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Redemptorists cite fewer priests as they prepare to leave Our Lady of Lourdes in Seaford

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Seaford.

When Father Steven Giuliano takes over as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Seaford at the end of June, it will mark the end of nearly a half-century of stewardship by the Redemptorist Priests. The religious order, citing dwindling numbers and increasing responsibilities, is leaving Sussex County.

Father Paul J. Borowski, the provincial superior for the Redemptorists of the Baltimore Province, said in an email that he informed Bishop Malooly of the decision in recent months and met with the bishop in April to begin discussions to create a smooth transition. The decision, he said, was a difficult one.

Father Clement Vadakkedath

“The Redemptorists and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish have a long and wonderful history together, and although the coming years will continue without the Redemptorists, this parish will continue to be rooted in its love of Jesus Christ and in love for one another,” he wrote. “Faith in Jesus Christ: that is the heart and soul of this parish, not which priests are stationed here.”

Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, vicar general of the diocese, said he and Bishop Malooly first learned of the Redemptorists’ plan to discontinue ministry in March 2018. It was not a total surprise given the situations the order finds itself in with respect to numbers of available priests and other commitments.

The order, Father Borowski said, currently has 145 priests and brothers to staff 29 parishes, retreat houses and formation programs located from Boston to Florida and into the Caribbean. The average age of the men is 68, and just 63 of them are under the age of 70. Of those, 39 are in their sixties.

Father Steven B. Giuliano

“As a congregation we must look now at the ways we can minister faithfully to the numerous people we serve. Since we are a religious community, it must be understood that it is important for us to live and work in community. In the past three years we have already handed back three parishes to various dioceses and we will hand back five more, including Our Lady of Lourdes, by August 2019,” he said.

Father Giuliano, currently temporary administrator at St. Christopher parish in Chester, Md., will be the first diocesan priest to lead the parish since Father Charles Shields, who was in Seaford from 1967-70. In the late 1960s, Bishop Thomas Mardaga asked Redemptorist Father Daniel McGlone to visit the Delmarva Peninsula to survey the needs of the area’s Spanish-speaking migrant workers, according to a parish history published in 1973 on the occasion of Our Lady of Lourdes’ silver anniversary. Father McGlone spent time at the various rectories as he ministered to the migrant workers, and he found Seaford to be the most centrally located.

The first Redemptorist pastor was Father John Stevens, who had worked for many years in Puerto Rico and southern Florida. During his pastorate, the church interior was completely renovated. The latest project is the demolition of the parish office, which was in disrepair for many years.

Father Paul M. Kuzhimannil

The current priests at the parish are Fathers Clement J. Vadakkedath, the pastor, and Paul Matthew Kuzhimannil. A farewell reception for them is scheduled for July 28. Father Borowski, the superior, said Our Lady of Lourdes will remain in the hearts and minds of the Redemptorists.

Msgr. Hurley said the change in leadership at Our Lady of Lourdes “should not be any different than any other typical change of a pastor. Every leader is different in their focus and gifts and talents. Certainly, the Redemptorists have a distinctive spirituality, and that will no doubt be missed by the parishioners.”

Our Lady of Lourdes was not the first parish in the diocese where the Redemptorists ministered, according to Msgr. Hurley. The order served at St. Christopher from 1961-99. He said the diocese is grateful for their service over the past 59 years.

“We are richer in spirit and charity because of their presence, and they will be greatly missed. The Redemptorists will always be welcome here,” he said.

Likewise, Father Borowski said the religious order will cherish its time in Seaford. “This parish community will always be a part of the heart and soul of the Redemptorists, especially the heart and soul of all those Redemptorists who have ministered here.”