By Barb Arland-Fye
We welcomed an Archbishop-elect and three priests who previously served our parish during a 50th anniversary celebration that felt like a faith family reunion at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire.
The special occasion was the 50th anniversary of our parish center, built in 1973. Longtime members say the parish center served as our worship site until construction of the church building in 1979. A massive snowstorm that year caused the cave-in of the parish center’s roof, which ultimately led to construction of the new church building, dedicated in 1980.
Excitement has been building for weeks — as much for the clergy who would celebrate with us as the anniversary itself. Parishioners past and present RSVP’d for the catered meal served after Saturday night Mass on Sept. 23.
Attending Mass on Saturday night is a privilege that my family (and I suspect many other families) take for granted. Back in 1969, when St. Henry Parish in LeClaire and St. James Parish in Princeton merged to form Our Lady of the River Parish, celebrating a Vigil Mass on Saturday nights required special permission.
Father Anthony Conrad, the pastor at the time, wrote a letter to then-Bishop Gerald O’Keefe “requesting permission to celebrate a Vigil Mass on Saturday evenings,” Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula told the gathering at the anniversary celebration.
He shared an excerpt from the letter: “I believe we are progressing nicely on our way to becoming a parish community. The community spirit seems to be growing as we already see a few of the more devout wandering souls return for Mass and offer their personal assistance. Our Parish Council continues to be enthusiastic and solidly behind my personal efforts.”
Our Lady of the River has welcomed 10 pastors to serve its parishioners — from Father Conrad to our current pastor, Father Apo Mpanda. The other pastors who served us were Fathers Thomas Doyle, James Conroy, John Gallagher, Timothy Sheedy, John Hynes, Stephen Ebel, Msgr. Leo Feeney and Joseph Wolf.
Father Wolf, our longest serving pastor (from 2008-2020) and Fathers Gallagher and Ebel concelebrated Mass for our anniversary celebration at which Archbishop-elect Zinkula presided and Deacon Matt Levy assisted. Seeing the priests and the archbishop-elect together at the altar moved me. I was not alone. “My favorite part of the celebration was the Mass,” parishioner Janice Vrombaut told me. “My heart was so filled with gratitude as I looked upon Bishop Zinkula, four priests and our deacon behind the altar.”
“It was a grand celebration. Beautiful people with tremendous faith,” Father Wolf told me. “Brought back a cascade of memories. Needed a few tissues ….”
During his homily, Archbishop-elect Zinkula focused on the readings for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time and specifically on Matthew’s “unsettling Gospel parable” (20: 1-16a). In that parable, the landowner hired laborers for his vineyard at different times throughout the day but paid each one the same wage at day’s end. “God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone,” the archbishop-elect said, quoting Pope Francis. “During the next 50 years, I encourage you to strive to be individuals and a parish that is not only just, but even more so, merciful,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula told us.
Saying goodbye to pastors over the years and soon, our archbishop-elect, makes my heart ache. The bishops, priests and deacons who become a part of our faith family are just that — family! God brought these religious leaders into our lives to guide us toward our eternal salvation. That is a great comfort!
Before and after Mass, parishioners were eager to catch up with our former pastors and to thank Archbishop-elect Zinkula for leading our diocese. We wished him well as he prepares to lead the Dubuque Archdiocese, beginning Oct. 18.
During the meal in the parish hall afterward, he praised all of us for our full, conscious and active participation in the Mass, so evident in our singing and responses, he said. We are a family of faith.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)