RAHWAY–When the parishes of St. Mary and St. Mark officially merge on July 1, the Catholic community in Rahway will abound in joy and celebration. What many individuals sensed was inevitable will finally come to pass this summer after many years of sometimes acrimonious meetings between members of these two much-loved churches. Friendships were tested in the aftermath of merger discussions and the new pastor, Fr. Dennis Kaelin, had the difficult task of pursuing fiscal accountability from both parishes.
“I can’t change the past,” Kaelin says, “but can only try to help our future because I really believe that God is taking care of us”. He may be right about that because as of the last fiscal year, both St. Mary and St. Mark are operating with a financial surplus. “Some cuts, especially in staffing, had to be made and, understandably, that made some people very angry, but it had to be done”.
Tim Nash, a finance council member and long time parishioner of St. Mark agrees. “We seemed to have turned a corner financially here and that is very impressive in these times”, he states. “But now, we have a true and accurate accounting of our finances which we did not have before Fr. Dennis took over. In fact, our weekly collections are better than ever”.
Another finance council member and St. Mark enthusiast, George Geduldig, agrees with this assessment. “Now, there is a new feeling among the people at St. Mark’s,” he says. “You can see happiness and relief on the faces of people there who are sincerely looking forward to a better future. St. Mark’s people, for instance, got together to help build a little park in the back of the rectory that is used quite a bit by many different groups who use the church for various purposes. But I’ll tell you one thing and that is, we are definitely on the rebound!”
But in spite of the difficulty that comes when two parishes plan to merge, members of both St. Mary and St. Mark are excited and optimistic about the future of their ‘new’ parish that will be known as Divine Mercy Parish. “We have a lot to be thankful for here in Rahway”, says Corinne Wnek, a long time parishioner of St. Mary and a member of the Friends of the Parish group. “Under the direction of Fr. Dennis, Friends of the Parish was established and has as its mission the support of our parish to ensure continued growth, spiritually, environmentally and socially. We are especially very fortunate that the Archdiocese of Newark had confidence in our parishes and has largely allowed us to determine our own future”, she explains. “We want our ‘new establishment’, so to speak, to be a beacon of welcome to everyone including those who have recently left us out of disappointment and misunderstanding”.
Kaelin concurs that the merged parishes are indeed moving on the right direction. “I am constantly amazed at the generosity of the people in our parish community”, he says. “Our two parishes, who were themselves suffering financially, raised about $3,000 for the people of Haiti when their country was devastated in an earthquake. And when tragedy struck the Philippines last year, we were able to send about $8,000 there to directly help families in need. This was hard earned money coming from our two Catholic communities, united as one, and responding to people in need.
“The presence of Christ is definitely right here in Rahway,” he continues. “That was never more evident to me than when a representative from a prolife organization, Life Choices, spoke to our parishioners recently about their work in counseling young, pregnant girls who were without family or resources. Again, it is astounding to me the degree to which our parishioners responded to this organization with compassion and financial support so that these young women could deliver their babies safely.”
In spite of some recent negative publicity, many more parishioners from St. Mary and St. Mark believe the future looks rosy for these two merged parishes. “There is so much more good will these days between St. Mary and St. Mark as our two parishes merge and become a stronger Catholic community and the wonderful thing is that many different groups and cultures are really stepping up to take ownership of our new parish,” says Wnek.
One of these groups, for instance, The Knights of Columbus, has become re-energized. Jerry Kelly is a representative to the Friends of the Parish organization and is also from St. Mark. “The Knights have been busy offering to assist in different activities within the church community”, he says. “We have an active squires program for younger boys and we help them to stay connected to their faith. We are also establishing a new Knight of Columbus for the Spanish community and will hopefully get that off and running by the end of the year”, he says.
“Despite a reduction in the number of priests that will serve the new parish”, says Kaelin, “we are still able to have one of us assigned to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital here in Rahway to serve as Chaplain, in addition to our Eucharistic Ministers who are also a presence there”.
The merging of St. Mary and St. Mark parishes has not been easy and the parishioners have felt many of the growing pains. All who have a stake in this new parish acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. But now, plans are underway for yearlong celebratory events to mark the birth of Divine Mercy Parish.”
There is a real sense from the parishioners of both churches of wanting to move forward together to build a better Catholic community here in Rahway”, says a smiling Kaelin.
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