A Unity Mass for two recently merged Newburgh churches suddenly became a historic evening for the archdiocese when Father Bill Damroth announced the parish’s new name as the Parish of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta Sept. 20.
Sacred Heart and St. Francis of Assisi churches comprise the first archdiocese parish named after St. Mother Teresa.
“It was a wonderful night,” Father Damroth, pastor of both churches who will be installed as parish pastor at a Mass Nov. 24, told CNY. “It was a celebration of our hope and future.”
St. Mother Teresa “had struggles and discouragements like the rest of us and she battled her way through it because of her faith. She was a unifier. She was with every segment of the population—rich, poor, sick, healthy. Whatever it might be, no matter what part of the world you lived in, she was there for everybody.”
Father Damroth announced the parish name to the 300 people in attendance, as a statue of St. Mother Teresa was unveiled during his homily. Parishioners were given the opportunity to suggest parish names with St. John Paul II, St. Mother Cabrini and St. Mother Teresa being the finalists sent to Cardinal Dolan, who was planning to select the name.
Cardinal Dolan called and asked Father Damroth to make the pick, and the pastor chose St. Mother Teresa.
Father Damroth selected St. Mother Teresa because she was universally known, and he had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in her presence three times in Harlem. In 1994, St. Mother Teresa came to Washington, D.C., for eye surgery and spent a month in recovery at a Harlem convent of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious congregation she founded in 1950.
Father Damroth offered Mass each Friday morning for the Missionaries of Charity in Harlem, and twice had the opportunity after Mass to have breakfast with St. Mother Teresa. They spoke for about 30 minutes each time.
“I knew at that moment I was in the presence of a living, modern-day saint,” Father Damroth said in his homily.
“Years later to have this opportunity to dedicate our two churches here in Newburgh to a woman religious who so changed the world in so many ways for the better and continues to influence the world today. To be in this incredible position to honor her so many years after meeting her is just beyond my belief.”
Six Missionaries of Charity sisters attended the Mass. The religious order has its North American Regional House for the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada in the Bronx and a convent in Harlem. One of the lasting images of St. Mother Teresa is of her greeting Princess Diana in front of the Bronx convent. The two died six days apart in 1997, just months after their meeting in the Bronx.
Veneration with two relics of St. Mother Teresa followed Mass and allowed individuals the opportunity to touch the relics. The sisters from the Missionaries of Charity distributed prayer cards and medals.
“I loved it because I’ve always loved her. I’ve always worn her medal,” said Ann Alisandrella, a parishioner from Wallkill of the Mass and the new parish name.
Following the homily, members of the parish finance committee and parish council and parish trustees were installed.
“It was a fantastic evening,” said Anthony Esposito of Montgomery, a member of the finance committee. “I’ve always gone to both churches. My family has gone to Sacred Heart since the day it was built. Just knowing both of these beautiful churches were going to remain open by a smooth transition and by working together makes all the difference in the world.”
Sacred Heart and St. Francis, located less than a half-mile from each other, were merged as part of the archdiocese’s Making All Things New pastoral planning initiative, effective July 1. Sacred Heart parish was founded in 1912 to meet the spiritual needs of Italian-speaking people in the region, and the current church opened on Christmas Eve in 1964.
St. Francis of Assisi had its first Mass in a small chapel in 1909. The current church, which opened in 1913, has a traditional European basilica design. The parish’s first pastor, Father Francis Fabian, designed the church and laid bricks for the structure.
Some 1,400 people attend weekend Masses at the two churches. The number has increased with the addition of a Spanish Mass at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi. Sacred Heart offers an Italian Mass at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s beautiful,” said Marilyn Quinlan, a parishioner from Cornwall. “I think it’s really coming together as a parish. I rather see us come together than us not have our church.
“Everything will turn out the way it’s supposed to be. Our faith will get us through. I believe Father Bill has everyone’s interest at heart and God is going to direct him, too.”