On September 24th 2017 we began our 125th Jubilee Celebration. The theme was We Remember. We Celebrate. We Believe.
In our planning for this year, we wanted to honor our wonderful past. We told the story of our parish, from its beginnings on Easter Sunday 1893 in a rented house on 4th Avenue and 54th Street. We stood in awe of what those first parishioners of OLPH did in starting our parish. They dreamed big dreams, and were willing to sacrifice. They made plans and took concrete steps needed to bring these amazing dreams to reality.
First they built a proper church, the first wooden church, the Little Church on the Hill. Before long the church was too small. Just ten years after the parish began; a large parochial school was built, opening up its doors to the first students in 1903, just ten years after the first Mass was celebrated. The Sisters of Saint Joseph came to staff the school. Hundreds of sisters gave their youth, their energy, and their talents to teach, educate and edify their students. We remember lovingly their sacrifice and dedication. Thousands of students that passed through the school were given a strong foundation for life. Thank you dear Sisters of Saint Joseph
Not long after the school was completed, plans for the Lower Church began. The most ambitious of the parish dreams was the building of the magnificent Upper Church. When the Lower Church was finished and before it was consecrated, a six week gala fundraising activity took place in the church. It was a smashing success drawing guests from all over Brooklyn. It was like a Worlds Fair in miniature, with games of chance, raffles, dances, music and food. During our long history, thousands of parishioners have sponsored and worked at numerous fund raising activities like the Parish Bazaars, the large Bingo Games, raffles, and dances. These events both raised money for the parish and brought the people of the parish together. Many of these dedicated people now live in the great Communion of Saints. We have lovingly and gratefully remembered them. That same volunteer spirit is very much alive. Nothing in this Jubilee Year could have been accomplished without that same sacrifice and dedication of our present parishioners. We Remember, and We celebrate who we have been and who we are today.
The story of our parish was told, in a number of these newsletters, in the Monthly Messenger. The Jubilee Memorial Book showed the beauty of our parish. A parish is people, the People of God, gathered around the altar of the Lord, to pray, to support and love each other. Our jubilee book gave a brief review of where we came from. It highlighted the extraordinary beauty of our Basilica. It was an exuberant expression of our parishioners, gathered in sacraments, in prayer, as the family of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As we close our Jubilee Year we believe that the torch of parish pride, parish spirit, of joyful, prayerful celebrations continues to burn brightly in our parish.
We began with a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural celebration of the Opening of our Jubilee Year. We were blessed to have Bishop James Massa with us to be our celebrant. By a wonderful coincidence, the Superior General of the Redemptorists, Father Michael Brehl, C.SS.R. was in the United States for important meetings. We were honored to have him as our guest speaker. The Mass began with a procession of the flags of the nations, honoring all the waves of immigrants that call OLPH home. The readings, the music was diverse in a number of languages. Each group felt the pride of being a part of our parish. The Opening Song, “All Are Welcome” could well be the anthem of our parish, what we have been, what we are and what we hope to be.
In the month of October we had Homecoming Saturday. We invited all who loved OLPH to come back home for a visit to the Church and the School. We celebrated the 5:00 PM Saturday Mass in the parish. Father John Murray preached. The young people from our parish school and religious education sang at the Mass. Their presence showed that OLPH is 125 years old and forever young! More than 500 people came together that day. In the evening there was a dinner dance in Notre Dame Hall. Father John McGowan gave a funny and touching retelling of the story of OLPH and the wonderful people that made it what it is. Families and friends had the chance to catch up with each other, and remember the impact that this parish had on our lives. In many ways OLPH will always be home. We are so glad so many came and enjoyed themselves. We are very grateful to Mary Beth Brolly and her committee that prepared this amazing dinner/dance.
This year, in honor of the 125th Anniversary, we asked people to sponsor a Christmas wreath to surround our church with Christmas green and red. 125 wreaths adorned the iron fences on 5th Avenue and both 59th and 60th Street. They were stunningly beautiful. This will probably become a yearly tradition.
During the Fall, new lighting was installed in the Upper Church. The church is beautifully illuminated. The stunning beauty of our Basilica is enhanced by this new lighting. This project was made possible by money donated to the Capital Campaign, Generations of Faith. The outpouring of generosity for this 5 year project has been inspiring.
There was a nice, simple St. Patrick’s Day Mass and party in Notre Dame Hall on the Feast of Saint Patrick. At Easter, there was an Easter parade after the Masses. We asked women, if they would like, to wear “an Easter bonnet”. A couple of dozen did. We went to Notre Dame Hall for cake and coffee. Children received candy from the Easter Bunny. The Bunny, and the Risen Jesus and his Mother Mary were available at different stations for Easter photos. There was also a petting zoo for the children. Again, when people like something that we did for the first time there is often an expressed wish that we do this again next Easter.
At the end of April, we had a special Mass for the young people of our parish. After the Mass we invited all back to Notre Dame Hall for pizza and cake. We had done an art contest, and we had the artwork displayed on the walls. Sheila Hoban Pisciotta, who has a hobby that she has shared called Sunset Park Rocks, had tables set up for our young people to paint rocks.
In June we had a wonderful activity planned that was not able to take place. We had invited the priests and religious of the Diocese of Brooklyn to share a day of prayer guided by our beloved Redemptorist Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. Archbishop of Newark. A few weeks before it was to take place Pope Francis surprised the Church announcing the selection of a new set of cardinals. The date coincided with out date. Cardinal Tobin had to be in Rome for this special event.
Cardinal Tobin did join us on Saturday July 1st for a special parish Mass at 5:00 PM. It was, as is our custom at special events multi-lingual. All four languages groups participated and shared in the prayers, songs, and readings. Cardinal Tobin was very kind to spend a long time posing for pictures with our parishioners on 5th Avenue after the Mass. He had a kind word for all. When he was Superior General of the Redemptorists, he had traveled the world visiting Redemptorists. He had been to all of the countries that our people are from, except perhaps China. After Mass, Mary Beth Brollly again organized a special dinner for the people very involved in the parish life, who give long hours of service for us all. It was an opportunity to thank them. Cardinal Tobin again visited each table and was available for many, many photos.
There was a historical exhibition of photos and artifacts from OLPH’s history set up by the Archivist of the Redemptorists, Mr. Patrick Hayes.
Two weeks later, on Saturday July 15th we had an amazing Block Party on 59th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. We had Mass from the steps of the Rectory, chairs filling the center of the street. After the Mass, the chairs were moved to tables set up in two long lines. The Knights of Columbus and others cooked hundreds of hot dogs, and hamburgers. No one went away hungry. Easily more than 600 people shared that special summer day together.
Our final event is the Closing Mass on Sunday September 23rd at 12:15 PM in the Upper Church. We have been gathering little donations of photos, souvenirs, religious articles, symbols of the families of our parish for a time capsule.The capsule will be blessed during the Mass and buried at the spot on 59th Street, near 5th Avenue where the first church was. It will be buried in a plastic vault; the articles within the trunk are wrapped in plastic, which is not biodegradable. The trunk will be placed in the vault then covered with the dirt. Over the buried time capsule we will be putting the large, pewter colored medallion of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which hung on the Girls’ High School Wall for more than 50 years. Then, because the We Celebrate part of our Jubilee Year’s theme is important, there will be an international food party in Notre Dame Hall. All are welcome.
I want to especially thank my friend, former OLPH parishioner Mr. John (Jay) Wasack who has been the driving and organizing force for these newsletters through this jubilee year. I send him articles and photos, and he makes them look good. Jay lives in Tennessee but like so many of us continues to love and cherish our parish.
We hope to see you on Sunday September 23rd in the Upper Church for our Closing Ceremony.