Bishop Walker Nickless blesses the Stations of the Cross at St. Paul Catholic Church in Scranton during a Mass on July 6. Bishop Nickless said that the closing of a church is one of the most difficult things he has to perform as a bishop. St. Paul Catholic Church was established 92 years ago but held its final Mass Saturday.
Bishop Walker Nickless blesses the Stations of the Cross at St. Paul Catholic Church in Scranton during a Mass on July 6. Bishop Nickless said that the closing of a church is one of the most difficult things he has to perform as a bishop. St. Paul Catholic Church was established 92 years ago but held its final Mass Saturday.
July 11, 2013



SCRANTON

As Bishop Walker Nickless celebrated the final Mass at St. Paul Church Saturday, he acknowledged that the joy once experienced in the church was now replaced with emptiness, mourning and grief.

St. Paul was established as an official parish by Bishop Edmond Heelan in 1921. The closing Mass in Scranton was concelebrated by Father Don Ries, pastor, and previous pastors Father Dan Guenther and Father Ed Tiedeman.

"For these past 92 years, God's mercy and love have been celebrated within the walls of the church and for communities who have worshipped here. Today, sadly, it must end," the bishop said.

Bishop Nickless noted this is the fifth time he has celebrated a final Mass in one of the diocesan churches.

"It's one of the most difficult things that I have to perform as bishop, and I wish it didn't have to be," he said. "But as your pastor and parish leadership concluded, the time has come to bring the great endeavor of St. Paul's Parish to an end."

With few people and families left, scarce resources for support, fewer priests and the availability of other neighboring parishes, the bishop said those were all signs "that pointed to an end."

"This church has been a beautiful place for you and for many before you," he said. "Here you have been able to worship God and hold the sacrifice of the Mass. Here you have gathered to hear God's word spoken in Scripture. Here you have received the beautiful healing sacrament of confession. Here you were baptized, married and confirmed and from here many of you and those who have gone before us received the rite of Christian burial."

And yet, the bishop noted, they gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, a word which means thanksgiving.

Despite the sadness, he said, "We give thanks to God, first and foremost for our Catholic faith and for our savior Jesus Christ. In this parish and in this church, we have grown in that faith, and our Catholic, Christian faith does not end simply because a building is no longer in use. We are the body of Christ."

Bishop Nickless assured the parishioners they will be welcomed at other parishes where they will remain in the same, one faith. Wherever they go to Mass next Sunday, the bishop told them, God would be with them to offer comfort.

As the liturgy drew to a close, Bishop Nickless led a procession of thanksgiving that is part of the ritual for a church closing. The bishop, accompanied by Father Ries and the altar servers, processed to, prayed at and blessed several key parts of the church such as the Stations of the Cross, reconciliation room, statues, altar and so on.

At the conclusion of the process, the bishop handed sacred oils of the parish to Father Ries, where he was instructed to have them mingled with the oils of other parishes where St. Paul parishioners would join.

The Mass was emotional for many St. Paul parishioners.

Teresa Skalla said she met her husband at St. Paul's and they were married in the church 25 years ago.

"All of our kids were baptized here and had their sacraments here," she said with emotion in her voice and eyes. The closure of the parish "is very hard. It's especially hard for the older parishioners who saw this church built and never thought it would be gone so soon."

Skalla, who plans to join St. Joseph Church in Jefferson, was the master of ceremonies for a program held in the church after Mass. The program recapped the parish's history and highlighted some of the significant events of the parish, such the present church building being erected in 1961.

Letters from former pastors were read, and priests offered comments about their time in the parish.

Father Tiedeman pointed out he was supposed to go on a year sabbatical at Notre Dame but Bishop Lawrence D. Soens sent him to St. Paul's instead - to which the priest called his year at the University of Scranton.

"Even though I was here just one year, I was invited to almost every home that I could imagine because I couldn't cook," he said. "It was a wonderful year with wonderful people and wonderful faith."

Father Guenther said Scranton was his first pastorate.

"It's so nice to be back - but it's sad to come to say goodbye," he said. "The first parish where any priest serves as pastor always stays in his heart. I came here in July of 1989, first time being pastor, so I was nervous, but you were so extremely kind, hospitable and welcoming. I thank you for that."

Father Guenther, who was diocesan vocations director at that time, also thanked them for all of the assistance they provided to him in doing that work.

The current pastor, Father Ries, described his two years at St. Paul as wonderful.

"I've enjoyed my time here," he said, adding that given on his next birthday he will be 80, it is time for retirement.

"I've had 54 years around the diocese and I've enjoyed it all."



(This feature was written for The Globe, the publication of the Diocese of Sioux City. It is reprinted here with permission.)