He was so proud to show me around the church. “Those windows came from St. Vincent De Paul and these came from St. Bernadette. I have to show you the St. Bernadette chapel!…” I had not met him before but his name was familiar. The family had been in the area a long time.
I had the pleasure of attending Palm Sunday Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Vienna, OH. My parents and I made the short drive to the new church. We went early, expecting a crowd based on our past experience at this church. It filled up fast as leaders in pews lead us through the rosary, each one in a different location taking one of the decades. The organist and I went to high school together at Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage, PA. We both studied piano with Sr. Mary Daniel at the convent in downtown Sharon. Joan, the organist, went on to study music as her profession.
“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mk 10:27
The real story is the parish community. St. Thomas the Apostle was formed as part of a reconfiguration plan for parishes in the diocese of Youngstown. The history on the website notes
“This Reconfiguration Plan called for the merger of St. Bernadette and St. Vincent de Paul Parishes. General parish meetings began to be held in June of 2010 as to how we will proceed to work together to ensure Catholicism in this part of Trumbull County in the future.” The new church was dedicated in July 2016.
The thoughtful planning of the church facility respected and valued the history of the two original parish buildings and their people.. Through incorporating familiar furniture, windows, altar cloths and other materials, the parishioners from St. Vincent de Paul and St. Bernadette were able to maintain their sense of connection to the history of their parishes. Many of these items were donated by past members of their families, and in some cases bear the family names. The new church is modern and open, but there are signs of history throughout the facility. In a space the parishioners could embrace and celebrate, the Holy Spirit has been able to act. Since 2016 the parish has grown into a vibrant, welcoming community. This is evident in each person a visitor meets (this is not my family’s regular parish) as they walk up to the door to be greeted.
That energy continued through Mass in prayer responses and singing and even the welcome as we exited Mass. My guide, an older man, I met as we were walking out of Mass. I commented on how much I enjoy the window behind the altar, which was his prompt to tell me about how the parishes were represented. (That window is mostly clear glass with a stained glass center section depicting a contemporary crucifix. A beautiful traditional crucifix with corpus hangs in front of it from the ceiling of the sanctuary. Together they make quite an impact). I asked him about the community. He was happy to talk about the great people and inspiring pastor and of course, welcomed us back any time!
St. Thomas the Apostle parish is in a small rural Ohio town. St.Vincent de Paul was in Vienna and St. Bernadette was in an even smaller town. Both were stagnating and starting to decline. The growth and vibrancy of the new parish are not accidental. It is the combination of diocesan leadership to empower priests as leaders, a focus on mission and evangelization, and the commitment of the local community that sparked the positive energy. Restructuring does not mean continued decline. On the contrary, the new start can be the opening for the spark of the Holy Spirit to take hold!
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.