The sheer size of a Catholic community often deters parishioners from gathering as one physical Body in Christ. Not at St. Matthew.
The increasingly bilingual parish west of 19th Avenue and Van Buren regularly gathers in prayer as a single community. The latest bilingual liturgy marked the parish’s 75th anniversary and was the only Mass offered Dec. 14.
Dense crowds filled the courtyard for the outdoor Advent liturgy alongside both hallways of the adjoining school, which doubles as parish religious education classrooms. English and Spanish-speaking Catholics also filled the plaza and surrounded the fountain where the old rectory once stood.
Longtime parishioners, members of the Knights of Columbus, parish seminarian Miguel Solis, Catholic school students and notable members from the greater community all played important parts in the liturgy. The Mass and breakfast reception that followed focused on honoring the past and embracing a future of continued social justice efforts guided by faith.
Pat Moase, a parishioner since 1949 and whose four kids received their sacraments and Catholic education at St. Matthew, lit the third candle of the Advent wreath as Mass began. She said the parish has welcomed and bid farewell to a lot of priests including nearly 20 years with the Marist Fathers.
The community makeup has changed a bit too. Irish immigrants who came to Arizona to build the railroad built St. Matthew three-tenths of a mile away. It remains a home for Catholic faithful, many who are immigrants today.
“It’s still very welcoming,” Moase said, noting comments from visiting Catholics. “There’s always food involved. That’s important.”
For the anniversary, instead of a potluck, caterers from UMOM’s Helpings Café, Catering and Market served a buffet style brunch. Proceeds provide job skills and confidence for clients working their way out of homelessness.
It was one of the parish’s ways of modeling a challenge Fr. Ray Ritari, pastor the last 20 years, issued to Massgoers in the 12 months leading up to the anniversary. He challenged parishioners to commit 75 acts of kindness or justice — roughly six per month — in honor of St. Matthew’s 75-year history.
St. Matthew’s 75th
75th anniversary photo album (from a parishioner’s perspective)
“St. Matthew’s was established to be a Roman Catholic community that testified to the light of Jesus Christ, to be people of compassion and justice. That is the responsibility of every parish,” Fr. Ritari said during his bilingual homily. “St. Matthew’s has indeed been a part of the social fabric of Phoenix for 75 years. Those who came before us and each person here and now are the living stones and the breathing temples of justice and goodness.”
Massgoers now have a more tangible reminder of one faithful Catholic who sought justice. Fr. Ritari dedicated a newly completed icon of St. Toribio Romo Gonzalez of Mexico during the anniversary celebration. St. Toribio is known as the patron saint of immigrants and some say he intercedes for those trying to cross the border.
Fr. Bill McNichols, an iconongrapher from the Diocese of Santa Fe — who also celebrated its 75th anniversary this month — was on hand to explain the piece. He said the saint is out there healing and helping people, just like Jesus did. Their only agenda was to accept others and heal them.
The icon features a small, scared boy and St. Toribio wearing a red stole to recall his martyrdom. It’s set against a nighttime desert with a moon projecting shades of a dark green sky.
“I wanted to capture his pushing away danger and holding the hand of the little boy and saying, ‘I am with you. We are going to do this in a way that lasts the longest, a way that will be for all time,’” Fr. McNichols explained to Massgoers.
St. Matthew Parish
320 N. 20th Drive
The original Moase family, plus two grandchildren, attended the parish’s anniversary Mass. Mindy Moase Boyles, the youngest daughter, said the family-oriented community she recalled growing up stayed and grew stronger. She recalled with her mom parish fiestas where everyone shared their gifts. Boyles said fond memories of parish life keep growing.
“Today was just another one to add to the list.”