WILKES-BARRE – Saint Andre Bessette Parish proudly proclaimed itself as a community of hospitality, healing and holiness. As the faithful of the parish gathered to celebrate a closing Mass on Sunday, June 19, 2022, all three virtues were on full display.
As they walked through the front doors of their church one final time, a special slideshow greeted all parishioners. The presentation highlighted the history of Saint Andre Bessette Parish, featuring hundreds of pictures of people happily serving their community, building up the Kingdom of God and simply having fun.
Even though a closing Mass is bittersweet, the occasion did not stop a normal occurrence for the faithful. More than 200 people joined together reciting the Rosary together before the start of the closing Mass at 11 a.m.
“As with anything in life comes change and right now we’re experiencing that as a parish family and community. We are bidding farewell to our beloved parish of Saint Andre Bessette but look forward to the future with hope that we can all build roots in our new parish communities,” parishioner John Morris said.
Father Kenneth Seegar, who served as pastor for the community for more than a decade, celebrated the closing Mass. In January 2022, Father Seegar was transferred to a new parish assignment in Hazleton and Monsignor Jack Bendik was called out of retirement to serve as administrator pro tem.
During his homily, Father Seegar thanked all those who gave of their gifts and talents to build up the parish since its founding when several churches came together in 2011 and 2012.
“Today is not a day for us to mourn or weep, but rather, it is a day for us to be grateful,” Father Seegar explained.
Father Seegar encouraged the faithful to look to Scripture for guidance and direction as they embrace the future. He explained that in the early days of the Church, men and women from Jerusalem needed to separate and spread out to build up other faith communities. He said that is what God is now asking of the people in this Wilkes-Barre community.
“We have done a great many things here in the past 11 years. We have built up a community of faith, we have built up a family, supporting one another in times of sorrow, sharing with one another in times of joy,” he said. “Now, God is asking us to go to other places, among other people and bring with us the fire that burns here within us, so that we can build up other communities, we can strengthen other people.”
In recent years, the parish of Saint Andre Bessette suffered a diminishing number of faithful whose donations have helped to sustain the parish. Demographic changes, due to an aging population, also resulted in a continued decrease in Mass attendance and sacramental participation.
The parish also has significant unpaid financial obligations and faced infrastructure challenges, which include an aging asbestos roof and a structurally unsound retaining wall surrounding the church that would be expensive to replace.
In the spirit of the Vision 2030 pastoral planning process, conversation and consultation between the Diocese and parishioners began in March 2022. At the prompting of parish leaders, the possibility of closing Saint Andre Bessette was discussed and ultimately approved.
Following the closing Mass, Saint Andre Bessette Parish was suppressed by an extinctive union with Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Plains. That means that parishioners previously belonging to Saint Andre Bessette Parish will now belong to Saints Peter and Paul Parish and the geographic territory of Saints Peter and Paul Parish will reflect the change.
In addition, Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church, 668 North Main Street, which was the main worship site for the parish will be closed (defined in canon law as ‘relegated to profane but not sordid use’). Saints Peter and Paul Parish will determine the future of the property in consultation with the Diocese.
As he closed his homily, Father Seegar said each person must ask God to continue to give him or her strength.
“Each one of you is a credit to this parish. Each one of you helped to build this community. Now, each one of you is tasked with going out and doing that again – in new places and new beginnings – so the Word of God can continue to grow and thrive,” he said.