St. John Catholic installs new priest Date coincides with church anniversary

April 19, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The sun shone brightly yesterday on the cornerstone marking the April 18, 1865, founding of St. John Catholic Church and on the Rev. Arthur F. Valenzano.

Led by Bishop P. Francis Murphy, auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Father Valenzano walked past the stone and down the church's center aisle as he formally assumed the leadership of the Westminster parish church.

He became the newest in a long line of pastors who have led the Catholic parish, one of the largest in the archdiocese.

He called the date of his installation -- coinciding with the church's 128th anniversary -- an ideal, although accidental, choice.

"I am both humbled and blessed to be part of a parish rich in faith, spirit and history," said the priest, who in the two months since his arrival has come to be "Father Art" for St. John's nearly 3,400 families.

About 800 of the parishioners joined yesterday's celebration of his formal installation during a Mass celebrated by the bishop.

"I want to celebrate with you this installation in the name of Archbishop William Keeler," said Bishop Murphy from an altar covered in traditional Easter flowers. "Father Art is entrusted with caring for your parish, teaching, sanctifying and leading you in the diocese and the worldwide church."

The congregation applauded after the bishop introduced a beaming Father Valenzano.

"I am glad you applauded," said the bishop with a laugh. "Now we can continue with the rest of the ceremony."

Several parishioners presented their pastor, appointed to St. John in January, with symbols of his ministry and his new position. The symbols included the formal parish documents, books of Scripture and Catholic liturgy, a priestly stole, which Father Valenzano placed around his neck, and holy oils.

As the priest held the newly presented Bible before the congregation, he gave "praise to the Lord for this holy community."

Bernadette McKeever, 7, walked solemnly up the center aisle carrying a wicker collection basket.

"We present to you this offering of our material possessions, as a sign of our willingness to share our resources," said the child, as she read her part flawlessly.

Before Mass, Bernadette had eagerly volunteered to be part of the service.

"Some people were shy, but I said, 'I'll do it,' " she said. "The bishop shook my hand when I finished."

During his brief homily -- "Father Art told me not to talk for long" -- the bishop spoke of pastoral duty.

"The pastor is the keeper and speaker of the revealed word of God," said the bishop. "Father Art brings extraordinary pastoral experience to you and great humanity to call forth the gifts of this community."

For the past six years, Father Valenzano, 43, has served as pastor of St. William of York parish in Baltimore.

After his ordination in 1975, he served as associate pastor at St. Ambrose and St. Mary of the Assumption parishes in Baltimore.

Bishop Murphy's homily also included a "grateful remembrance" of Monsignor Joseph Antoswzewski, who had served the parish "kindly and faithfully" for 20 years until his death in July.

The bishop thanked all those who had helped manage the parish in the months preceding the new pastor's appointment.

He said he had great hope for the parish, a hope symbolized by the Easter candle burning on the altar.

"It is as though we are lighting a candle after midnight and saying to the darkness, 'I beg to differ.' "

While parishioners have great expectations of their priests, the bishop reminded them, "He is not a lone ranger. He will depend on all of you."

The prelate encouraged the congregation to "work together to develop a vision of who you are and who you will be at the millennium. People without vision perish."

After the sermon, members of the new pastor's immediate family carried the Eucharistic offering to the altar.

At the end of Mass, Father Valenzano said he couldn't let his congregation leave without thanking them for his "warm welcome." He said he felt fortunate to be at St. John.

"I give thanks for the call to the priesthood and the privilege of serving God's people," he said. "I ask for your prayers and pledge my continued prayers for you."

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