St. Mary’s parish anniversary: ceiling collapses, hope soars

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.”



COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.