The congregation at the 5:30 p.m. vigil Mass on April 7 at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Litchfield spilled out of the sanctuary and down the hallway as Bishop Nelson Perez installed the parish’s new pastor, Father Ed Suszynski.
“I can sense your excitement and love for Father Ed,” the bishop said.
He acknowledged Father Suszynski’s many family members and friends who attended the Mass, including his parents, who are celebrating 40 years of marriage; his sister, brother, nephew, grandmother, godmother and godfather, who traveled from Denver, Colorado, for the occasion. Also at the liturgy were about a dozen concelebrants – priest friends and those representing nearby parishes – plus pastor emeritus Father Ron Bryda, Deacon Michael Jervis, parish leaders and staff members.
During the Mass, the bishop wore a new white vestment given to Father Suszynski by his family for his installation. He wore a similar vestment he received from a cardinal while visiting Rome a few years ago.
During the homily, Bishop Perez said the remaining 11 disciples gathered in fear and shame after Jesus’ resurrection. “He tried to prepare them for the moment – his death – but they didn’t get it,” he said, noting how one disciple betrayed him, one denied him and the others “ran for the hills. Only the women stuck around.”
The bishop said the disciples feared — with just cause — that they might be the next to die.
“They were afraid, and at the moment of truth, they disappeared. But Jesus came through the walls and entered their midst while they were fragmented by fear and shame. They probably thought he would chew them out, but he didn’t,” Bishop Perez said. Instead, “His first words were, ‘Peace be with you.’”
He explained that in Biblical times, the word shalom had a deeper meaning. “It meant ‘May you become whole in the eyes of God.’ It was a prayer. And he said this to these men who were fragmented by fear and shame . . . he said ‘shalom’ to a group of guys who felt the opposite.”
The Church was celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday on April 8 and the bishop said Jesus showed his divine mercy in the way he treated his disciples. “He told them their fear and shame would not stop him and he walked right through.”
In many ways, a parish is like that, the bishop added. He said a parish is the mystical presence of Christ in our midst. “It’s the deepest and most immediate expression of Church. This parish is here as the mystical presence of God to help you become whole and your pastor leads you. This awesome responsibility, which can be joyful and a burden, rests on your shoulders,” he told Father Suszynski. “But you don’t do it alone.” He said four communities – the four worship sites that comprise OLHC Parish, Litchfield, Lodi, Nova and Seville – are present in the church and around the altar to help him. He asked them to support their pastor.
Bishop Perez also told the congregation that “The Church is living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.”
During the installation, the bishop called up the parish leaders and staff to greet the new pastor. Father Suszynski also led the congregation in reciting the creed and pledged to uphold the teachings and beliefs of the Church.
After Mass, Father Suszynski shared his thoughts on his new position and recalled a passage from St. John’s Gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” He said that passage was in his thoughts as he prepared for the Mass.
He also recalled his concerns when he was assigned as a parochial vicar at OLHC in June 2016. He was named administrator in August 2017 when Father Bryda retired and was named pastor in December.
“There truly is something here. It truly is the right place at the right time for me,” he said, advising his flock “to be open and willing to say yes. We do this together,” he said, “we work together almost like a mini diocese — not that I want to be a bishop,” he said, as the congregation and Bishop Perez laughed. “There is no ‘i’ in team and there is no ‘i’ in pastor,” Father Suszynski said.
He also reminded Father Bryda that he is always welcome and invited the bishop to “see all 500 square miles of our parish. We have a comfortable rectory, if you need to hide out,” he said, as Bishop Perez laughed.
“Our Lady Help of Christians is blessed with great talent,” he said. “I can’t promise you perfection, but I will do my very best. We’ll journey together in all aspects.”
Hundreds of parishioners and guests attended a reception after Mass to celebrate Father Suszynski’s installation.