If you are looking to see a good example of how an active and vibrant parish functions on Sunday mornings, you should visit St. Peter-St. Denis Church on Ludlow Street in Yonkers, as I did on Sept. 30.
Cardinal Dolan happened to be making a pastoral visit for a reception and then to celebrate a bilingual noon Mass that day. The church held 800 people and then some, as the side aisles were lined all the way to the back of the church, which was also filled.
The temptation is to say the cardinal’s presence was a drawing card, which it certainly was, but the truth is that I arrived very early and saw that there wasn’t a seat to be had at the parish’s 8:30 a.m. Spanish-language Mass either.
“One thing St. Peter’s that is not is empty,” Father Donald Kaufman, L.C., the pastor for the past year, said at the reception for parish donors and prospective donors to the archdiocese’s Renew + Rebuild campaign.
St. Peter-St. Denis, which is participating in Phase 4 of the capital campaign, had raised 21 percent of its $837,000 goal so far. Dozens of parishioners gathered around tables set up in the basement gymnasium to hear the cardinal and their pastor say a few words about the campaign, which recently met its overall $200 million goal for the entire archdiocese.
At St. Peter-St. Denis, money raised will repair and renovate stained-glass windows; renovate the gymnasium bathrooms and heating system; and replace the single-pane windows in the religious education building.
The cardinal thanked the people for their generosity and encouraged them to continue supporting Renew + Rebuild because most of the money they raise would stay right there at St. Peter-St. Denis.
Parishioners come from many lands, the cardinal said, including Mexico, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Later on, at Mass, the pastor added to that list by ticking off Europe, India, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador and Puerto Rico.
“We’re continually inviting people here from all over Yonkers,” Father Kaufman said.
Repeating the words a parishioner of St. Peter-St. Denis shared with him, Cardinal Dolan said, “We come from many places. Here we are at home with Jesus and Mary in the family of the Church.”
Parishioner Teresa Alonzo, who was attending the reception with her family, called St. Peter-St. Denis “an amazing parish,” and said full houses are the norm at every parish celebration. Her husband, Angel, and their young daughters, Isabel and Suyapa, joined her.
“Like the cardinal said, we are many different people with the same faith,” she said.
Cardinal Dolan told the faithful that offering Mass at parish churches is the duty of an archbishop he enjoys the most. The liturgy was marked with joyful music, and with the presence of images of the archangels, whose feast was being marked on the occasion. St. Michael the Archangel has a special place at St. Peter-St. Denis because many parishioners are originally from the state of Puebla, Mexico, where St. Michael is the patron saint.
The celebration continued after Mass at a street procession with music and banners that began in front of the stone church. It led to a gathering a couple blocks away in St. Peter’s School. The sense of belonging and optimism seemed natural.
It was also pervasive, in a good way. It extended to the uniformed corps of ushers, who were happy to help a visitor find his way to the proper location. And to the safety monitors who were directing traffic to and from the parish parking lot next to the church. Even to the vendors selling fruits and other goods outside the church. All seemed quite happy to be there, and each was dedicated to doing their part to help the parish work for all who gathered there. It was a pleasure to witness.