Photo by James A. McBride
Father Rene L. Canales, parochial vicar of St. Clare of Assisi, Parish, Gibbstown, stands with Leslie and Mike Pszwaro. The couple could not refuse requests from their pastor, Father David Grover, and are unlikely to say no to anything Father Canales asks.
GIBBSTOWN — Because of their inability to say “no” to a priest or nun, Mike and Leslie Pszwaro have taken on many tasks in their stewardship duties at St. Clare of Assisi parish.
“We just can’t say no when asked to help the church,” said Mike. “We were stewards before the merger and we have continued.”
St. Clare is the result of a merger with St. John in Paulsboro, St. Michael in Gibbstown, and St. Joseph in Swedesboro.
“Along with St. Michael’s, which was my original parish,” he noted, “there are a total of 14 buildings which are part of the parish. We have two active churches in the new parish with St. John used for funerals and weddings. There is also a diaconate center.”
St. Michael’s was Mike’s parish growing up. “I was with the church all my life,” he said. “My stewardship began with St. Michael’s when I was a member of the pastoral council for five years. Nine years ago I started the St. Vincent de Paul conference in the parish.”
Nine years ago was also the time when Leslie started with the St. Vincent de Paul conference. She’s treasurer. Mike is also a member of the St. Vincent de Paul District of Gloucester County.
Once the merger went through about a year and a half ago, Father David Grover, pastor, asked Mike to become a trustee of the new parish and a member of all the councils by default.
“I accepted because, as I mentioned before, I can’t say no,” noted Mike with a chuckle.
Although Leslie has volunteered her services at church for some 30 years and attended Mass with her husband, she didn’t become a Catholic until about eight years ago. Before that she was a Presbyterian.
“We went to the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday,” Mike said, “and she was the only one who didn’t go up for Communion. It was then she decided it was time to become a Catholic.”
Leslie said about 30 years ago she started to teach religious education. One day while at Mass, a nun had approached her asking if she would help with kindergarten CCD classes. The nun began working with her and helped her become an excellent CCD teacher.
Years later, as a couple, Mike and Leslie began planning the opening Mass of the new parish.
“We helped put three parishes together to represent them equally and there were more than 100 volunteers involved,” Mike explained. “The merger was well over a year ago but still an ongoing project.”
Because of a large Spanish-speaking population in the parish Mike began to get involved with the Spanish ministry. “The St. Vincent de Paul conference has a Spanish member who helps out with language and with those needing help. There is a Spanish Mass every Sunday in Swedesboro which attracts from 100-150 people. We’re trying to use this as a way to get St. Vincent de Paul in Salem County.”
Although homelessness is not a very large problem in the parish — “we are on the borderline,” Mike said — there are some parishioners who have difficulty paying their bills, rent or even buying food.
“We have helped people through St. Vincent de Paul,” he continued. “My wife and I are involved in putting together a program to provide emergency oil deliveries for heating purposes during the winter. The mild winter this year has helped a lot. But if people run out of oil we can get them a 50-gallon emergency delivery.”
Mike pointed out that one of the most rewarding things he and his wife do are acting as a greeters during Mass. “It’s nice to welcome people and say good morning to them and ask how they are. That puts them and everybody in a good mood.”
Father Grover commended Mike and Leslie for doing “a wonderful job as parish ministers. For one thing their hospitality ministry as greeters is great. They do an exceptional job at that. They also work ecumenically with other churches in town.”
Father Grover summarized their stewardship by saying the couple works well with everybody and they are “an asset to the parish and to the community.”
For more information on stewardship contact Deacon Russell Davis, Office of Stewardship, at 856-583-6102.