Native Son, Now an Archbishop, Caps Suffern Parish’s 150th Anniversary

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In the Rockland County village of Suffern, a joyful, spiritual milestone was marked this month. Sacred Heart parish closed its yearlong celebrations commemorating 150 years of serving the Lord and his people. In a written compilation of parish history, the closing remarks are, “Sacred Heart of Jesus. We adore you, we praise you, and if it pleases you, grant this parish another 150 years of faith and family.”

Archbishop Charles D. Balvo, apostolic nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, served as principal celebrant of the 150th anniversary closing Mass on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 8. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Suffern, the archbishop grew up in the parish community. “The place was packed. Archbishop Balvo graduated from our school. Sacred Heart means a lot to him,” Father Matthew Furey, pastor of Sacred Heart parish, said in a phone interview with CNY.

“It was a beautiful Mass. It was great that he has that connection with the parish.”

Cardinal Dolan celebrated the opening Mass of the yearlong celebration, on June 23, 2017. Father Furey expressed words of gratitude over the special participation by the cardinal and Archbishop Balvo, who is also the permanent observer to the United Nations Environmental Program and Human Settlements Program.

“This is a beautiful family-oriented parish,” Father Furey said. “We have many dedicated parishioners who really love their church, united in faith and love of God and to one another.” The pastor noted that the yearlong commemoration made annual parish events and activities even more special, such as the Fall Harvest Fest, the Family Christmas Tree Decorating Day gathering, the Children’s Choir participating in the Suffern Christmas Parade, the Good Friday Procession and the Passion Play.

Father Furey became pastor at Sacred Heart in July 2016, succeeding Msgr. Joseph Giandurco, who oversaw the beginning of the anniversary planning. Sacred Heart’s cultural makeup includes Italian, Irish and Hispanic parishioners. Father Furey noted that the parish was established in 1868 as St. Rose of Lima, and was re-dedicated in 1903 as Sacred Heart.

Parish highlights over the decades include its founding by Father John Brogan, the first pastor (there have been 12 pastors in all); the first church building (St. Rose of Lima) burned down in an accidental fire in 1895, and the parish was re-dedicated in 1903 as Sacred Heart, after construction of a new church on same site (it was renamed at the request of the parish’s main benefactress, Mrs. Ida Barry Ryan). The school opened in 1910, with 50 students taught by three nuns from the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, N.J.; later, there were Dominican nuns from Sparkill and Blauvelt (the last ones departed in 2016); and in June 1936, the first graduate of Sacred Heart School to enter the priesthood was ordained, Father Daniel A. Hare. Many new groups have been established over the years, including a Charismatic prayer group and the pro-life committee, both in the 1970s.

Sacred Heart School turned 100 in 2010. Cardinal Dolan celebrated the anniversary Mass in June 2011. The school has nearly 300 students, grades pre-K to 8. Kathleen Grande is the principal. Janis Batewell is the parish’s religious education coordinator.

“It went wonderfully, alleluia,” said Christine Schnabel, Sacred Heart office manager, of the closing Mass celebrated by Archbishop Balvo. “We had a Knights of Columbus color guard; we had the mayor, the police chief and other local officials…

“The people make this a special place; they are very generous and very loyal. We have many longtime parishioners. We have people who moved away and came back and said they want to be buried here.”

A gala dinner dance celebrating the parish anniversary took place June 9 at the Crowne Plaza in Suffern.

Among the longtime parishioners is Mrs. Jean Szermer, 102, who worked as parish secretary for 45 years, and performed tasks, including handling parish and school finance, normally associated with a parish office administrator.

“It was all certainly very nice,” her son, George A. Szermer, 78, told CNY last week on behalf of his mother, in speaking about the anniversary activities and events. “This is a multicultural parish,” he added in noting that the diversity is part of what makes Sacred Heart special. He noted that his mother not only worked in the parish office, she also served as an active volunteer.

“This was a second home for her,” Szermer said.

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