St. Jerome celebrates 50 years parish ministry

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Eudist Father Andres Arango speaks to the congregation during the 50th anniversary Mass May 6.

Some celebrations simply can’t effectively be confined to one day.

Like when a diverse parish with nearly 2,000 families, six well-known music directors in its heritage and decades of history behind it turns 50. St. Jerome Parish, on 35th Avenue north of Peoria, wrapped up its 10-month 50th anniversary celebration May 6 with a Mass, picnic and unveiling of a new icon that will carry Catholics into the future.

The icon, which hangs on the north side of the hall, now greets parishioners leaving both daily Masses and all six weekend liturgies. Pete Torzala, a parishioner for 25 years, designed the bronze image in honor of the parish he calls “a place of immeasurable faith and love.”

The faith of West Valley Catholics was evident from the start. St. Louis the King Parish in Glendale was established the same day as St. Jerome just four-and-a-half miles to the southwest.

Some 800 people showed up to St. Jerome’s first Mass in a nearby school cafeteria. Betty Ockenfels and her family were among them. Her late husband was present for the groundbreaking.

Ockenfels and her daughter, Sally Ann, are still there. They are among several original parishioners and one of two founding families who were gift bearers at Mass.

“The priests were wonderful all the way,” Ockenfels said.

Eudist Father Andrés Arango, pastor since 2005, is St. Jerome’s fifth shepherd. He selected the bilingual anniversary theme, “Together for the Mission. Juntos para la misión” to show the fruit born through the graces of unity, respect, love and faith.

St. Jerome is home to several healthy ministries including charismatic prayer and healing, perpetual adoration and the parish school where a lot of staff are also alumni. So many attend the Spanish liturgy that a video feed regularly plays in the courtyard to better accommodate the overflow.

Fr. Arango told The Catholic Sun he hopes parishioners view the anniversary celebration as Phase I of parish life and renew their commitment to respond to new challenges in love.

Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general for the diocese and moderator of the Curia, celebrated the anniversary Mass — both Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares were en route from Rome.

“The Lord promises that we’ll bear great fruit if we abide in Him,” Fr. Adamson said in his homily.

He pointed out the red anniversary t-shirt most of the overflowing church was wearing as a reminder of the vibrant spirit within a community. It’s lived out through acts of charity, joyful prayer and celebration, peace, patience and the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, he said.

Msgr. Richard Moyer, who helped build the current church and other buildings, and Fr. Dan McBride, who went to the parish school, concelebrated the Mass.

The anniversary weekend also featured a special concert featuring six current and former parish musicians. That included Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, a Camaldolese monk, Rory Cooney and Paul Hillebrand.

Parishioners also held a picnic on the school grounds. Banners celebrating many cultures and languages carried on the anniversary theme. Festivities also included a “Fatherball” basketball game for dads and priests and a youth softball game on Mischke Field.

Rose Mischke, St. Jerome’s math teacher, and softball and basketball coach — among a host of other titles — celebrated her 40th anniversary at the school April 21. She started St. Jerome’s sports program and student council and helped select school colors and a mascot.

Students, staff and alumni unveiled a Mother Teresa garden in her honor for the anniversary.

“The eighth-grade program is all about service, caring for others. That’s Mother Teresa,” Mischke said.

The parish community celebrated service the only way they knew how: with decorations, photo tributes and a five-tiered cake — plus eight others decorating each side — all crafted by parishioners.

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