diocese, St. Joseph School has seen an increase in enrollment this year.
“Being able to stay open and provide in-person learning for our students means that we were an attractive option for students who might have been learning virtually. We’ve certainly seen some growth attributed to that,” Miller said. “We’re seeing that families want to get back. They want that connectivity to their faith, and they want to see their children establish roots in the faith. They see they can get that through Catholic school education with us.”
Handing on the faith has been an important part of parishioner John Lecorchick’s volunteer efforts since he joined St. Joseph’s Parish in 1985. He and his wife Barbara have served as mentors in the marriage preparation program and as Eucharistic ministers, and John has been a teacher in the parish’s School of Religious Instruction for 14 years.
“For certain reasons, the students missed receiving one, two or all three Sacraments of Initiation, so we prepare them to receive those sacraments in order to join the Church,” Lecorchick said. “It’s a program that’s pretty unique to our parish.”
“Over the years, we’ve found that we’ve been very instrumental in their lives. And we’re noticing that the parents are now coming back to church with their children,” he said. “Just to see them come forth and be a part of it, has really touched my heart. We’re trying to promote the interaction of the Church and the family, and it seems to be working very well here.”
Lecorchick said the year dedicated to St. Joseph holds a special meaning for him as a family man and as a parishioner.
“It gives me a chance to reflect on my life as a husband and father. The wife is the heart and soul of the family. The father is the stabilizer. Some people never consider that, but it’s the very foundation of the family,” he said.
“I also reflect on how this parish has afforded me the opportunity to express myself as a Catholic,” he added. “I’ve become a bigger part of a more diverse community than I have ever seen.”
(Learn more about St. Joseph Parish in Hanover at www.stjosephparishhanover.org.)
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness