SMYRNA – St. Polycarp parishioners celebrated the 50th anniversary of their church on Pentecost Sunday May 20.
In keeping with Pentecost, when according to the Acts of the Apostles tongues of fire considered the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles who had been in hiding after the crucifixion of Jesus, Father James Hreha wore red vestments and many parishioners also wore red. Two red crepe myrtle trees were blessed during the 10:30 anniversary Mass.
Later, “we planted a tree on our campus and a tree on the campus of Centennial Methodist Church because that was the site of the original church,” Father Hreha said.
A quirk of timing meant the parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of their church in the 150th anniversary year of what the parish history considers the beginning of Smyrna’s Catholic community in 1868. It also came in the 100th year after the original church was sold to Centennial Methodist in 1918, with plans to quickly begin on a new church.
America’s entry into World War I in 1918 postponed plans for a new church. St. Polycarp began meeting at St. Joseph’s Chapel in Smyrna, part of St. Joseph Industrial School for young African-American men, operated by the Josephite order of priests and brothers.
Half a century later, the present church was dedicated on May 26, 1964.
St. Joseph’s Industrial School closed in 1972, but the Josephite presence continued for the rest of the 20th Century as the campus was renamed the St. Joseph Center for Prayer. The campus including the chapel building how is home to the First State Military Academy.
The Diocesan Directory states that St. Polycarp was established in 1883, but the parish history notes that the foundation was set 25 years earlier, when Catholics rented a room at the Odd Fellows Hall for Mass and a religious education program began for 75 children. “[That] could well be considered as … the establishment of the Catholic Church in Smyrna, [or] it was the beginning of the end of Smyrna as a simple mission station,” the history states.
Father Hreha said the flexibility and involvement of parishioners over the parish’s history continues today, with the laity “understanding of the mission they are called to” in the post-Vatican II church.
That spirit has especially helped the parish since last September, when Father Hreha became pastor of St. Dennis in Galena, Md., in addition to pastor of St. Polycarp, a result of the current priest shortage in the diocese.
“They (parishioners) stepped forward in a remarkable way to do what had to be done,” he said.