When St. Joseph Parish was established 75 years ago during the post-World War II population boom, Strongsville was a rural, largely undeveloped community.
Father Joseph McGraw, the first pastor, had been an Army chaplain during the war. The first church was created from an old Quonset hut.
Fast forward to 2021, and St. Joseph Parish is bustling with dozens of organizations and activities and more than 2,750 families.
The parish’s 75th anniversary celebration begin on June 6, the feast of Corpus Christi, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic. Father Joe Mamich, pastor, Father Kevin Klonowski, parochial vicar, and Father Robert Sanson, pastor emeritus, concelebrated.
“Look how much has grown up around it,” the bishop said of the parish. “Think of the experiences of the parishioners here over the last seven-plus decades – good times and hard times, laughter and sadness joy and anger – and still, here we are, because we the family of a parish is united by our faith. We aren’t here because we are good. We are here because God is good. And somehow, we know the goodness of God in this place.”
He told the congregation it is his prayer “that this parish always remain a place of worship, service and evangelization.”
“Thank you for the witness of your faith,” he added.
Bishop Malesic asked those at the Mass to think about the best meal they ever had, pointing out it might not have been expensive. He recalled gathering with relatives at his aunt and uncle’s house at Christmastime for ham, sausages, sauerkraut and cookies. And when he was in elementary school, he had fond memories of walking to his grandparents’ house for lunch. While he enjoyed the food, “most importantly, it was my time with grandmom and grandpop,” he said.
In high school, even when he came home late after an activity, his parents sat with him while he ate dinner and they talked about their day.
“The best meals I’ve ever had were always spent with family and friends over a lot of laughs, sometimes a good cry, with lingering conversation, reminiscences and something that we term friendship,” the bishop said.
“Food is powerful stuff. It calls us together. We gather around it – not so much for physical nourishment as for the spiritual and emotional nourishment, it can bring. It builds community, it strengthens families, it provides for our personal growth,” he said.
Jesus uses food to gather us as a Church so we can remember him.
“Around food we draw closer to God and to one another. We become God’s one family, formed out of our many individual families,” the bishop said. At St. Joseph’s, families gather around bread, wine, and tell stories of God and one another.
Bishop Malesic said at Mass we remember the Last Supper when Jesus broke the bread, said the blessing and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks and gave it to them. They all drank, and he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
Those words make all the difference, he said, noting that Jesus explained how his blood would be shed for us and in another Gospel, he said his body would be broken for us. “He was not just recounting the story of the sacrificial lamb of Israel’s past, he was becoming the lamb himself; he was about to be sacrificed on the cross to take away the sins of the world.”
This mystery of our faith is a processed called transubstantiation, which is as mysterious as it is real, he said. “Here the essence of the bread and wine is changed from something earthly to something divine. The resurrected Christ comes to us in a sacramental, real and mysterious way.”
And the altar is the most important table in the parish, since it is the place where heaven and earth meet, the altar of God who gives himself for us and to us.
Bishop Malesic said he knows people who said the Mass made them want to become Catholic. “We should never take the Mass for granted,” he said because Mass is the offering of Jesus for the sake of our souls. “It is the unbloody re-presentation of his sacrifice on the cross for us.”
When we’re asked what is the best meal we’ve ever had, the answer is simple: the Mass.
During the pandemic, many people did not attend Mass in person, but absence should make the heart grow fonder, the bishop said. “By now we should all be starving for the bread and wine of Jesus himself. In fact, at every Mass we come empty and looking for the nourishment that only Jesus can give himself.”
He thanked them for coming together as God’s family, reminding them that the family that prays together stays together, “May we never be separated from one another ever again. May we always know that Jesus stays with us, even now until the end of time.” He added.
Strongsville Mayor Tom Perciak, a parishioner at nearby St. John Neumann, attended the Mass and presented Father Mamich with a proclamation from the city recognizing the contributions St. Joseph Parish had made to the city and offering congratulations on the 75th anniversary.
Father Mamich, a Strongsville native who grew up in St. John Neumann Parish, said the chalice used at Mass belonged to Father McGraw, the first pastor. “I can’t help but think how many prayers were lifted up in that chalice,” he said, adding his gratitude that parishioners could gather without most of the restrictions that existed because of the pandemic.
“This parish is a gift to us and we need to use our gift,” the bishop said. While acknowledging the difficulties of the pandemic, he said there was some good that came from the experience. “We learned self-control with the Holy Spirit working within us,” he said. “I hope you grew as Christians.”