Wednesday morning, I had the privilege of attending the first Eucharist of the newly merged parish, The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light, at St. Peter Celestine Church in Cherry Hill. On Saturday I attended the final liturgy at Queen of Heaven Church. Both were a blessing, a confirmation of the vision we carry forward, and the hard work of many people!
On Saturday night, the celebrant, Father Bruno, a warm and compassionate priest, concluded an upbeat liturgy with a procession out the front door, and a closing of the doors with a short ritual. Needless to say, when the blessing concluded, there wasn’t a dry eye among those gathered, myself included. The reality of the closing was now here, the sadness palpable. For most of us, change never comes easy.
Wednesday morning Father Tom Newton led the gathered community of Christ Our Light in the celebration of the liturgy. There was carefully chosen music, and full participation among those gathered. I was very happy to see many from Queen of Heaven in attendance. As I got into the pew I saw next to me a familiar face of a woman who had been a teacher at St. Peter Celestine School when I was working in the Catholic Schools Office. It was good to see her and the current principal, Mrs. Camille Forrest, of the merged Resurrection School who shared with me the fact that the first year of the school merger had been a good one.
During his homily Father Tom thanked Bishop Galante for his vision and courage. He thanked the diocesan staff members who have supported the process for these years. At this point he recognized my presence as one of them and as a resident of one of the new parish’s “two convents.” He thanked the eight members of the Core Team who worked so hard amidst hard times and difficult moments, while maintaining a spirit of great hope. He thanked all the people who have been involved in the preparation for merger.
At the recessional, there was yet another procession to the outdoors, this time for a blessing of the new signage in the front of the Church. Everyone clapped at the conclusion. From the community gathered by the new sign, myself included, there were mixed tears of struggle, yet joy, joy at the present and the possibilities for the future.
Sister Antoine Lawlor, IHM is assistant director, Office of Pastoral Planning, Diocese of Camden.