St. Cecilia Catholic Church holds last services after 122 years
EXETER – With a final prayer and the ceremonial locking of the door, a religious institution with more than 100 years of service to its parishioners closed its doors for one last time on Sunday.
Finalizing a nearly 11-year process of consolidation, St. Cecilia Catholic Church offered its final Mass Sunday morning, as St. Barbara Parish consolidated its places of worship into one, St. Anthony’s Church on Memorial St.
A Corpus Christi parish liaison plan will also allow parishioners to attend Mass at Corpus Christi parish churches in West Pittston and Harding, with both parishes having a central pastor.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Mary Ann Kull, a member of St. Cecilia for more than 50 years, after Sunday mass ended and worshipers left the church for the last time. “I have so many wonderful memories here.”
Zachary Houston, parish altar server and member of St. Cecilia’s transition team, said they knew this day would come when the decision was made to consolidate the parish several years ago, starting with the closing of St. John the Baptist Church. on Schooley Avenue in 2008.
Still, he said, that didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
“I received my first communion, I was baptized, I had my first penance here,” Houston said. “The circle is complete and it’s very sad.”
Sunday Mass was led by the Reverend Michael E. Finn, who will retire early next month; we do not know who will take his place in Sainte-Barbe for the moment.
Saving the ritual closing ceremonies for last, Finn led his congregation through the service one last time: one last gospel, one last homily, one last communion offering.
During his homily, Finn took a moment to, in essence, praise St. Cecilia while looking to the future for the congregation.
“You’ve all been a part of this, and it’s tough,” Finn said. “But we will continue to come together and worship, regardless of the building.”
After the traditional Mass ended, Finn and Deacon Walter Janoski led the parishioners through the closing ritual of the church.
A hymn dedicated to Saint Cecilia was played on the church organ, followed by processions to the church’s baptismal font (where over 4,000 people have been baptized since the church opened in 1900 ), the cross, the statue of Sainte-Cécile then at the altar, a prayer said at each stop.
The morning’s work ended with the solemn closing of the doors of the church, carried out according to tradition by a former member of the church.
In this case, it was 91-year-old Dolores Seman who turned the key and officially closed the doors after 122 years of worship at St. Cecilia Catholic Church.
Sainte-Cécile Church was founded in 1900 and the church was officially inaugurated a year later. The first pastor was Reverend Patrick F. Quinnan, and all these years later Reverend Finn was the 16th and eventually the last pastor.
The parishioners were invited to go up to the altar one last time after the end of the closing ceremonies.
“I cried,” longtime parishioner Lucille Loyack said after the ceremony. “I’ve been here so long, I remember when the old church burned down.”
In 1975, a fire destroyed the original Sainte-Cécile Church, with the current building dedicated on August 26, 1977. Images of the night the old church burned down were displayed at the back of the church , as well as several photos of the two churches in all their glory.
Now that Sainte-Cécile has closed, Sainte-Barbe parish has only one church, the Saint-Antoine church.
Additionally, St. Barbara’s has also formed a bond with the nearby parish of Corpus Christi, and parishioners will be invited to worship at Immaculate Conception Church in West Pittston and Church of the Holy Redeemer in Harding.
“We are coming together to share a priest due to the shortage of priests, but the two parishes will remain separate entities,” Houston said. “With Father Finn retiring, I think that also accelerated the closure of St. Cecilia.”
And so, as parishioners said goodbye to Finn, they also said goodbye to a church that many have called home their entire lives.
“This church has been in existence for 122 years of witnessing to the faith,” Finn said. “But together, even as we say goodbye, we all belong to one church that is universal.”