EXETER – As dozens of parishioners came together to celebrate the closing Mass for Saint Cecilia Church on April 24, 2022, the Rev. Michael E. Finn reminded them that the Church is much more than just a building.
“We belong to a Church that is universal,” he said. “We are part of a Body, the Body of Christ, and no one can take away from that.”
The closing Mass was a beautiful and fitting tribute to the Exeter church that served the community for 122 years.
“A total of 4,392 people were baptized in this church, or the previous church,” Father Finn said during his homily as he reflected on the history of Saint Cecilia’s.
The parish was founded on Nov. 17, 1900. It was formally dedicated on Sept. 29, 1901. Father Patrick F. Quinnan served as the first pastor. The church was rebuilt in the 1970s after a massive fire and became part of Saint Barbara Parish in 2008.
Father Finn is the sixteenth pastor or administrator to serve Saint Cecilia Church.
“This is a bittersweet moment. It’s always hard because we’ve had these experiences, these wonderful things have taken place, this was the church, the context in which I was raised, but now I’m called to belong to another community. The communities are all the same. They’re all Christians. We’re all the descendants of the Apostles that met in Jerusalem in that Upper Room,” he added.
Following the final Mass, Father Finn and Deacon Walter Janoski led the closing ritual for the church, which involved processing from the baptismal font, to the cross of the church, the Saint Cecilia statue, the ambo and finally the altar. At each place, the faithful raised their voices in song and the clergymen offered prayers.
At the church’s altar, the final stop, Deacon Janoski reminded everyone that the altar is where Jesus allows us to join Him in the holy and perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.
“You have handed over your life to us through this holy sacrament as we worshipped you at Sunday Mass, special feast days, Confirmations and First Communions, celebrations of the Sacrament of Marriage and anniversaries and funerals celebrated here in hope. You have quietly waited for us, as you remained present in the tabernacle to speak to us, and to receive our humble prayers and requests,” he said.
The final act of the ceremony involved parishioner Dolores Seman, 91, who locked the front door of the church. When asked to describe what it meant to be asked to perform that important act, she said it was a “special privilege.”
Following the Mass and the closing ritual, parishioners mingled outside the building with one another and took photographs.
“We were married here in 1990,” Mary Ellen Berry of Wyoming said. “We loved this church. We sat in our old pew today where we always sat.”
Berry, who has been a parishioner at Saint Cecilia Church for 45 years echoed the words of Father Finn that a Church is its people, not the building.
“It has always been that way,” she said. She said the closing Mass and rituals were very fitting and will always have photographs to look back on when she gets nostalgic.
“We had beautiful wedding photos taken so we have some good views of the church, between my brother’s video and the professional photography that we had done. We still have the memories of the church in our album,” she explained.
The closure of Saint Cecilia Church finalizes a consolidation process that has been more than a decade in the making. It was first recommended during the “Called to Holiness and Mission” initiative. In recent years, the parish community of Saint Cecilia Church continued to diminish in size. Only one Sunday morning Mass was held in the church and sustaining operational costs would negatively impact the finances of Saint Barbara Parish.
While saying the church closure is bittersweet, Bernardine Regis of West Wyoming understands.
“You don’t see children coming to the church anymore. They have other things to do. We were always taught that you always went to church,” she explained.
Just days after the closing Mass, Father Finn also retired, taking on a new role of Pastor Emeritus, after many years of faithful service. As a result, Saint Barbara Parish entered into a new linkage with Corpus Christi Parish in West Pittston. The two parishes will share one pastor and have three worship sites: Saint Anthony Church in Exeter, Immaculate Conception Church in West Pittston and Church of the Holy Redeemer in Harding.
“Today we’ll be saying officially goodbye to Saint Cecilia’s and thank you for the 122 years of witness to the faith,” Father Finn said at the end of his homily. “May God give us the grace that we may continue and go on to give many more years to witness to the faith and allow his spirit to work in each and every one of us.”