Saint Joseph the Worker
100th Anniversary Mass of Saint Joseph Parish, Fort Wayne
I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate this 100th Anniversary Mass of your beloved parish. We gather on your patronal feast day, May 1st, the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XII on May 1, 1955. The Communist world was celebrating May Day, claiming this day as their own, a day for laborers. The Church established this day as a Christian feast, to highlight the true dignity of human labor in God’s creative plan. And how appropriate that the humble workman of Nazareth, Joseph the carpenter, was chosen by the Church as the one to highlight the dignity of workers. Saint Joseph personifies the man who works with his hands and who, through his work, provides and cares for his family out of love. We can imagine how, in his carpenter shop, Joseph patiently and lovingly taught his son, our Lord Jesus, the skills of carpentry. In fact, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus was even known as “the carpenter’s son.” Certainly Saint Joseph educated our Lord in the Jewish faith and the law of Moses, but in fulfilling his fatherly duties, he also taught him his trade, carpentry. Our Lord Himself sanctified and continues to sanctify human work, which He performed at the side of his earthly father, Saint Joseph.
The first parishioners of this parish were Italian. In Italy, there is great devotion to Saint Joseph. I am not surprised that this parish, founded by Italian Catholics, was given the title of Saint Joseph. As you probably know, a devout Italian layman named Loreto Starace, was the leader in organizing this parish. He appealed to the 4th Bishop of Fort Wayne, Bishop Herman Alerding, to establish an Italian parish. The bishop appointed an Italian priest, Father Loreto Monastero, to work on this endeavor. Mr. Starace and Fr. Monastero got to work. They established the Italian Benevolent Society named after Pope Pius X to assist sick and needy members of the Italian Catholic community. Father Monastero moved to Chicago and was replaced by another Italian priest, Father Antonio Petrilli. He ministered to the Italian faithful and worked with Mr. Starace on the project of establishing a parish. Others helped them and went door to door recruiting future parishioners and raising money. Finally, they were able to purchase a two-story house on the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Bass Street. The church was located on the ground floor and the rectory on the second floor. This was the humble beginning of Saint Joseph Parish, 100 years ago, in 1914. Within two years, a simple wood frame church was built on Taylor Street. Shortly thereafter, Saint Joseph School was established, staffed by the Sisters of Saint Agnes. In 1919, Saint Joseph’s became a territorial parish, no longer an Italian national parish. But two years later, the parish was suppressed. The church and school were sold. It seems the pastor had told the bishop that the parishioners were not supporting the parish and it was in heavy debt. The parishioners were understandably upset. After a year or two of turmoil, Bishop Alerding reestablished the parish and property was purchased here at the corner of Brooklyn and Hale in 1923. In 1924, a brick church and school was built. The Sisters of Saint Agnes returned. A new priest was assigned. After that rocky start, the parish experienced stability and growth. Much hard work led to big building projects in the 1950’s: a new rectory, then a new school in 1953, then the new church dedicated in 1961. And now here we are in 2014 with another exciting new beginning, the re-establishment of a stand-alone parish school.
There is so much to be thankful for today: 100 years of this community of faith. We remember the devout pioneers of the parish who worked so hard to build this parish. And all the parishioners through the years who have been so hard-working and generous. We remember the many priests and sisters who have served here. We give thanks to the Lord for the many blessings He has bestowed on Saint Joseph Parish the past 100 years. We look to the future with much hope. The parish has always served immigrants, beginning with the Italians 100 years ago and now a significant number of Latino parishioners. This is truly a Catholic parish, not only in name, but in deed, a community that welcomes all with the love of Christ.
I pray that you will continue to follow the example of Saint Joseph and his holiness. Saint Joseph was a humble carpenter, yet he is recognized as the patron saint of the Catholic Church. He is also the patron saint of workers. He is your patron saint. He teaches us so much. He did his humble trade with the virtue of industriousness. He teaches us to be industrious and not lazy in fulfilling our duties and in serving the mission the Lord entrusts to us, whatever our vocation. He did all for the glory of God and to support Jesus and Mary. He teaches us to love Jesus and Mary. Saint Joseph was a man of deep faith who was completely docile to God’s will and ready to serve God’s mysterious plan in the Child Jesus.
Saint Joseph was the protector, the guardian, of the Holy Family. I encourage you to continue to be devoted to him as your parish’s protector and guardian. Next to Joseph, we always find Mary and Jesus. In loving Saint Joseph, we are led to Jesus and Mary. May Saint Joseph intercede for you as you look to the future! May he help you to grow through your work of evangelization! May he help you most of all to grow in holiness, to grow in love of God and neighbor! May the Lord bless you with His abundant love and grace in this centennial year!