On Sept. 22, 1946, the newly established St. Raphael Parish had its first liturgy in the auditorium at Bay High School. In the beginning, the parish had about 165 families, compared to approximately 3,700 today – nearly 11,000 parishioners. There also are more than 600 students attending St. Raphael School and about 400 students in the parish school of religion program.
Bishop Edward Malesic visited St. Raphael on Oct. 2 to celebrate Mass and mingle with parishioners as they celebrated the parish anniversary.
“It is a joy to be with you today and to celebrate this special milestone in the life of your parish,” he said, asking if anyone was at the first Mass. At least one parishioner was. The bishop also reminded the congregation that their parish is a gift handed on from one generation of people to succeeding generations.
“Pope Francis said that the parish should become a home in the midst of homes, a place where God’s presence is felt and hope and love are shared. A parish should be a family among families, a hone with open doors to welcome others. The genius behind the Church’s 2,000-year history is that it has always welcomed the child in baptism, the stranger in friendship and the lost who are seeking a home. And you have welcomed me here today. Thank you,” the bishop said.
He encouraged parishioners to think about all that has happened in the past 75 years, most of it done together, as a parish family. He said there have been times of great joy, including births, weddings and other celebrations, but also times of great sadness, such as death, tragedy and other woes. But parishioners stood together, supporting each other with love and faith.
Throughout the worst of the pandemic, he said St. Raphael Parish continued to celebrate the sacraments and proclaim God’s Word. He offered thanks to the altar servers, lectors, musicians, priests, deacons and others who ensured the parish’s faith life continued.
Throughout the years, Bishop Malesic said St. Raphael School and the PSR program taught children of the parish about their faith. “We should pass on our faith and it’s easier to do it together,” he added.
Father Tim Gareau, parish pastor, earned kudos from the bishop for his leadership of the active parish. “A pastor is only as good as the advice he gets from parish leaders and the support he gets from his parishioners, so thanks for making Father Tim look good,” he said, adding that Father Jim Winings, parochial vicar, should learn from Father Gareau.
“This parish family has taken care of your sacramental, spiritual and educational needs within these buildings, but it can’t stop there. We can’t limit God’s blessings to what happens for us inside these walls of our churches and schools,” the bishop said. “There is more to us than bricks and mortar.”
In his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis called for a pastoral and missionary conversion, pointing out our communities must be places where we are strengthened to go out into the world to proclaim the good news that Jesus rose from the dead, Bishop Malesic said. In addition to caring for their needs by gathering as a parish, they must become witnesses to Christian life by going outside the walks of the parish to bring Jesus to all.
“God has blessed us for a reason. He wants us to share the blessing with others. We have much to do outside,” he said. “This parish should be like St. Raphael. We have a light that the darkness fears. Do not be afraid to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received in confirmation to calm a troubled world and to bring some peace in the midst of so much division and violence.”
St. Raphael Parish has been a center of outreach in the community for 75 years, the bishop said, asking the congregation to think about how the invisible God becomes visible under sacramental signs, especially in the Eucharist. In the Mass, the risen Christ is made visible under the signs of bread and wine. He said we must make Christ visible to our families, those we work with, play with and for the young – those with whom we study.
“In prayer, we ask the Lord to strengthen us, console us and abide with us,” he said, noting we pray for our neighbors, families, schools, nation and the world. We pray within our Church and parish community, but God asks us to make his strength, consolation and presence real in the service we give to others.
“This parish – its people – is sent from this gathering every Sunday to put flesh on God’s word, so we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and love as we have been loved, and sometimes just smile at someone who needs a little pick up for the day,” the bishop said, thanking those involved with the parish’s outreach ministries. He encouraged the parish to use their patron saint, St. Raphael, as a model as they visit the sick, offer God’s mercy and bring his healing of body and soul to those they meet along the way. “Sometimes you bring God’s life to someone else without even knowing it. But that person – and God – know.
God is the author of every life, the bishop said. “We have a dignity that comes to us from God himself when we are conceived and it remains with us as we love. Our dignity is taken with us into eternity when we die,” he said, noting that Respect Life Sunday was celebrated that weekend and October is Respect Life Month. “Every life has worth and all life must be defended, supported and loved. To respect all life means all live, with the most vulnerable given our greatest attention,” he said.
The bishop also explained that the parish must be mission oriented, focusing on evangelization. “We must not only live the faith, sometimes we must speak of the faith. We must share the good news and talk about our relationship with Jesus which must be a personal relationship but can’t be a private one.” It’s important to invite others to experience what we experience in the Church, adding we must “ask, invite and encourage” others to learn about the faith.
“Do not be afraid to tell people that you are a person of faith and that you belong to this parish. You have much to offer a soul here. Emphasize the positive over the negative. This family has Jesus at the head of its table. Be thankful for that and invite others to the table of Christ,” Bishop Malesic said.
Father Gareau thanked the bishop for celebrating with the parish and told him, “I love this faith community. I’ve watched it grow and experienced miracles over the years. We have arms that reach out with faith and love.”
The bishop greeted parishioners after Mass and attended a reception celebrating the parish anniversary and the 75th anniversary of St. Raphael Guild.