PERRYVILLE, Md. — As pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Perryville, Md., Father Jay McKee has his hands full. The parish includes three churches, a school and an inactive chapel.
The main complex is at Good Shepherd, just off Route 40 on the banks of the Susquehanna River. That’s the location of the parish offices and Good Shepherd School. The parish also includes St. Agnes Church in Rising Sun, St. Teresa Church in Port Deposit, and St. Patrick’s Chapel in Pilottown, although that is inactive and hosts Mass just once a year.
The total membership for the parish is just over 800 families, Father McKee said.
Most of the parishioners are from Cecil County, but “we also pull from eastern Harford Country, and we also pull down from the Pennsylvania line, too,” he said.
Good Shepherd was not established as a parish until 1949, but Catholic churches in the area date back to 1819, when St. Patrick’s opened in Pilottown. According to Father McKee, it served mainly Irish immigrants who worked along the Susquehanna. According to the diocese, St. Teresa of Avila in Port Deposit was built in 1857 and named in 1866, and St. Agnes followed in 1891. Father McKee said a priest would say Mass at St. Agnes every three months or so.
Good Shepherd is the youngest of the churches, but “it became the motherhouse because it had the most property.”
Father McKee, pastor since January 2007, is the only priest assigned to the parish, but he gets help for Masses at each of the churches.
“I have been very blessed to have retired priests in the area who have helped out,” he said.
Good Shepherd’s families are a diverse bunch, according to Father McKee. The parish ranges from suburban to rural, with some residents traveling to Baltimore or Newark each day for work. Some even take the train to Washington, D.C. The Aberdeen Proving Ground also is not far away, so the military is a significant presence as well.
There are many active ministries at the parish, including the Knights of Columbus and their program for minors, the Squires. The youth ministry has undergone a rejuvenation, Father McKee said, and the Respect Life Committee is very active. Senior ministry is another that has grown in recent times.
“There are relatively little services for the elderly in the diocese. It seems to be growing and catching on,” he said.
The senior group at Good Shepherd started with 15 to 20 members and has increased. They meet monthly and plan activities, including a trip to the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington this fall.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society has a luncheon monthly at St. Agnes, and the society serves a meal to the homeless each Wednesday. St. Agnes also is home to a food pantry for the needy.
“That’s a significant part of our parish. Three days a week, it’s staffed by volunteers,” the pastor said.
Good Shepherd School has been a part of the parish since 1957, when it opened in the convent that had been purchased by the pastor, Father William R. Couming. The school moved to its permanent site in 1959, according to the school website.
Today it’s home to a small but dedicated group of students and their families. Visitors to the parish are likely to see one of the fundraising activities for the school. The parish holds a bull and oyster roast, a not-so-silent auction, and monthly all-you-can-eat breakfasts. On April 28, it will hold a poker run and blessing of the bikes. The event includes a pig roast and raffles.