It’s the beginning of a new era at St. Vincent de Paul and St. Patrick parishes in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood.
On Aug. 11, Bishop Nelson Perez installed Father John Pfeifer as the pastor of both parishes. He replaces Father Ken Wallace at St. Vincent’s and Father Jim Ols at St. Patrick’s. Father Wallace, who asked to become a senior parochial vicar due to health issues, was assigned to Holy Family Parish in Parma. Father Ols was granted permission to retire early, also due to health issues. Father Pfeifer’s appointment as pastor of both parishes began on June 30.
“Do you like the day I ordered for you?” Bishop Perez asked the congregation at St. Vincent de Paul. It was a pleasant, sunny summer day as the 9 a.m. Mass began. The Mass at St. Patrick’s took place at 11:30 a.m. The bishop told those gathered for the liturgies that it’s not unusual now for a priest to be the pastor of two parishes. But the parishes were sent the right person at the right time, he noted.
“Father John didn’t choose to come here – he was sent,” the bishop said at St. Vincent’s. Father Pfeifer is the seventh pastor of that parish, which was founded in 1922. Two former pastors -- Father Wallace and Father John Manning -- concelebrated the Mass along with other priest friends of Father Pfeifer. Deacon Kenneth Hill, who is assigned to St. Vincent’s, assisted.
“And he wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for two special people -- his parents,” the bishop said. He also mentioned other family members who were in attendance and a Notre Dame sister who taught Father Pfeifer in eighth grade and helped lay the foundation for his vocation.
Bishop Perez said that in the early days of the Church when Peter was seeking disciples to help spread the faith, “he didn’t put an ad in the Jerusalem Times, he didn’t do interviews and he didn’t go to a job fair. He called on people and invited them to join him.” The bishop also noted that the apostles “didn’t just hang out in Jerusalem. They spread out, they spread the faith everywhere. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here this morning. You’d probably be having breakfast somewhere.”
And, the bishop said, the apostles spread the Gospel without the benefit of the internet, CNN, Snap Chat and other modern communication tools, yet the message prevails and has spread across the world.
At both parishes he encouraged parishioners to “step up their game and support Father John. It’s his first time as a pastor, but the Holy Spirit told me he has so many gifts that I could give him two parishes,” Bishop Perez quipped.
Recalling his own time as the pastor of two different parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the bishop said he asked the parishes not to make it about him.
“Priests come and go. Bishops come and go. Popes come and go. You come and go. But one thing is constant; one thing transcends time: Christ -- the Blessed Sacrament,” Bishop Perez said.
He encouraged parishioners not to tell their new pastor that “he has big shoes to fill.” Instead, he said openness and generosity of heart are two things they can do for him.
At both parishes, the bishop asked for prayers for Father Pfeifer’s father who recently was diagnosed with a medical condition for which he will begin treatment soon. His parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and other family members attended both Masses. A reception followed the Mass at St. Patrick’s.
Concelebrating the Mass at St. Patrick’s was Father Joe Previte, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, and a seminary classmate of Father Pfeifer.
The bishop noted that St. Patrick’s, which was established in 1848 – less than a year after the diocese was created -- and recently celebrated its 171st anniversary, has a long history as a faith community.
As he often does at pastor installation liturgies, Bishop Perez shared some thoughts from Pope Francis about a parish, which the pope describes as “the most immediate and deepest expression of the Church among the homes of its sons and daughters.”
The pope said a parish can have great flexibility, depending on the creativity of its pastor. It also is capable of constant self-renewal and it is an expression of charitable outreach and celebration. The Holy Father calls it “a community of communities.”
“It is where the thirsty come to drink of their faith,” Bishop Perez said, adding that the mission of the parish community is evangelization.
After each Mass, Father Pfeifer offered his thanks to members of both parishes for what he called a kind, generous welcome. He also thanked the previous pastors and his brother priests for their support.
“And I certainly say thank you to the people of both parishes. I can’t do this alone. There are wonderful people at both parishes,” he added.
Borrowing some thoughts Bishop Perez expressed at his installation Mass nearly two years, ago, Father Pfeifer said, “I learned to be a priest at St. Gabriel, St. Barnabas and St. Albert the Great (his previous assignments as a parochial vicar). The people of St. Patrick and St. Vincent de Paul will teach me to be a pastor.”
“Walk with him. Support him. Take care of him and pray for him,” Bishop Perez said to parishioners at both liturgies.