On the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent, parishioners of St. Joseph’s in Middletown welcomed Cardinal Dolan to their faith community, as the cardinal offered a special Mass in celebration of the parish’s 150th anniversary.
After the joyous Dec. 2 liturgy, the cardinal met with 20 students from the parish’s religious education program and members of the youth ministry. The cardinal greeted the young people individually, and they asked him questions and posed for photos with him. Cardinal Dolan encouraged the teens and young adults to remain active in the faith and to be open to whatever the Lord calls them to do throughout their lives.
“The evening was wonderful, it was grace,” Father Dennis Nikolic, the pastor of St. Joseph’s, said in a phone interview with CNY. “The cardinal also met with some of our altar servers, and he met with members of the Knights of Columbus…We have a 150-year history; we hope to be here for many more years into the future.”
About 600 people attended the anniversary Mass, more than double the 250 parishioners who normally attend, the pastor said. St. Joseph’s parish has about 1,500 active, registered families, a third of which are Hispanic, mostly Mexicans, with others from Ecuador, Peru and Puerto Rico. The parish has offered Sunday Mass in Spanish for about 30 years, and a Spanish Wednesday evening Mass was added more recently for the growing Hispanic community.
St. Joseph’s also includes families of Italian and German descent, Father Nikolic said.
“Our Italian community celebrates Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the summer, and our Hispanic community celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe in December,” the pastor said. “We have lay Dominicans, we have the Knights of Columbus, and we have the Catholic Daughters of America, and we also have Latin Mass every Sunday at 9 a.m. for people who are attracted to that tradition.”
St. Joseph’s parish was established in 1867, with a church dedication and cemetery blessing Oct. 2 by then-Archbishop John McCloskey. The first church was built near the site of the current one, which was constructed in 1879.
Father Andrew O’Reilly was the first pastor. In 1875, St. Joseph’s received its second pastor, Father Peter J. Prendergast. In 1888, Father John P. McClancy, who had assisted Father Prendergast for 11 years, was appointed as the third pastor. By that time, Father McClancy already was considered one of the finest orators in the country.
Father Nikolic succeeded Msgr. George Valastro in 2009. Other priests serving the parish are Father Alejandro Sanchez, a parochial vicar; Father Thomas Roslak, a hospital chaplain; and two others, Father Ngozi Osuji and Father Donald Timone, are in residence. The four permanent deacons are Deacon Richard Trapani, Deacon Albert Loeffler, Deacon Alexander Gapay and Deacon Michael Brescia.
The religious education coordinator is Linda Byrons.
St. Joseph School, a preK-8 school, closed five years ago. It opened in 1900, staffed by Ursuline Sisters.
Martin and Clarice Suchy have been parishioners since 1973. They are parents of nine grown children, and grandparents of 28. Since 2009, they have served as coordinators of the parish’s Chapel for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which has been in place for 20 years.
“The Suchys have accepted the responsibility of seeing that the day to day operation of the chapel is taken care of,” Father Nikolic said. “The chapel is a blessing for not only all who come to pray and make a visit, but also for our entire parish.” The Suchys coordinate all the guardians of the chapel, who include St. Joseph parishioners and members of other parishes within the Orange County Deanery.
The Suchys’ chapel service stems from their deep faith. “We instilled the faith in our children from when they were very young,” Suchy said. “Our oldest daughter is a religious sister.”
“She has my name,” said Mrs. Suchy, and her husband added, “Sister Clarice of Jesus is her religious name…She’s with the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus. She works in campus ministry in Texas, in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.”