The diocese’s first merged parish, three years later

CHERRY HILL — The challenges facing a new Catholic community were “overshadowed by the willingness of the members to work together to continue to build the reign of God in our midst,” said Father Thomas A. Newton, pastor of the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light.

The parish, which celebrated its third anniversary on Aug. 1, was the first merger in the diocese, incorporating the parishes of St. Peter Celestine and Queen of Heaven.

“The communities that make up the new parish have been tremendously strengthened by the merger,” the pastor noted, adding, “Together we are a better Catholic parish than we were individually.”

He said the talents of a wider community came together to help form a dynamic parish and noted that the lay leadership came from both former parishes.

There are more than 80 ministries in the parish and “every ministry that was a part of the two parishes was invited to continue and, in most cases, has been strengthened because of the merger,” Father Newton said.

He said he was “convinced that the parish we have created serves the members of our community very well and gives every person, regardless of his or her age, the opportunity to serve others as Jesus challenges us to do.”

Prior to the merger Queen of Heaven had about 1,200 registered households but Father Tom said he was “saddened” that about 200 families had made the decision to leave the parish after the merger. On the other hand, St. Peter Celestine had some 2,500 households before the merger, and nearly all elected to remain as members of Christ Our Light.

Father Newton said, “We hope for the day when all former members of Queen of Heaven who have left their parish will return. All are welcome at Christ Our Light.”

The pastor noted that the generosity of many people in the parish have helped in the hiring of seven full-time staff members and part-timers.

The full-timers include a parochial vicar, the school principal, the pastoral associate for elementary faith formation, the pastoral associate for youth faith formation, the pastoral associate for justice and community outreach, and the pastoral associate for worship and music.

Members of the part time staff are a coordinator for life-long faith formation, an assistant in the faith formation office, an assistant in the worship and music department, an information technology and communication assistant, a parish business manager, a secretary, a bookkeeper, and maintenance workers.

Father Newton pointed out that since so many parishioners are involved in ministry, “we have a dynamic peace and justice ministry that also does pastoral outreach to seniors, the sick and dying, divorced and marginalized.”

The parish’s faith formation and sacramental preparation programs are family-centered and “engage the faithful of all ages and their families in formation programs that seek to form and transform all the members of our community.”

Father Newton indicated that Christ Our Light has a new stewardship initiative, coordinated by Father Jon Thomas. “It challenges the members of the community to share their gifts of prayer, time, talent, and financial resources to build up the parish community. Our new parish is also blessed to have on our campus Resurrection Catholic School which is a vital and life-giving part of the fabric of the parish,” he added.

The pastor said that everything the new parish has done and will do is through “the dynamic vision of Bishop Joseph Galante who challenged each of us on the west side of Cherry Hill to build upon and expand our understanding of what we were to work together and imagine what we could become. We never would have imagined three years ago the positive impact of our parishes coming together and what we could create by cooperating with each other in a spirit of love and mutual respect.”

Categories: Latest News

About Author