SUN CITY — The community of St. Elizabeth Seton, known as “a parish with heart,” has been beating strong for 40 years.
Its members are eager to share talents and resources as a sign of their faith and as a way to embody the parish’s mission: Gather us together … as we serve one another.
The faithful gathered to honor the parish’s founders and history Jan. 31. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Mass with five other priests concelebrating. A reception followed at the Westbrook Village Country Club blocks away in Peoria.
“It is a wonderful community,” said Mary Rodgers, 97, a longtime resident. Rodgers was one of the first lectors in the parish in 1976 and resumed her duties for the anniversary Mass.
“We have been blessed with such wonderful priests here at this parish and I knew every one of them,” she said. “We have about 1,700 members now and while I am unable to lector regularly anymore, I still come to Mass every Sunday.”
The Sun City parish, the third in the retirement community, was established Sept. 16, 1976. It was essentially a year to the day that the American saint was canonized. Fr. Paul Smith served as the parish’s first pastor for approximately 300 families.
A groundbreaking in May 1978 paved the way for the hall and church building. Parishioners began using both just over a year later and still do today although some building and remodeling occurred under the last three pastors.
The parish’s Deacon Tone Room and Library were built in the ‘90s under the direction of Fr. Joseph Gillespie. He retired in 2000 with Fr. Franklin Bartel, his successor, reorganizing the parish, remodeling the church and converting space into classrooms and meeting rooms.
Fr. Joseph McGaffin is finishing his sixth year as the sixth pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton. He has remodeled the parish offices, updated landscaping, converted a fountain into a garden, erected a memorial wall and spearheaded many other updates.
On the 40th anniversary, Bishop Olmsted invited the congregation to look back to all who have walked through the doors and in humble gratitude to turn around and trust that God has our lives in His hands. Belief in God must be celebrated, the bishop said. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had that gift when she entered the Church as a convert to the faith.
“She went to Italy for the health of her husband who died a few days after arriving, ” he said. “She suffered greatly for her faith with her friends and family deserting her, but her faith grew despite her suffering.”
Bishop Olmsted explained that when Jesus allows us to suffer for our faith, the faith could grow exponentially.
“The scripture is fulfilled each day; Jesus used the word today over and over. When He met with the tax collector Zacchaeus, He said, ‘Today I must visit this house,’ and after they had a meal together, He said, ‘today, salvation has come to this house,’” he explained. “On the cross with the thief hanging next to Jesus, He said, ‘Today you will be with me,’ and when He taught the apostles to pray, He said, ‘Give us this day our daily bread. We cannot live on yesterday’s faith.”
“Be grateful for the Eucharist,” the bishop said. “St. Augustine said the effect of our daily bread is we become what we receive. Today, let us hear His voice and rejoice.”
Msgr. Jan Olowin, who concelebrated the Mass, honored the ancestors, pastors, priests, sisters and current members affiliated with St. Elizabeth Seton Parish.
“Pope Francis asked that we take the message out to the world that we are a Church of Mercy and Benediction,” he said. “We ask for blessings of the present, hope for the future and take our gifts to the Lord in this Jubilee year.”
— By Karen Mahoney, The Catholic Sun.