175TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
PARISH OF ST. MARY, DOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, USA
HOMILY GIVEN BY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2005
My brother bishops, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters and dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
I feel greatly honoured to be with you all this weekend in St. Mary’s Parish, Dover. It is a real privilege to be here with Bishop McCormack as you ring out your joy and come before the Lord giving thanks for the blessings of the last 175 years.
They say that those who love – remember. They remember such things as birthdays, anniversaries and jubilees. Well, I have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of love in this Parish of St. Mary’s because I have the impression that a lot of remembering is going on this weekend in this parish.
We remember that the first parishioners came here in search of work in the mills. With the work of their hands they transformed cotton and wool into a huge variety of beautiful materials to be used as garments for human use and adornment. But the Lord, in His wisdom, has chosen to weave another fabric into this parish, a fabric of great praise and glory to His name. The original threads were provided by the Irish, the French and the Italians, but now, the garments resemble the multi-coloured dreamcoat of Joseph with the arrival of people from Central America, Africa and Asia. For all of that we give thanks today.
The words of Solomon, which we heard just now, seem so right for an occasion like this:
Lord, God of Israel, May our eyes watch night and day over this temple
The place where you have decreed you shall be honoured
Listen to the petitions of your people, which they offer in this place.
Listen from your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.
I think we can all gladly make the great prayer of Solomon our prayer today as we gather to celebrate the 175th Anniversary of St. Mary’s parish, Dover.
You recall that Solomon was standing before the altar of the Lord. He was in the presence of the whole community. It appears to me that the whole community of St. Mary’s Dover is gathered this afternoon – plus a few others besides.
Like Solomon, we begin by praising God who, from the living stones, the Chosen People of this parish has, down through the years, built an eternal temple to the glory of His name.
Then Solomon asked the question of the community gathered in his presence: Can it indeed be that God dwells among people on earth? He then went on to exclaim to his listeners:
“If the Heavens and the Highest Heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built”.
I believe that it was this same conviction that God does indeed dwell among his people here on earth which inspired Philip Scanlan and his companions to take up their quill and compose a letter to Bishop Fenwick down in Boston in the early part of the 19th century. Their request was very simple and clear – they would like to have a priest to minister to their pastoral needs.
The request was clear – but no so easy to grant for Bishop Fenwick had only a handful of priests to minister to the needs of Catholics scattered across six different states. Nevertheless, the prayers of Philip Scanlan and John Burns and the others were eventually answered.
First a priest came to say Mass in October 1826. The next year the Bishop came in person to give encouragement and hope. As a result, Father French, a Dominican Missionary, began to come here from his station at Portland, Maine. It was he who bought the land on which we stand and laid the cornerstone for St. Aloysius Church in May 1828 which was dedicated by Bishop Fenwick on September 26, 1830. The rest is, as they say, history, and is the reason why we are gathered here today to give praise and thanks to a gracious God who never leaves His people untended.
So, it is with great joy in our hearts that we sing:
One plants the seed;
Another waters it
God makes it grow
All do God’s work.
We are all God’s workers.
The present St. Mary’s Parish came into existence under the protection of St. Aloysius 175 years ago. Since then it has survived various flames of fire and some initial prejudices. But, it has indeed grown and flourished. It has, in turn, mothered a new parish and is now continuing to play a pioneering role in modelling new structures to meet the needs of the times.
I presume that many of you here today were baptised here, made your first Communion and received the sacrament of Confirmation here. In other words, it was here, in this building that you were initiated into the Church – the Body of Christ. My hope is that the events of this weekend and especially the Mass of Thanksgiving will help you to relive something of the joy and the happiness of those by-gone days. May you all experience today something of the presence of God and the power of the Spirit working within you.
Our opening prayer speaks of us all being Living Stones. The elegant souvenir programme reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the mortar that binds these living stones that make up the Body of Christ. We have also received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and our Confirmation. May today’s ceremony revive and renew the gifts of the Holy Spirit for each one of us.
Last night, Tommy Makem, was wondering if the Corinthians wrote back to St. Paul in answer to his letters to them. Our Second Reading today comes from that same letter to the Corinthians. It talks about the different kinds of spiritual gifts, given to us by the Holy Spirit. When we welcome those gifts of the Spirit into our heats and into our minds and into our lives and work, well then, they bear fruit and issue forth in the form of the various services, which we perform for our neighbours and for our God. Tommy posed the question: Whether the Corinthians ever replied? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that the people of Dover certainly have replied, and continue to answer St. Paul’s invitation to use their gifts for the service of others.
Last evening I had the privilege of meeting many of the people who serve on Father Fitz’s many committees. It appears very clear to me that those various committees are in existence in order to co-ordinate and encourage the people of the parish as they place their time and their energy and their talents at the service of building up the Kingdom of God in this parish and, in this way, they follow the inspiration of the Spirit.
Ever since I got the invitation to come here for this Mass I have often thought of those valiant founders – Philip Scanlan, John Burns, Luke Murphy, Patrick Hughes and their companions and families. When I originally heard the story I got the impression that it was the ladies who were insisting that if they could not get to Church on Sunday – they were contemplating leaving their newly found employment and returning to Ireland. These people had taken the sad and difficult decision to leave home and homeland and come to the New World in search of a more secure way of living.
In Ireland we have the American Folk Park, situated in the ancestral home of the famous Pennsylvanian Banking family – the Mellons. It is located near Omagh, Co Tyrone. In it there is a model of the Emigrant Ship which used to sail from Derry across the Atlantic to these parts. A visit there will tell you that it was a precarious existence which those people left – a rather precarious journey which they undertook and an unpredictable future which awaiting them.
They did not have much of the goods of the world but they did have their faith. In those Pre-Emancipation times they did not have churches but they did have parents and grandparents who had faith. They were people who believed that they came from God, that they belonged to God and they were descended from God. They passed on their faith to their children – by word and example.
It was a faith that came originally from St. Patrick. He was a man who himself was destined to suffer much, first as a slave herding pigs and later as a missionary. His efforts to evangelise the Irish were not always welcome because the cost of changing their life-style was considered too high by some of the Irish. But the opposition and hostility, which Patrick experienced, did not deter him in the least. In fact, it only spurred him on to greater efforts and to put his trust more fully in the protection of God the Father, in the love of Jesus Christ, the Son, and in the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, St. Patrick is said to have summed up all of that in his use of the Shamrock to illustrate the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity – One God and Three Divine Persons.
So, I imagine that all those elements would have been present in the minds of the founders of this parish. Also, they would have been deeply grateful for their safe arrival – many did not make it- they would have been conscious of the sacrifices, which those they left behind had made to get them here. So, was it any wonder that they told Bishop Fenwick that they wanted a priest, a priest to help them deepen their faith and lead them in prayer and celebrate the Eucharist for them and bind them together into living stones in the temple which is the Body of Christ.
Today we give thanks for all that has been, and especially for the financial help which they received to build the initial Church from the Protestant community. I was glad to hear Tommy Makem remind us of that last night.
Today we remember the past but we live in the present. We live in the present with great hope in our hearts. That hope is built on the solid promise of Christ to be present with His Church to the End of Time.
I think that it is not without significance that our celebration is taking place as we draw near to the end of the Year of the Eucharist. The late Pope John Paul II called this Year of the Eucharist to renew our faith in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and, in particular, to renew our devotion and fidelity to the Sunday Mass. Next Sunday a General Synod of the Church begins in Rome. It will discuss the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. I ask your prayers for the success of the deliberations of the Synod.
I am quite sure that Jesus Christ – present in the Blessed Sacrament – has been and will always be, the source of the activity of this parish. In this sacrament we all find the strength to follow Christ and to imitate Christ – especially in the difficult parts – like giving and asking forgiveness.
The late Pope John Paul II liked to remind us that it is the Eucharist, which makes the Church. The Church lives on the Eucharist and gets grace and strength. But, on the other hand, it is the Church which make the Eucharist. It prepares and ordains priests to celebrate the Eucharist. It gathers the people together to hear the Good News and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ.
Earlier this week I attended a number of gatherings of the Friends of our National Seminary, Maynooth. At each of those functions we heard a beautiful rendition of Panis Angelicus composed by St Thomas Aquinas. At all of these functions there was one thing that characterised those taking part:
A great love of the Eucharist
A great concern for the future of the Church
I think I detected a similar love and devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist in this parish also.
You know, although it is my first time in Dover, I feel very secure and very much at home here today. With St. Patrick and St. Bridget at my back, up among these eight beautiful statues, and with St. Patrick represented in the stain glass window, which was given to the Church by the Ancient Order of Hibernians – I really feel among friends. Here behind me we also have St. Aloysius gazing down. The Patron of Youth who is also represented in stain glass in the Cathedral of St. Patrick, Armagh, though he is represented there receiving First Holy Communion from the hands of another Saint, Charles Borromeo of Milan. But the real reason why I feel happy and secure here is because I am united to you by faith and baptism. I am happy to be with you today because in Holy Communion we are being prepared for society with God. We are being prepared through communion of a holy body to be thereafter given a place in the communion of a holy body – the Body of Blessed in Heaven.
My most fervent prayer is that one day we will all be reunited in the Holy Communion of the Blessed in Heaven.
May God, who began the good work in us, carry it on until it is finished and may we all be reunited on that day in the communion of the Blessed with all those who have gone before us and with all those who will come after us.