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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

021118 monroe annMONROE — Our Lady of Lourdes parishioners had even more reason to celebrate their patronal feast day this year, as the parish commemorated its 75th anniversary with Mass offered by Bishop Peter Jugis. He was pastor of the parish in 2003 when he received the call from Rome to become the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte.

Concelebrating the Mass were one of the parish’s longtime former pastors, Spiritan Father Ed Vilkauskas, now retired, and current pastor Father Benjamin Roberts.

“The 75th anniversary is a very important milestone in the history of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish,” Bishop Jugis said during his homily. “The first sentiment that must come to our hearts is that of gratitude to Almighty God for giving (Raleigh) Bishop Eugene McGuinness in the early 1940s the wisdom and the foresight to establish this parish here in Monroe, Union County.”

Bishop Jugis looked out over the church, filled to capacity, and said, “Look how the Lord has made us grow! We are still growing in Christ with each passing year. Our numbers are increasing – a sign of God’s blessing.”

Bishop Jugis outlined three reasons for the parish’s existence.

“First, we come together as a parish family to worship God, by offering to God the Sacrifice of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the most important work of the parish,” he explained. “What we do here is more important than anything else that what happens in any other building on the campus. This place, the church, is most important because the most important activity of any parish is worshiping God.”

The second reason for the parish, he continued is “for your salvation, for your sanctification, to make you holy and to prepare you for eternal life. If we are not trying to accomplish that goal, then why are we here? As a social group? A fraternal organization? No, we are here for the work of your salvation – to make sure each one of you gets to heaven, to prepare you for eternal life.”

The third purpose of a parish is to be a center of evangelization, he said. “We are here, yes, for our own salvation, but Jesus created a Church also, as Pope Francis says, to go out into the world, to be a leaven of God’s mercy, love, holiness and salvation to all the world.”

Father Benjamin Roberts also spoke a few words at the anniversary Mass, directing his comments to both former pastors.

“Thank you seems to be inadequate,” he said.

He continued by explaining that the motto of the seminary he attended, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, is “exiit qui seminat’ (‘the one who goes out and sows’).

“The reason it is the motto of the seminary is that the priest is sent out to sow the seed of God. We are not the harvesters. We are the sowers of the seed. St. Paul expresses the same sentiment when he says, ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’ There is something better that I can say to these two priests than ‘thank you.’ Your Excellency, Father Ed, behold your harvest!”

Parishioner Lorraine Michael attended Mass and staffed a table for the prayer shawl ministry in the narthex, accepting yarn donations from parishioners and handing out shawls to anyone who needed one. Bishop Jugis blessed the shawls and yarn donations after Mass, and Michael presented a few completed shawls to Bishop Jugis.

A member of the ministry for three years, Michael said, “I needed a niche, I wanted to do something; I couldn’t figure out what. When I heard about the prayer shawl committee, that was my open door. I love it because we find ways to help people.”
She loves the parish, she added. “I found my home. It’s nice. Here, everyone has open arms. We have a nice mixed group. We have a good Hispanic community and an Anglo community.”

Danny Gurley, a former Baptist who came into the Church four years ago at Our Lady of Lourdes and was baptized by Father Roberts, was emotional when he met Bishop Jugis in person for the first time and asked him to bless a rosary.

“I almost want to cry,” Gurley said. “He’s an amazing man, a very godly man.”

Carol Ford, who served as lector at Mass, is a longtime parishioner who has been active in several ministries over the years. She has been at the parish since relocating from the Northeast with her family in 1979.

“When I realized I was on the schedule to read today for the bishop, I was very excited,” Ford said. “The little chapel (the original church) was not full back then. You knew if a new person came in, which was pretty nice. It was 80 families then. We have seen massive growth.”

Father Vilkauskas has the distinction of being the longest-serving pastor in the parish’s 75-year history, serving from 1988 to 2000. He also served as the evangelization director for the Diocese of Charlotte during that time.

“I was here for the 50th anniversary celebration,” he recalled. “There were some of the original parishioners here and they had the stories and the tales from 1942. This parish is built on the grounds of the former Camp Sutton. The soldiers (from the Northeast) met young ladies here and married and they stayed with their brides in Monroe. Mass was at the priest’s house in Monroe then. The soldiers formed the core group, and stayed on.”

“This is a very active parish,” he said. “A very dynamic parish, like most of the diocese. (Unlike the Northeast) here, it’s keeping up with the growth.”

“Every priest is running in order to keep up!” he joked.

During his homily, Bishop Jugis reminded everyone gathered of the reason why they were there.

“Our purpose, here at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, is to be evangelizers – to take the love of Christ that we celebrate here and not keep it locked up within ourselves, but take the love of Christ that fills your hearts and carry it with you into all of your activities out there in the community – joyfully living your faith out there in the world, so that people can come to know of Jesus through you.

“This is the mission, this is why we are here.”

— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter

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