RIDGELY — A celebration of a “welcoming community” of the faithful formed the theme of a well-attended Mass and reception on Sunday afternoon, July 11, marking the 125th anniversary of St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church.

Two days before his retirement, Bishop Francis Malooly traveled with Vicar General Msgr. Steven P. Hurley to the Eastern Shore town.

“Over my 13 years as bishop, we’ve had many events here, including the blessing of the new sanctuary and celebration of confirmations,” the bishop said. “So it’s nice on my last formal day as bishop to be here with all of you to celebrate the 125th anniversary of a great parish.”

(William E. Koenig was ordained and installed as the 10th bishop of Wilmington on July 13.)

In addition to parish administrator Father Christopher Coffiey, former pastors Father Norman Carroll and Father Brian Lewis concelebrated Mass, and were joined by parish Deacons Harold Jopp and Bill Nickum and Deacon Candidate Adam Perza.

Also attending the celebration were several Benedictine Sisters of St. Gertrude Monastery of Newark, formerly located at The Plains near Ridgely.

The homilist was Jopp, a lifelong member of the parish, which includes St. Elizabeth Church in nearby Denton.

“My entire life has been centered around this parish,” Jopp said. “I received first communion in St. Elizabeth’s, was confirmed here at St. Benedict’s, was ordained a deacon here in 1980, and I preached my very first homilies in both churches.”

He recalled his immigrant grandparents’ journeying by horse-drawn wagon to worship in the parish. He also recognized the dedication of the Benedictine nuns who taught Sunday school in the pews of St. Benedict church long before the Family Life Center was built.

The church building was constructed and dedicated on July 15, 1896, and although the celebration marked the structure’s anniversary, Jopp said the event signified a spiritual reality.

“You know, older buildings often communicate a sense of stability; sometimes they even become landmarks in our spiritual life,” Jopp said. “Frequently they are also our havens, especially in times of need and suffering and loss. Ironically, these buildings are not static at all.”

St. Benedict of Nursia’s motto ora et labora (pray and work) are “in a sense … the model of our parish,” Jopp said. “These are what occupy all of us on our way. However, these are not really distinct functions, they’re actually intertwined as we journey toward holiness. … Together, our prayer and our work sustain us.”

Several parishioners, longtime members and relative newcomers, shared memories that were printed in the service program of priests and religious, deep family ties and the warmth and welcoming spirit of the parish.

At the reception in the Family Life Center, a display table featured memorabilia and attendees watched a video produced for the church’s 100th anniversary.

Also during the reception, fellow parishioners wished Mrs. Susie Booze a happy 100th birthday with a birthday cake, singing and an ovation.

Thanking parish staff and volunteers, the Knights of Columbus, and parish family and friends, Coffiey said, “My brothers and sisters, as I said in my homilies this weekend, there are three things that really set us apart as a parish … the truth we proclaim, the beauty and reverence of our liturgies and our sacraments, and most especially, our community.”

“When my friends come down here from Wilmington, they always say this is one of the most welcoming parishes they’ve ever encountered, and it truly is,” Coffiey said.

This story first appeared in The Dialog, https://thedialog.org, and is reprinted here with permission.

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