Building a Resilient Parish by Kate Oczypok

All too often, we hear about parishes closing around the country. In my hometown of Pittsburgh, several parishes have closed or combined into one community. Even the church I grew up in, St. James, merged with another church to become Divine Redeemer Parish.

Here in Maryland, my home parish, Holy Cross, has defied the odds. The church is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. During a time when many Catholic churches seem to be shuttering, Holy Cross has flourished.

The reasons why are quite simple. It’s a small, close-knit parish. It’s also incredibly welcoming. For example, I met one of my good friends, Art Romano, when he asked me to help with ushering duties during a Saturday evening Mass. It just took that one kind gesture, asking me to help, for me to become friends with him. That eventually led to a friendship with another fellow usher, Jack Fitzgerald.

Art is one of Holy Cross’s “lifers,” or members that have been with the church since it began. That is another reason I think the church has managed to stay open—once people join, they tend to join for life.

“Holy Cross has been a touchstone throughout our lives,” said Bob and Mary Ann Crespy, who have spent their entire lives as parishioners. “Sixty years ago, we were newlyweds and new to the area when we landed at Holy Cross and now can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

The Crespys mentioned how much they appreciated that Holy Cross’s priests were so welcoming to new parishioners. Their daughter Karen managed to find herself back at the church after college and a stint of traveling in her 20s. She returned in 2006.

“It’s been wonderful to see familiar faces along with the new,” she said. Karen volunteers with Holy Cross, including being part of the 60th anniversary committee (along with myself!).

Another important quality that the church has is resilience. Without its sense of resiliency, Holy Cross simply would not have been able to survive the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Covid pandemic and its many negative effects have done severe harm to our communities and institutions,” said Holy Cross Pastor Father Robert Buchmeier. “However, as we emerge from the shutdown here, I have a sense of joyful hope—I have this hope and confidence because the same faith and generous spirit that brought families together 60 years ago to build a parish is still present today at Holy Cross.”

During the months when visiting homebound parishioners and residents of nearby nursing home Brighton Gardens wasn’t permitted, members of Parish Ministries came together to call and send greeting cards so the elderly would feel remembered and remain connected to the parish. Holy Cross also made sure to keep its community connected through creative outlets like outdoor and streaming masses, special homily videos, and Flocknote messages through email.

Father Robert called the outdoor mass an “immensely popular” one, all made possible because of “creative and generous volunteers.” He went on to say that Holy Cross Church has responded to the last 60 years with faith, generosity, and confident hope.

Perhaps what makes Holy Cross unique is that it’s more than just a church, it’s a family. “When my husband and I attended our first Mass at Holy Cross, we were met with so many smiling faces and people who introduced themselves to us,” said Megan Harbold, a fellow 60th anniversary committee member. “It’s a true community and a place where I know our family will make lifelong friends.”

Kate Oczypok is a freelance writer, piano teacher, and portrait photographer based in Washington, DC. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washingtonian, the Georgetowner, and other regional and national publications. Read more at her website here.

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