Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows of the Shrine Church of St. Jude, Canarsie, as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio gathered with parishioners and clergy to celebrate the church’s Golden Jubilee Mass, last Sunday, Oct. 30. Blessings were also bestowed upon the parish’s new prayer garden, dedicated in memory of Father Rosario Pitrone, founding pastor.
Nine year-old Sydney Henry was among several parishioners greeting arriving guests with warm smiles and Mass programs. Hundreds arrived in time for the 12:30 p.m. liturgy, which filled the modern-styled church to capacity. Folding chairs in the vestibule accommodated the overflow and latecomers.
Bishop DiMarzio was the main celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrants included Msgr. John Delendick, pastor; Father Matteo Rizzo, former pastor; Father Michael Tedone, former parochial vicar; and Father John Amann, pastor, Holy Family, Canarsie. Deacon Jaime Varela, the bishop’s secretary, andretired parish Deacon Artie Cuccia, assisted on the altar.
Led by the adult and children’s choirs, the congregation rose to sing the entrance hymn, “The God of All Grace.” Jose Villanueva, music ministry director, later said he chose the song in honor of the many graces God has granted the parish over the last 50 years.
Founded on June 30, 1961, St. Jude’s was carved from another Canarsie parish, Holy Family, to serve local Irish and Italian families in an area once inhabited by the Canarsie Indians. The parish was incorporated on Oct. 31, 1961 and the earliest Masses were held in the Canarsie Theatres on Ave. L. Father Pitrone named the parish for St. Jude, to whom he had a special devotion.
Founding parishioners, Ann Poole, who worked on the fundraising campaigns to build the first and the present church, and Margie Davitt, remember those days. Father Pitrone, Davitt said, “was a good and holy priest” – with a great sense of humor. “He used to say, ‘Call me Father Pat Rooney,’ because he had a special love for the Irish.”
They recalled that ground was broken for the first church, a multipurpose chapel-auditorium in June, 1962, and completed in December, 1963. Over 240 students enrolled in the parish school when it opened three years later. Trinitarian Sisters staffed the school, 1967-69, until the Amityville Sisters of St. Dominic took charge.
The parish grew steadily through the 1980s with 800-1,000 weekly Mass attendees. There were 350 children in the parish school and 500 in the religious education program.
Having outgrown the original church, Bishop Francis J. Mugavero permitted the parish to start a fundraising campaign for a new church in February, 1985. The present church was built at a cost of $2.8 million and shortly after, the parish received permission to change its name to St. Jude Shrine Church.
Over the last decade, the parish has become more ethnically diverse, the convent was sold and the parish school was configured along with other cluster Catholic schools into Our Lady of Trust, which maintains a campus at St. Jude.
According to Msgr. Delendick, today there are 1,200 registered families, whose ethnic backgrounds span the globe from the Caribbean to Africa, South America to Southeast Asia, and India to Poland. Amid the newcomers, there are still Irish and Italians who founded the parish.
“We have a lot of people willing to work together. There is no hostility. It doesn’t matter where you come from. They all come together as one,” Msgr. Delendick said.
While three prayer groups, conducted in Creole, Spanish and English, honor parishioners’ diversity, the Holy Name Society, Junior Youth Group and 50-year-old Rosary Society, foster unity. One of the newest initiatives at the parish is the Canarsie Catholic Cluster Health Ministry, which coordinates health fairs and other health services for cluster parishes.
Parishioners marked this golden jubilee year with an Opening Mass in January, followed by several events, including a Sock Hop Dance, International Night, Sweetheart Dance, Prayer Breakfast and a Day of Reflection. The Mass and jubilee luncheon on Nov. 6 officially close the festivities, which were coordinated by a 12-member anniversary committee, headed by Migdalia Perez.
Bishop DiMarzio congratulated the parish on 50 years of teaching and sharing God’s Word in the Canarsie community. While the founding parishioners sacrificed financially to see the parish built, he told the current congregation that they, too, must make sacrifices if they wish to see the parish grow into the future.
“That’s how you will build this parish. The walls are here. Now it’s up to you to build this church community, to fill the pews and take care of others,” he said. He called upon parishioners to be evangelizers in their homes, workplaces and communities “by the way we live, what we teach and how we witness.”
The faith witness among parishioners and the Spirit present in the worship space is exactly what brings Merrill Silver to St. Jude’s every week. Her neighbor Yolanda, first introduced her to the church. Now, she not only attends Sunday Masses, but also a weekly faith-sharing group, led by Celeste Grillo, RCIA teacher.
“I’m not Catholic,” Silver said. “I was born Jewish and baptized Mormon but I feel the Spirit very strong here so I keep coming back. I pray to St. Jude because I know he has worked miracles in my life.”
Tessie Sugaste feels that she, too, has been blessed by miracles over the last 16 years at St. Jude’s. “Everyone is so warm. I truly feel Jesus Christ present among us,” she said.
She said her parish family, especially the priests and Sister Mary Stiefvater, D.W., pastoral associate, have shown her the face of God, especially during two bouts with cancer.
After her first diagnosis, she said, “Father Mike (Tedone) called me and said, ‘Tessie, come to my office. Let me cry with you.’ I felt so loved and that made it (the diagnosis) easier.”
Surrounded by her fellow parishioners, Carmelle Telemaque smiled. “We love each other, we elbow each other. We pray people through sickness and health. We feel this is truly a family community,” she said.
Looking to the future, Msgr. Delendick hopes the parish will “always be a welcoming place and continue to grow and expand with the people of God.”