Parishioners at St. Rita Parish in Solon welcomed Bishop Edward Malesic recently as he installed their new pastor, Father Tom Behrend.
Father Behrend had been serving as parish administrator for about 2 ½ years prior to his Feb.19 installation as pastor. Prior to Mass, he signed the documents formalizing his appointment. During Mass, the bishop introduced him to the faithful and he led them in a profession of faith.
“I am happy to be here for two reasons,” the bishop said. “First, to give thanks to the Lord around this most important table – the altar – and second, to install your fifth pastor.”
(See photo gallery above.)
Father Behrend succeeded the late Father Richard Burchell, who served as St. Rita’s pastor for 15 years until his retirement on June 30, 2020. He died on Jan. 19, 2021 at age 74.
In his homily, Father Behrend reflected on the day’s Gospel and how the Code of Hammurabi was accepted as the rule of law during Jesus’ time. One of the code’s provisions is “an eye for an eye,” meaning if a person blinded someone, the victim would do the same to his attacker.
But Jesus didn’t subscribe to that, Father Behrend said, explaining that he encouraged kindness and nonviolence. “If you’re slapped, turn the other cheek. If someone takes your cloak, also give them your tunic.”
He said this was considered revolutionary and not the norm in Jesus’ time. However, by going against the grain, Jesus was setting an example for giving more. Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are some more recent examples of those who subscribed to a philosophy of nonviolence, Father Behrend said, noting they used this method to try and overturn evil.
Roman soldiers would tell people to carry their packs and if they refused, they could be killed. They were expected to carry the pack for a certain distance.
“But the apostles would carry the soldiers’ packs further and would speak joyfully about Jesus the entire time,” Father Behrend said, adding that they converted soldiers who then helped spread Jesus’ message.
“Being a Christian is hard, but it’s worth it,” he said.
Father Behrend recalled a time when he was shopping while wearing his clerical collar and a woman told him she felt sorry for him because he was Catholic and “he was going to hell.” He answered all her questions with a smile and she finally stomped off angrily. “I thanked her for her concern for my soul and told her I was concerned about her soul, too,” he said.
Situations like that show us the depth of living in a faith that has hope, he said. “God promised to be with us always. Anger doesn’t rule the day. The more we spread the message of Jesus Christ, the better for all of us. We’re all sinners and we’re all called to be faithful, kind and merciful. Kindness and forgiveness are what we need to show. We must immerse ourselves in the power of Jesus,” he said, explaining that we prepare our spiritual life through Mass, the Eucharist and the other sacraments. “It’s what Jesus is calling us to do as we strive to be with him.”
After Mass, the bishop told the congregation that good pastors save souls by bringing them to Jesus, which is their primary role. While it’s important to be concerned about the business side of the parish, he said following Jesus is the key. “We need beautiful hearts, not beautiful churches.”
A good pastor loves his people and is a father to them, the bishop told the faithful. “But,” he cautioned, “remember he is not the savior – only Jesus is.” He also encouraged the congregation -- especially the young -- to listen to God’s call because he has a plan for everyone. There is a need for more vocations -- including priests, religious sisters, deacons, married and single people – according to what God’s plan is for each of us.
“Thank Father Behrend for listening, hearing and answering God’s call. Pray for more priests and for more people that our priests can serve. Pope Francis tells us to go outside of the church and to invite people in. We want to be a welcoming Church,” the bishop said. “You have what the world needs – Jesus, who lives in you. That is something special. We’re all one family – holy, Catholic and apostolic. But the devil wants to destroy that,” he said.
“The Church I want to be in has three main purposes: worshipping God, proclaiming the Gospel and serving those in need,” Bishop Malesic said.
“I am honored to be your pastor and am grateful for every one of you and for all the ministries at St. Rita’s that show our love,” Father Behrend said.
After Mass, there was a reception in the parish hall where parishioners could meet the bishop, take photos and enjoy refreshments.
St. Rita Parish was established in 1929. Father Matthew Cortnik is parochial vicar and Deacon Bob Anderson and Deacon Mark Janezic also minister at the parish.