CLAYMONT — It took an extra year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Holy Rosary Parish brought together the past and the present on May 14 as the community concluded its 100th anniversary celebration with a Mass and dinner.
Over the past year, the parish opened the campus for a tour, including the former school, which closed in 2008; the church; and the pastoral center, which was once the convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph who staffed the school. The pastoral center was once the home of the Worth family, who owned a local steel mill, and it served as a retreat house and office space after the sisters left. It has been extensively restored in recent years.
Bishop Koenig was the principal celebrant at the anniversary Mass, but he was not alone. Other priests who attended included current pastor Father John Gayton; former pastors Msgr. Stanley Russell and Father Clemens Manista; former associate pastors Msgr. Charles Brown and Father Bill Graney; and two priests who grew up in the parish, Msgr. John Hopkins and Father Brian Lewis. Deacons Rich Maichle and Austin Lobo also were in attendance. Deacon Maichle proclaimed the gospel. Current Deacon Jose Perez also assisted at the Mass.
During his homily, Bishop Koenig talked about “the three ‘Gs’: gratitude, grace and greatness.
“It’s just coincidental that your pastor is John Gayton,” he joked.
Holy Rosary was established in 1921, he noted, and the school was opened in 1950. The current church was dedicated in 1960. None of that would have been possible, the bishop said, without the hard work of parishioners from those times. They were members of what one television journalist refers to as “the greatest generation,” Bishop Koenig said. “We, too, are called to be mindful of preparing a place for tomorrow’s generation. How we, too, are called to be people who are mindful of building on what has been given to us so that others might benefit after us.”
They served their country, their sense of duty remained when they returned home following World War II. They settled down in America’s booming suburbs and made sacrifices “so that we might be who we are today,” the bishop said.
Grace is the experience of God’s love, “and that’s truly the history of Holy Rosary Parish, is it not?” Bishop Koenig asked. He recounted how St. Pope John Paul II visited his childhood parish and kissed the baptismal font because without that, none of what else he accomplished would have been possible.
We are mindful of all of the experiences of grace that have happened at Holy Rosary, from the baptisms to the weddings and first Communions.
“We’re mindful of God’s grace that has broken through for ourselves as well as countless others who have gathered and been part of Holy Rosary Parish,” he said.
As for greatness, John’s Gospel mentions that after his resurrection, Jesus said he had brought a new law.
“Jesus is saying you have to love more than just your neighbor, the people you get along with. You have to love without cost, without benefit. You have to love like God loves,” Bishop Koenig said. “That’s the greatness that Jesus calls us to.”
At the end of Mass, Father Gayton introduced several guests in addition to the returning priests who had been a part of the parish over the years. They included three Sisters of St. Joseph who ministered at the parish: Sisters Colleen Dauerbach and Gretchen Steiner, who were the principal and administrative assistant at the school in the 1990s, respectively, and Sister Catherine Pisarczyk, a longtime pastoral associate. Three women religious who were members of Holy Rosary as youngsters also were on hand. They were Benedictine Sister Marie Becker and Sisters Jacqueline Griffith and Mary Ann Zakreski of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Father Gayton also introduced longtime parishioner Anne Carney, who was accompanied by her son, Gov. John Carney, who grew up in Claymont and attended Holy Rosary School.
A banquet followed the Mass across Philadelphia Pike at Claymont Fire Hall. Father Gayton noted that several local businesses helped make the event possible, as did a gift from the estate of parishioner Mary Leies, who died last July.
All photos by Mike Lang.