Some parishes would take the sky literally falling as a cause for panic, especially if this happened a week before its golden anniversary celebration, complete with a visit from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.
St. Mary’s parish in Greeley, however, refused to be ruffled when part of the ceiling of the church collapsed on Saturday, Aug. 15, while a visiting priest was hearing confessions, in between a wedding and the evening Mass. No one was hurt, a fact parishioners say they thank God for.
“We’re happy that if fell down when we weren’t there, because where we sit is exactly where it fell,” parishioner John Roessig said.
The parish community immediately began to think about where they would hold the Saturday vigil Mass. Parishioners heard that Mass would be at the parish hall, so they began to grab folding chairs and set up the space. Roessig said they were done in 15 minutes. Pastor Father James Goggins said he was not surprised to hear that his parish reacted with such resilience:
“It told met hey have their priorities in the right place. They’re helping each other, their faith is strong.”
The vigil Mass went smoothly, but then there was the matter of completely needing to reorganize the parish’s 50th anniversary, an event they had been planning for five years.
First they had to wait for inspections by an architect, structural engineer, asbestos abater, the City of Greeley, the fire department, insurance adjusters and the archdiocese.
“The baker and the candlestick maker should have been here, too,” Roessig said.
The official diagnosis was that the drywall adhesive on the ceiling de-laminated. IN other words, the glue gave out. Unfortunately, the inspectors also found asbestos. It would be months before the building would be usable again. The anniversary committee learned this on Tuesday, three days before the celebration was due to begin. Parishioners and pastor alike described this emergency as a “blessing.”
“Everyone has banded together. Everything’s just fallen into place. We’ve had some challenges we had to overcome, but it’s just been wonderful,” Roessig said.
“Strangely enough, it’s kind of like this disaster with the ceiling has been a mixed blessing. Everyone has responded with joy,” Father Goggins said.
The celebration began Friday with a concert in the parish hall. The archbishop and all the living former pastors of the parish concelebrated a Mass on Saturday, which had to be held in the gym due to the high turnout. During his homily, the archbishop commended the parish’s faith, and encouraged them to continue to grow in it by spending personal time meditating on the text of John 6.
“Just as 50 years ago, the people of Greeley had the faith to build a new church, to build a new place for the faith to be proclaimed, so too we are we blessed in that. And so too do we give thanks to God for the consistent celebration of the Eucharist in this parish. And so too are we called to continue that,” Archbishop Aquila said.
Father Goggins gave a short address at the end of the liturgy, in which he thanked the parishioners for their communal and optimistic spirit.
“Little by little, we have worked together to make all of this happen. Archbishop, this great community came together, and I didn’t hear one complaint. I didn’t hear one bitter person, one piece of negativity. Everybody was so positive and generous and helpful,” he said.
Father Goggins also said that having the archbishop present at the celebration was heartening for his congregation.
“The most important thing for something like this was to have our shepherd with us. He gave us a shot in the arm spiritually,” Father Goggins said. “Our anniversary is not so much about the past—the past is over. It’s about the future. That’s why it was so important to have our shepherd, Archbishop Aquila, here as we prepare for the future.”