FLUSHING — St. Michael’s, Flushing, welcomed Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on Sept. 22 for a dedication Mass that highlighted the parish known for its diversity.
Bishop DiMarzio first blessed the parish’s school — now St. Michael’s Catholic Academy, previously Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Academy, a name change recognized by the state at the start of the school year. The school building also just underwent renovations, which involved repointing the whole structure and a deep cleaning. The school is more than 100 years old.
Every Sunday, the parish celebrates Mass in three languages — English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese — with a Mass in Tagalog, the language of the church’s Filipino community, on the third Sunday of each month.
At the dedication Mass, readings were done in Tagalog, Spanish, English and Mandarin. The church has parishioners from almost 50 countries, according to pastor Father John Vesey, and has seven Masses every Sunday. Some services were cancelled on Sept. 22 to encourage parishioners to attend the dedication Mass.
“We become one family through Christ who shed his blood for us,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “We’re blood relatives. We’re brothers and sisters through Christ, who died for each one of us. That’s what we have to understand about the church. It’s a big family that has great diversity, but is very united.”
While St. Michael’s is a diverse parish, the fastest-growing segment is Chinese. About 60 percent of students in the school are Chinese, and since 2014, 146 Chinese adults have gone through St. Michael’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. About 30 Chinese just began the journey toward next year’s Easter Vigil. About two-thirds of those in the RCIA program are Chinese.
Sister Binlin Ruan, O.L.O.C., a pastoral associate at St. Michael’s and an immigrant from China, see the Diocese of Brooklyn as welcoming and open to everyone, an attitude that attracts Chinese. Sister Binlin said some people come from China alone and are seeking community. Many of them find a family at St. Michael’s.
Father Vesey has been at St. Michael’s for almost six years. He had spent 20 years as a missionary priest in Paraguay and Guatemala and another nine in China. He speaks the languages of all of his parishioners, and knows the history of their church, which was founded in 1833.
“(This morning) is a gift from God,” he said after the dedication Mass. “St. Michael’s has always been a place that received immigrants. Fifty-two years ago, when the boatload came from Cuba, St. Michael’s was the receiving parish for the Cuban community into the diocese. Our church was built by Irish immigrants.”
Bishop DiMarzio also blessed the left side of the sacristy, which was repaired after being damaged by a fire over two decades ago. The other half will be done as part of a larger project to renovate the church, which will involve repointing and other projects to beautify the community’s worship space.
That work has begun. Men in the parish’s Hispanic community have already started a project to refinish every pew and are being joined by members of the parish’s Chinese population, according to Father Vesey.
The collaboration is something Bishop DiMarzio said in his homily is a hallmark of the St. Michael’s community. He said the parish does what it can for the least of its brothers and sisters, and noted the cooperation goes beyond language and culture.
“They’re really involved,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “They’re volunteering. That’s all sweat equity. They’re giving their own work. They may not have the money to give, but they give in work, which is worth a lot of money.”
The dedication Mass was a symbol of the new generation of immigrants rebuilding the Catholic Church at St. Michael’s. It brought together the Hispanic parishioners, who continue to be a driving force in the parish, and those who have been in Queens and at St. Michael’s for generations with those from Asia, many energized in their newfound faith.
“It really shows the universality of the church,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “It’s a new Pentecost. Our diocese is a new Pentecost. Everybody, different languages and cultures, are united in one church.”