A new era is beginning at historic St. Patrick Parish on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood with the installation of Father Michael Gurnick as pastor. The parish was founded in 1853, primarily to serve Irish immigrants who settled in the area.
Several hundred people attended the Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Nelson Perez. About 20 priests concelebrated. Some were Father Gurnick’s classmates. Another, Father Michael Feldtz, is a parishioner who was ordained a priest on May 19. Father John Manning, who served as parish administrator from July 2017 when longtime pastor Father Mark DiNardo became ill to March 9, when Father Gurnick arrived, also concelebrated and was welcomed warmly by parishioners.
Father DiNardo, who served as St. Patrick’s pastor 1980-2017, was part of the parish’s fabric for decades. He died in January at age 85.
Bishop Perez told parishioners he was aware of their need for a pastor and selected Father Gurnick, introducing him officially as the new leader of the parish.
Early in his homily, the bishop approached Father Gurnick’s mother and family who were in the front pew. “Without your gift, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” he said to Father Gurnick’s mother, adding,“Thank you.”
The bishop also reflected on the parish’s history, noting it was established by Irish immigrants — likely with some drama.
“There’s always drama in the Church,” he said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew that says “where to or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
“Drama is not new in the Church. Have you ever read the Acts of the Apostles?” the bishop quipped.
On a more serious note, he reminded the congregation that the Eucharist is the one constant in the Church. People and buildings may come and go, but the Eucharist remains.
“Father Gurnick now enters the history here,” the bishop said, with the beginning of his pastorate. “The heart of a priest is in the parish. And Father Gurnick follows some wonderful pastors, like Father DiNardo, who was beloved here, and Father Manning who was sent here temporarily after Father DiNardo got sick. He did a great job. In fact, he did such a good job, we’ll give him a couple more parishes,” the bishop said, laughing. “And now you have Father Gurnick.”
Bishop Perez reflected on Pope Francis’ comments on a parish, noting that he said it is not an outdated institution. Rather, it is something that has changed and adapted over the years as the needs of the people changed. “It depends on the creativity of its pastor if a parish is to prove itself capable of renewal,” the bishop said, referring to the pope’s statements. “This presumes the parish is in constant dialogue with its people and doesn’t become an out-of-touch institution,” he added. He said some of the pope’s words, while a bit harsh, were accurate.
The presence of the Church includes worship, charitable outreach, celebration and training members to evangelize, the bishop said, quoting the pope. “It is a community of communities where the thirsty come to drink during their journey,” he added.
In the past 50 years, Bishop Perez said the Church has been working to turn itself outward. “It’s not just a place of arrival, but also a place of departure. The last words of Jesus on the planet were, ‘Go.’ He wasn’t just telling the disciples to go and teach those in downtown Jerusalem. He wanted them to be missionary disciples, to spread the news to the entire world – without the internet and social media.”
He said the Church “must be fruitful and effective. That’s your role, Father, but you don’t do it alone.”
After the homily, Father Gurnick greeted parish staff members and leaders, including members of the finance and parish councils, before leading the congregation in the profession of faith and taking his oath as pastor. He and the bishop signed official documents at the altar before Mass continued.
Father Gurnick made a few brief remarks after Mass, thanking Bishop Perez and congratulating parishioners and newly ordained Father Feldtz.
“I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as a priest and am honored to have three of my four classmates here tonight to celebrate with me,” he said. Father Gurnick also thanked his mother, family, friends, the other concelebrating priests, deacons, religious and others who attended the Mass.
“Thank you for your continued friendship. And thank you to all who helped prepare for the liturgy. I am amazed at the high level of volunteerism in our parish. But this celebration is not just about me as pastor. It’s our parish celebration. Going forward in this new era, I hope we can all continue to grow in faith and love.” He added. “You have my personal guarantee that I will work with you. I’m honored to be a part of this parish community.”
A piper led the procession from the church. The parish’s Shamrocks, a group of hospitality volunteers, hosted a reception in the parish hall after Mass.
Prior to his appointment as St. Patrick’s pastor, Father Gurnick, who was ordained on May 30, 1998, served as parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great Parish and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Wickliffe. Since 2006, he has served in diocesan roles including director of the Vocations Office, a staff member at Borromeo Seminary and secretary and vicar for clergy and religious. Father Gurnick remains director of continuing education for clergy and religious, in addition to his role as St. Patrick’s pastor.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill,” Bishop Perez said to Father Gurnick at the end of Mass. “Walk with him and care for him,” he said to the parishioners.