“One of the favorite things I get to do as bishop is to travel to our parishes and meet the people of our diocese,” said Bishop Edward Malesic. “It is the more rural places, like here in West Salem, that remind me our diocese is so diverse and the people who live in the smaller places are so much like the parish where I was pastor in the Diocese of Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) for 11 years.”
The bishop traveled to West Salem on June 26 to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of St. Stephen Parish, which has about 100 families. Father Rod Kreidler, who just ended a two-year term as presbyteral moderator, said often campers who vacation or spend weekends in the area attend Mass, also.
(See photo gallery above.)
He thanked Father Kreidler, who also serves as pastor of St. Edward Parish in nearby Ashland, and Deacon Pete Foradori who recently was named St. Stephen parish life coordinator, for their ministry and the invitation to celebrate Mass. The bishop also asked the congregation to keep Father Carl Uhler, the pastor emeritus, in their prayers.
“And thanks to all of you gathered here today because you folks and your families – past and present – are the lifeblood of the St. Stephen Parish community.
The bishop said the first Mass was celebrated in June 1952 in a house purchased for the Catholic community in West Salem. At that time, Harry Truman was president and Edward Hoban was the Cleveland bishop. A snapshot of the time showed that pork roast was 39 cents a pound; sugar was 43 cents for five pounds; coffee was 37 cents a pound and gasoline was 27 cents a gallon.
The Catholic community continued to grow in West Salem, and by 1977 the current church was built and the mission was elevated in status to a parish.
“Think of all the Masses, all the sacraments celebrated over the years, baptisms, weddings, anointings and the sins forgiven here. And there were times of joy and times of sadness,” the bishop said. “This parish was made up of people who would laugh with us and cry with us. That is why we are grateful for this anniversary and want to look forward to our future together.”
He referred to the parish mission statement, “We remain faithfully Catholic as a small rural parish community. It is in the parish setting where we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, listen to the Word of God proclaimed, find forgiveness of our sins in reconciliation, communal support and always to give life to our faith. We celebrate the sanctity of life and worship God as we prayerfully tend to the needs of body and spirit. Working together, we seek to build a strong parish community where all feel welcome and inspired to live God’s mission with faith, hope and love.” The bishop thanked the congregation for celebrating the sanctity of life, mentioning the recent Supreme Court of the United States decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
He also reminded parishioners that it takes many talented people – clergy, religious and lay people – working together to make a parish a vibrant place with a sharp focus on bringing people closer to Christ. “Thanks to all of you – everyone who had and continues to have any part in keeping this wonderful family of faith vibrant for the Lord until he comes to take us home,” the bishop said.
Reflecting on the day’s readings, he talked about the mysterious call to follow God. In the first reading, God called Elisha to leave farming and begin a second career he had not trained for. Yet, he gave up his flocks and burned his farming tools intending to never return to that way of life.
“The cliché tells us to ‘let go and let God.’ But that is scary stuff – to depend on God alone and to let him lead us isn’t easy. So often it is difficult to follow the all of God into an unknown future based on his promise to give us what we need to do his will,” the bishop said.
He planned to study biology in college and looked forward to working in a hospital laboratory when he was called by God to leave it all behind and enter the seminary. The bishop said he had to step out in faith, acknowledging that “God is persistent after all.” He said that call led him eventually to be in West Salem.
This greater call to follow Jesus and to move forward with him is why everyone was there. “It is the reason for this parish. This parish must always be centered on the call of Jesus to gather with him as members of his flock, to hear his voice, to follow in his footsteps, to be his hands and feet in this world,” Bishop Malesic said. At some point, everyone must decide whether to stay with Jesus or leave him.
“It must be a yes or no to Jesus, not a lukewarm commitment to him,” he said, explaining that involves prayer from the heart, reading the Bible, studying the teaching of the Church and simply spending time with him. “After all, who of us would give up our lives for someone we don’t know?” he asked. “But we have come to know him and ultimately, following Jesus is a decision to lead a different type of life, a life that is very unlike the rampant individualism, consumerism, materialism, eroticism and atheism of much of our modern post-Christian culture.
The bishop explained much of the dominant culture is what St. Paul called “the life of the flesh” and it is opposed to God’s call. He reminds us to love our neighbors as ourselves, meaning to have respect for the lives of all humans, including the preborn.
He also said we must “look in front of you, not behind you. Look to Jesus who leads you and says, ‘Follow me.’ Follow him because he knows the direction to life eternal. Let go of anything that holds you to your past life.”
St. Stephen Parish has put God at its center for 70 years, the bishop said. “This parish doesn’t allow anyone to stay where they are. This parish urges us to move into the future with Jesus. He is our shepherd and we shall not want.”
After Mass, the bishop greeted parishioners and enjoyed a reception in the parish hall that featured displays and photos from the history of the parish.