Saint Maximilian Kolbe Parish honors its patron saint …

Members of the Church of the Resurrection in Marmora, part of the St. Maximilian Kolbe parish, celebrated their patron saint’s feast day for the first time together at Sunday’s 11 a.m. Mass. Resurrection, St. Casimir’s Catholic Church of Woodbine, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Mission Church of Goshen comprise the parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe. The merger was made formal by the church hierarchy last December, but this past weekend marked the first time the patron saint’s feast day was celebrated by the newly formed Roman Catholic congregation. “I was concerned about the merger, when the subject was broached,” said Rosemary Shalek of Woodbine, a long time member of St. Casimir. “One thing in our lives has remained stable: the church. You don’t think about a church closing. Stores close, schools close, factories close. Churches are not supposed to close.” The merger of the three churches was announced by church officials in April 2008, as part of a diocese-wide consolidation of parishes and closing of churches in response to a steep decline in the number of priests available to serve diocesan parish churches. According to the Diocese of Camden records, the number of priests available for service in this area reached its peak in 1969 at 351. With anticipated retirements, the diocese has estimated 85 priests available for ministry by 2015. The parish serves about 2,200 Catholics. “We haven’t lost our identity,” said Shalek. “We’ve expanded into the bigger faith community of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Church of the Resurrection is the seat of the new parish. St. Casimir’s and St. Elizabeth remain open as worship sites. The parish, now called Saint Maximilian Kolbe, serves about 2,200 Catholics. In retrospect, God has graced us with the courage to pull our churches together.” Shalek credited the grace to accept the change to the parish’s patron saint, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Kolbe, a Polish Roman Catholic priest, died as prisoner 16770 on Aug. 14, 1941, at the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. Then 47, he volunteered to take the place of a man selected by Nazi guards to die by starvation. Shalek was one of three speakers before the Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Resurrection.

“It was 38 years ago – 1974 – when I first set foot on this property. Bishops, pastors and parochial vicars have come and gone, but I am still here at 90,” she said, raising applause from the filled pews. “We had Sunday Masses at the chapel on the old Palermo air base, now Osprey Point, and in 1976 the rectory was the first building to be constructed. For a time we had daily Mass in the basement there and meetings in the living room. Ted Roman, of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, spoke of the beauty of the mission church he attends on Rt. 47 in Goshen. “Those of you who have not been there, please come see it. We are all part of one parish family now,” he said. Rev. Monsignor Peter Joyce celebrated the Mass, accompanied by Rev. Armando Rodriguez Montoya and Rev. Monsignor John Conahan, both of the parish. Rev. Robert Gregorio of St. Joseph’s in Somers Point also participated. Gregorio was the former pastor at Resurrection. Six altar servers led the procession at the start of Mass, walking down the center aisle amidst members of the Knights of Columbus Color Guard. The altar was decorated by three patchwork banners, each one comprised of squares created by members of the three church communities and surrounded by blue borders. Mass was said in English, with the exception of the second reading, which was given by Jose Santiago of Woodbine in Spanish. Monsignor Joyce opened his homily by apologizing, in Spanish, to members of the parish for his ‘English only’ delivery. “Lo siento no hablo Espanol,” he said, before redelivering a homily written by Father Maximilian Kolbe in 1929. Following the church service, local artist Felicia Stephenson unveiled a sculpture of St. Maximilian Kolbe. “This was my first sculpture,” said the art restoration expert, who also assisted with the design of the parish’s new logo – a butterfly, with a lily, a rose and two crowns overlaid. The annual parish picnic followed, featuring Polish, American and Spanish cuisine, live music, arts and crafts, and a dunk tank. “We feel very welcome. The Mass was beautiful. I loved it,” said Carmen Pierce, of Woodbine. Pierce said she usually attends the Spanish language Mass at St.Casmir’s but – as she gestured at the festivities – noted that “we should do this more often.