150th Anniversary of St. Bernard Parish, Wabash
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
You probably know the history of the beginnings of your parish community. We know from our historical records that there were German and Irish Catholics here in Wabash at least 30 years before the parish was established. In fact, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States, Father Stephen Badin, who is buried at Notre Dame, came here in 1834 to minister to the small Catholic community. But it was 30 years later, in 1864, when Father John Ryan, the pastor of Saint Patrick’s in Lagro, began the building of the first Saint Bernard Church. That church on Maple Street was exchanged for a Methodist church, a larger building, the second Saint Bernard church in the year 1900. Another very historic day in the history of the parish was the opening of the parish school in 1922. And then the building of the present school in 1951. Catholic education has been strong in Wabash for 92 years. And we also remember today the building of this present church, dedicated in 1953, a beautiful testament to the faith of the Catholic community of Wabash, this beautiful French-Gothic style church. Every time I come here I admire the magnificent stained-glass windows, particularly those of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the choir, maybe the most beautiful in the diocese. Saint Bernard, your patron saint, had great devotion to the Mother of God. Your devotion to her continues that of earlier parishioners who adorned this church with these beautiful windows.
Today, we celebrate 150 years of Catholic life and worship in Wabash. We celebrate the faith that has been lived and passed on for all these years here at Saint Bernard Parish. It is the same faith that was professed by our first pope, Saint Peter, in today’s Gospel, who replied to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” with the great profession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the faith that Father Badin, Father Ryan, and priests throughout these 150 years have preached here at Saint Bernard’s. We remember all these priests in our prayers today. And it is the faith that was taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, along with so many lay teachers, of Saint Bernard School these past 92 years. It was the faith of those first Irish and German parishioners and all who followed them, who made so many sacrifices to build the churches and schools, to build this community as a family of faith. These ancestors in the faith professed what Saint Peter professed and what we profess today, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
After Simon made that great profession of faith, revealed to him by the Father, Jesus gave him the name Peter, meaning Rock. He said to him: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Our Lord gave to Peter and to his successors, the popes through the ages, authority and primacy in the Church, guaranteeing the unity of faith of the Christian community through the ages. How blessed we are to belong to the Church Jesus founded and instituted with Saint Peter and his successors as the permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And we have the promise of Jesus that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against His Church. This gives us much hope and confidence in the midst of troubles and challenges, even attacks. I think today of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and the Middle East who have fled their homes or even faced death with courageous faith, rather than deny their faith in Christ. Satan and evil still operate in the world, but we know and trust Jesus’ promise to Peter that neither death nor the devil will prevail against His Church.
Jesus also promised to entrust Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We heard in our first reading God’s promise to place the key of the House of David on the shoulders of Eliakim. The chief steward of the kingdom of David possessed the keys – he was the senior official who held the most powerful government position in Israel under the king. The keys Jesus gave to Peter signify that Peter is given Christ’s authority to govern the Church, like Jesus’ prime minister. Jesus is the king. Peter and his successors are the stewards, the caretakers of Christ’s Church. That’s why we call the pope “the vicar of Christ.”
Today’s Gospel recalls for us the primacy of the Pope. When Saint Bernard’s Parish was founded, the pope was Blessed Pius IX, the same pope who established the diocese of Fort Wayne in 1857. We should remember in our prayers today the 266th successor of Saint Peter, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. As Catholics, we are called to be united in faith and love with our Holy Father.
In celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary, besides remembering with gratitude the rich history of this parish, it is important to think about the present and future. We reflect on the parish’s mission to build up the Body of Christ here in Wabash: to continue to spread the faith, to ensure the strong Catholic upbringing of our children and young people, to reach out with love to those who are not practicing the faith, to serve the sick and the poor, to console the suffering, and to help one another to grow in holiness. I wish to encourage you in your mission of evangelization. A truly vibrant parish is one that reaches out to others and is not turned in on itself.
In this city, the first in the world to be lit with electricity, may Saint Bernard Parish be a light of faith and life! The faith professed by Saint Peter, the faith professed here for 150 years, the faith we celebrate today, is a supernatural gift and a light that guides us every day. May this light increase in you and in this parish community! May Mary our Mother and Saint Bernard guide you along your continuing pilgrimage of faith!