We would like to share with you the great joy we experienced on August 16, 2011 the day of the consecration of the new church of St. Rocco in Avondale, Pennsylvania—a church the faithful Hispanic Catholics of the South Chester County have been waiting and praying for over the past thirty years.
Brief History of the “Misión Santa Maria”
The Hispanic apostolate in this area began about 30 years ago when a few priests began to come to celebrate Mass in Spanish in some of the churches in and around Avondale. From the beginning there was also a religious sister helping, Sister Juanita from a congregation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Fr. Frank Depman Arrives
In 1990, Fr. Frank Depman was sent to organize this new apostolate and in 1992 he created the mission called “Misión Santa Maria Madre de Dios,” with the goal of organizing all the Spanish apostolate of the five different parishes that were in the area. At the beginning, the Hispanic Catholic community was not comprised of families but rather of groups of men working in ‘hongueras’ (mushroom factories). With time they began to bring their families to join them and now there are more than 4,000 families in the parish. In the first year of catechism, I had 10 students and now there are more than 1,200.
Religious Sisters Serve in the Mission
Sister Juanita continued to help and to work with Fr. Frank, and later Sister Raquel and Sister Mimi, missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also joined the Mission. In 1995, our sisters, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, arrived.
Growth of the Community
The community has been growing considerably; it has really being a blessing of God. Every week Masses have been celebrated at each of the distinct parishes around the area (Assumption in West Grove, Sacred Heart in Oxford, Saint Patrick in Kennet Square and Saint Gabriel in New Garden). There grew to be 6 masses every weekend, as well as the masses for weddings, “Sweet Fifteens,” Baptisms, presentations of new-borns, etc. Sometimes we reached up to 9 or 10 masses per weekend. This was achieved, literally, by running from one place to another because of time conflicts. Long live the life of the missionaries! During the weekend after the inauguration of St. Rocco we had 13 celebrations, but now in our own parish. The potential for more apostolate is incredible.
Dedication and Consecration of a New Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia founded the St. Rocco Parish as a Personal or National Parish to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking Catholics in South Chester County. Only one year since the ground-breaking on August 16, 2010, the construction was completed. The Mass of the Dedication and Consecration took place on August 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM presided by His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali and concelebrated by auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese together with invited priests. We began with a procession from the center of the plaza of St. Rocco to the doors of the church. There Mr. Rocco Abissinio, the principal benefactor of the church, handed over the keys to the Cardinal who then handed them over to the pastor, Msgr. Frank, who commenced the celebration by formally opening the doors of the church. Once inside the church, the celebration began with the Liturgy of the Word and then transitioned to the Rite of the Consecration and Blessing of the Church. Everything was filled with very beautiful signs, like the anointing of the altar and the walls, the incensing, the illumination ofthe church lights, etc.
It was a very beautiful ceremony with so many people. It seemed to us that more than 2,500 people were present—of whom the great majority remained outside of the church. It looked like a sea of people. In any case, the number of people in attendance exceeded all our expectations.
Reception and Celebration
When finishing the religious celebration the “Chinelos,” a dance group, offered a dance to St. Rocco in the plaza of the church and then led the people in procession to the reception. This also surpassed our expectations, because we had prepared room for 800 people, but there were people on all sides! The food, like in the multiplication of the loaves, was enough and even had some left over. During the dinner we prepared a beautiful show where people of the community sang, danced, etc. There we all shared a moment of great joy. This was possible thanks to the aid of so many volunteers who from many months ago began to work and to organize the many details of the celebration, such as the food, cleaning of the church, positioning of tables, service, etc. Everyone was very excited during the preparations, and a climate of great joy reigned, a joy that only God can give to the soul.
Also Divine Providence helped to ensure that it did not rain during the celebration, since minutes before it had rained very heavily. Looking up at the sky we were surrounded by clouds, but above us it was as if there was a protective circle keeping out the arrival of the rain clouds; it seemed as though the Blessed Virgin Mary had protected us and covered us with her loving mantle.
Thanksgiving to God
We want to note that the great dream of having our own church has been made possible through the many graces received by the prayers and faith of hundreds of people during these years. Some of them are still here with us while other have gone ahead of us and enjoyed it from Heaven. Also we give many thanks for the help of so many priests, especially to Monsignor Frank and to the religious sisters who worked here in the past and who have left a part of their lives in this mission. With all our hearts, we can say that it was a great celebration in the Spirit.
We thank God for all the many benefits received and we entrust to your prayers for the continued fruits of the Mission, now the Parish of St. Rocco.
Sisters of the Convent of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Avondale, PA