MULLICA HILL — Father Tony DiBardino, pastor of the newly-formed Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, hopes one day to see a new church built on some land in Elk Township.
The land, he said, is central to the three parishes that were united to create the new community. Father DiBardino had been pastor of Holy Name of Jesus in Mullica Hill and administrator of St. Ann in Elmer and St. Joseph in Woodstown.
On June 26 the first Mass for the new parish was celebrated in a giant tent in Woodstown that brought out some 400 parishioners in the sweltering 90-plus heat. There are an estimated 2,500 families in the parish.
“The transition has gone very smoothly,” said Alex Spano, business manager for the new parish. “The comments made by the parishioners that Sunday were very positive. It was a new beginning for everyone.”
St. Ann was closed, said Father DiBardino. The Holy Name and St. Joseph church buildings are used for daily Masses and meetings.
“Both churches are very small,” he explained, “and can’t accommodate any more than 125 people. The buildings are remaining because both have cemeteries that are more than 100 years old. Remember, the churches were established as country parishes for the farming community.”
Sunday Masses are celebrated in the parish centers in Woodstown and in Mullica Hill, said Father DiBardino. In Woodstown Masses are 9 and 11:30 a.m. and in Mullica Hill, 8 and 10:30 a.m. and at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“We encourage people to use both facilities for Mass when they need to,” Father DiBardino said, “because we are all part of the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit.”
When asked about the families who used to attend St. Ann, he said that Woodstown is not far from Elmer and some may have gone there, although some families have gone to Mass at Holy Name. The pastor explained that the transition was relatively easy because it happened during the summer when a great many people were away on vacation.
“Our core team who worked on this merger wanted to emphasize that we are a community, not just a building,” he said. “We are the people. We made a decision to retain the name of the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit.”
“There’s a high amount of enthusiasm and creative thought involved which, to me, is an indication of a great future parish.”
According to the pastor, there are 1,100 children involved in religious education.
Renee Lavender is the director and she’s assisted by Fran DeMarzio. There are some 100 volunteers.
“We have a great team of people,” Father said. “The staff we put together is wonderful. People are responding well to the new challenges.”