A year of celebrating 100 years of worship and ministry for St. Peter Catholic Church in Geneva has strengthened the parish's unity, set the stage for more youth involvement and proven a strong faith during challenging times.
A cross-section of parishioners of all ages shared those messages Thursday night while reflecting on the past and future of St. Peter as the church approaches the final weeks of its centennial celebration.
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Youth ministry participants Mike Rogers, Aaron Volk and Emily Wulfkuhle joined adults Matt Schubert, Kim May, Dorothy and Steven Beck, Peggy Gurbal and Mary Jaeger, as well as parish pastor, the Rev. Martins Emeh, as part of a round-table gathering.
Because the church's roots go back to 1911 with Rev. Theodore McCormick, centennial celebration events "included those who have gone before us" and that was the idea behind outdoor services being held at each Geneva cemetery, Emeh said.
Emeh felt a centennial pilgrimage to Rome, Italy was a highlight of the year for 28 parishioners who observed Mass in front of St. Peter's and "just inches from the tomb of St. Peter."
Jaeger, who has been a St. Peter parishioner for more than 70 years, said she has seen the parish change dramatically from the time it was located at Fifth and James streets to its current location on Kaneville Road in the late 1950s.
"The cemetery Masses were very important to me," Jaeger said. "I knew many of those original people, and it's nice to know that when you are gone, people will know you gave what you could to the church."
In thinking about the future of the parish, Jaeger is encouraged by the number of young people getting involved.
"Whenever I feel down about something, I just think about these kids," Jaeger said.
That youth involvement has grown as much as the parish in the past 20 years.
"Most of my closest friends come from this church," Rogers said. "My social life in high school was built around a community of teens here."
The young parishioners agreed the community feeling has grown because of the centennial celebrations.
"The unity of the parish really got me interested," Wulfkuhle said. "I saw people at the centennial 5K run that I had never seen before, and it was that kind of unity that got my family involved."
Parishioners agreed that losing a member of that community is painful. All were touched by the recent deaths of 48-year-old Angie Pavelich, who helped start a weekly collection of items for various charities during the centennial, and 53-year-old Bryan Zolfo, who had planned many centennial events, but passed away before being able to participate.
Schubert said St. Peter School has been an important element in the parish's history, by providing a strong education for so many young people.
St. Peter has endured traumatic chapters, much like the Catholic Church on a national scale. In 1985, then-Pastor James McLoughlin was on a flight to the Holy Land with other parishioners and area church leaders when it was hijacked, resulting in 17 days of anguish for the parish before his safe return.
"The parish was divided at that time about some issues and when Father McLoughlin was hijacked, it brought the whole parish together," Jaeger said. "It was an amazing and wonderful thing how people filled the church for prayer each night."
The parish endured a sexual abuse case in 2004 when Rev. Mark Campobella, who served at St. Peter for a short time, was convicted and sent to prison.
Schubert felt the incident was a reflection of today's culture in which politicians, athletes and others in the public eye are involved in scandalous acts.
"We have a calling and a mission to change that culture," Schubert said. "It's a hard thing emotionally when it is in your midst, but the fact that it is a scandal does not change our mission and goal to change it."
Emeh feels the national "Catholics Come Home" campaign is important for St. Peter because "if one soul returns to the church, it is worth whatever amount is spent."
Keep the faith
For those who leave the church because they feel it is out of touch or doesn't deliver relevant messages, Emeh said much depends on where one builds a foundation of faith.
"I always ask if one's faith is built on rock or sand," Emeh said. "If it is built on rock, then you have a strong foundation and a fighting chance if a disaster were to happen, or you hear something you don't like.
"If it is built on sand and something happens, then you are easily blown away."
Emeh said the Gospel was not created for a "make me feel good" approach.
"Jesus' teaching had some sharp words, and some people thought it was too hard to take, but the Gospel cannot be compromised," Emeh said. "Pastors and priests must deliver the truth with charity, not just teaching people what they want to hear."
The parish will end its centennial celebration at 11 a.m. July 10 with a special Mass of thanksgiving. Priests who have previously served the parish have been asked to attend and be celebrants for the Mass.
After that Mass, parishioners are invited to a "Memory Lane Brunch" in the multipurpose room that serves St. Peter church and school. Historical documents and artifacts will be on display.