EAST STROUDSBURG – April 8, 2023, is a day that Ellen Gomez of Bushkill will never forget.

With her family and friends looking on, the 57-year-old was baptized at the Church of Saint John in East Stroudsburg during the Easter Vigil Mass.

“I just feel good. I just feel like a new person,” Gomez told The Catholic Light.

Gomez grew up in the Bronx with her parents and five siblings before moving to the Poconos in 1995. While she attended church at a young age, Gomez said she never received the Sacrament of Baptism and always felt like something was missing in her life.

“I felt like I needed that blessing. I needed something. I never felt fully included,” she said.

After calling the Church of Saint John last year, staff members, including the parish deacon, made special accommodations to make sure Gomez could successfully complete RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes.

Because of generous gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal each year, the Diocesan Office for Parish Life is able to provide support and resources for parishes that have people participating in the RCIA Program.

As the 2023 Diocesan Annual Appeal launches in parishes this month, Ellen Gomez is just one of thousands of people who have benefitted from the generosity of parishioners in the past.

The Diocesan Annual Appeal funds the good works and ministries of our local Church that are outside the scope of any one individual parish.

By donating to the Diocesan Annual Appeal, you are helping to pay for the education and formation of seminarians and assisting with the living expenses of retired priests who have faithfully served the Diocese for decades. Your gifts also support the life-changing spiritual encounters organized by the Office for Parish Life.

When you give generously to the Diocesan Annual Appeal, you enable the Church to strengthen the bonds of unity between us and respond to the needs of our community not only in the Name of Jesus, but as members of His Body.

Because no one can fulfill Christ’s mission alone, together, we can form children in faith, bring the mercy of God to those who suffer the lack of basic needs through the work of Catholic Social Services and bring the presence of Jesus and the power of God’s transforming grace to all through Catholic communication efforts.

The Diocesan Annual Appeal is the Diocese of Scranton’s single most important fundraising initiative and we need the support of all parishioners to be successful. Poverty, hunger and homelessness remain serious challenges in our community. Money raised from the Appeal helps our brothers and sisters in need, in addition to funding vocation efforts, Catholic education and parish life programs.

This year, a renewed focus is being placed on the percentage of parishioners from each parish who donate to the Appeal.

Gifts of any amount are welcome and will help us collectively reach our goal of $4.5 million.

The Appeal’s theme, “Our Call to Serve” aligns with the spirit of creating communities rooted in the life of Jesus Christ. Each of us is called to become the loving, compassionate Christ that fed the hungry.

Diocesan ministries supported by gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal include Catholic Social Services; parish social justice and faith formation programs; Catholic education in our 19 Catholic schools; care for our current and retired priests and support for seminarians preparing for the priesthood, parish life and pastoral planning efforts; and communication programs such as The Catholic Light and Catholic Television.

We invite all parishioners to visit our new website for Appeal at annualappeal.org. The new website helps to highlight the number of individuals and families served in a new way. You can watch several videos of what your gifts help support and you can make a secure donation online.

This year, parishes around the Diocese will launch the Diocesan Annual Appeal on the weekend of Sept. 23-24 by asking parishioners to commit to a pledge to this year’s campaign. Every dollar donated to the Appeal will support the intended ministries and cannot be used for any other purpose.

In advance of celebration weekend for the Diocesan Annual Appeal, we are asking all people to pray and discern how they can best support this year’s effort and to become familiar with the impact it has in all of the parishes across our diocese.

Anyone interested in making a gift to the Diocesan Annual Appeal can visit annualappeal.org to give online or call the Diocesan Development Office at (570) 207-2250.

SCRANTON – Calling all teenagers! Are you looking for a highly energetic and engaging opportunity to celebrate the richness of our Catholic faith?

If so, the 2023 Diocese of Scranton Youth Rally is for you!

Students in grades 7-12 are invited to join together on Saturday, Oct. 7 for the Youth Rally which will revolve around the theme, “Be an Original.”

Inspired by our first Millennial Saint, Blessed Carlo Acutis, students will have the opportunity to deepen their faith, make new friends and experience a day of fellowship and fun.

“The goal of the Diocesan Youth Rally is to provide an experience of the Universal Church for the young church of the Diocese of Scranton,” Shannon Kowalski, Diocesan Director of Service and Mission, said. “Many parishes and programs are looking for a way to jump start youth ministry or create excitement in their young people and that is what we are aiming to do.”

The Youth Rally will begin at 10 a.m. at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, 330 Wyoming Avenue, Scranton, and end at approximately 6:30 p.m. following the celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in fun and engaging workshops, experience Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as enjoy praise and worship opportunities with Steve Angrisano, a nationally known Catholic musician and speaker.

“Many of our students and adults know Steve from events such as Steubenville conferences, the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis and parish missions. Steve has come to our diocese for others events and has always left us with a great experience so we are happy to have him back!” Kowalski explained.
Singer/songwriter Thomas Muglia is also expected to participate in the Diocese of Scranton Youth Rally.

“We are very excited to have Thomas as our house musician. Thomas is a young singer/songwriter from Arizona. His passion for worship and community makes him an excellent addition to our event. He is also a part of the house band for this year’s NCYC,” Kowalski added.

The cost of the full day of events is $20 per student/$25 per adult.

Events like the Diocesan Youth Rally are supported by gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal, which fund the work of the Diocesan Office for Parish Life.

“Between the workshops, the live music and the general excitement of gathering together as a community, our intent is to show our young people that the church is grateful for them and welcomes their involvement,” Kowalski said.

For more information or to register for the Diocese of Scranton Youth Rally on Oct. 7, visit dioceseofscranton.org or contact Shannon Kowalski at SKowalski@dioceseofscranton.org.

WILKES-BARRE – Planning for the new, permanent home of Mother Teresa’s Haven, a shelter for homeless men operated by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, is now underway.

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, agency leaders toured the space above Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen at 39 E. Jackson Street, which will soon be transformed into space that will be available for 20-24 men experiencing homelessness.

Harry Lyons, program director for Mother Teresa’s Haven shelter, center, leads a tour of the second floor of the Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen building in Wilkes-Barre. This space will soon be transformed into the new, permanent location for the emergency shelter serving men experiencing homelessness. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

“I couldn’t be more excited about being here, seeing the space and getting in,” Harry Lyons, program director for Mother Teresa’s Haven, said. “There is a lot of potential here.”

In late April, the Wilkes-Barre zoning hearing board unanimously approved an application for a special exception to establish the shelter above the Kitchen.

“We have a very supportive community,” Joe Mahoney, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, explained. “We met with the mayor. We met with the neighbors and met with King’s College. We have got all of this support but we need to make sure we keep talking to them.”

The second floor space that will be converted into the shelter was most recently occupied by a health clinic. The space, which is currently divided into several exam rooms, will need to be reconfigured to accommodate the needs of the shelter.

“We’re excited about opening up the walls so we can get some line of sight. We’re excited about having adequate bathroom space with showers. We don’t currently have showers or laundry facilities but both are a basic need, a dignity issue,” Lyons said.

For the last several years, Mother Teresa’s Haven has been utilizing space in the basement of Saint Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception at 134 S. Washington Street. Prior to that, the shelter had rotated between several churches in Wilkes-Barre.

Catholic Social Services leaders say having a permanent home for the shelter located directly above Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen will also lead to better coordination of services for our brothers and sisters in need.

“We will be a one-stop shop, hopefully making our clients lives just a little bit easier,” Mahoney said. “Having a permanent home is going to be a big relief to our staff and the people we serve.”

“Mike Cianciotta, who runs Saint Vincent de Paul Kitchen, has been providing meals for us for several years. I work closely with Mike. The Kitchen is an amazing operation and we want people to be able to say that about us. We want that same feeling about what they do at the Kitchen to apply to us,” Lyons added.

The timeline needed for renovations is still being determined so there is no expected completion date. While hoping to get the work done quickly, Lyons says it can’t be rushed.

Your gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal each year help to support all of the work done by Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for a long, long time,” he said. “Ten years ago, on my very first day we started talking about it. This has been a goal forever.”

BALTIMORE, Md. – After a busy summer for many of our Diocesan seminarians – in which several attended World Youth Day in Portugal and two visited the Diocese of Sunyani in Ghana – a new semester of classes has just gotten underway.

Five seminarians are attending classes this fall at Saint Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. Three are attending Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, one will be studying at Saint Andrew’s College Seminary in S. Orange, N.J., and the final seminarian is serving his pastoral year at Saint Boniface and Saint Lawrence Parishes in Lycoming County.

For more than 200 years, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore has been supporting the formation of Holy men.

At Saint Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Harrison Rapp of Dunmore has just entered his second year studying theology.

Since its founding in 1791, Saint Mary’s Seminary has been supporting the formation of Holy men, including many from the Diocese of Scranton.

“It is really an intentional time to be with God and to just open your heart to the ways in which God wants to lead us,” Rapp said.

At Saint Mary’s Seminary, men begin their day with Morning Prayer as a community. There is also Adoration, Mass during the day and Evening Prayer in addition to academic classes.

Saint Mary’s currently serves 13 dioceses in the United States and Canada but also welcomes men from Africa, China and Vietnam.

“It’s good because you do get to see a lot of different perspectives in the way the church operates in their own respective locations in the United States and abroad,” Rapp added.

Harrison Rapp, a seminarian for the Diocese of Scranton, prays in the chapel of Saint Mary’s Seminary. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

Seminarian Jeremy Barket of Dupont studied theology at Saint Mary’s during the last academic year.

“The whole environment, inside and outside, is very conducive to having a very spiritual and prayerful atmosphere. There are so many times where I’ll just walk around the whole seminary and just pray a rosary,” he said.

Barket describes seminary as a community of men who want to grow closer to Christ.

“We’re normal guys. We just happen to pray a lot,” he said with a smile.

Before being ordained a priest in June, Father Michael Boris spent four years at Saint Mary’s Seminary.

“It was just a wonderful place of prayer and discernment,” Father Boris said.

Father Boris benefited from many mentors and spiritual directors as well as the classes he took.

He knows it is only because of the generous financial support from parishioners that his seminary experience was possible.

“To give somebody an education, to feed somebody, to house somebody, requires money,” Father Boris noted.

Your gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal go directly to supporting our future priests who will faithfully lead our parishes in the decades ahead.

The Diocese of Scranton currently has ten highly talented men in priestly formation.

You help pay for their education, helping to form each man intellectually, pastorally and spiritually – so in return – they can share the love of the Gospel with all people.

“You’re investing in us, but you’re also investing in your own diocese and the future of the diocese as well,” Barket said.

“You can really recognize and be grateful for the importance of the gifts that have been given to us, from our housing to our food to our classes. All of that means a great deal,” Rapp added. “I’ve really benefited from my experience here so far. It has been blessed. I love the community life and I do look forward to continuing the journey!”

SCRANTON – The Diocese of Scranton proudly welcomed two new seminarians over the summer months. The addition of the two men means the Diocese now has ten men actively discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, and members of the Seminary Admissions Committee accepted Esteban Marengo and Daniel O’Brien as seminarians.

Marengo, of Scranton, is a parishioner of Saint Paul of the Cross Parish in South Scranton. He is currently attending classes at Saint Andrew’s College Seminary in S. Orange, N.J.

Esteban Marengo

When asked what metaphor for Christ speaks to him most powerfully, Marengo responded “Christ the Good Shepherd.”

“Despite the many troubles of life, Jesus continues to love, protect and guide us, as a shepherd would his own sheep,” he said.

As he begins his seminarian experience, the Scranton native said he often reflects on the crucifix and its importance to our salvation.

“In it, we see the immense love that God has for all of us,” Marengo noted.

O’Brien, who just began his Pre-Theology I semester at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, actually credits Marengo for part of the reason why he decided to become a seminarian candidate.

Daniel O’Brien

“Seeing him (Marengo) in his cassock a week before (the) Chrism Mass pushed my calling to the forefront of my mind,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien is a parishioner of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Pittston. He is also a licensed commercial pilot for single-engine aircraft.

He says the Book of Psalms is the Book of the Bible that has had the greatest impact on his spiritual life and often reflects on the image of The Holy Mother Theotokos.

Even though he is just beginning the seminarian discernment process, when asked if he had any advice to give someone else at this point, O’Brien quoted Father Clarence Cerwonka, Pastor Emeritus at Most Holy Rosary Church in Maine, N.Y., who told him, “Strive for what the Holy Spirit wants you to do.”

Please keep Esteban Marengo, Daniel O’Brien, as well as their families, all our seminarians, and all those discerning diocesan priesthood in your prayers!

If you have thought about the possibility of the priesthood, you are encouraged to talk to your parish priest or Father Alex Roche, Diocesan Director of Vocations & Seminarians, to help you further discern your vocation.

SCRANTON – With the cost of groceries, fuel and other household expenses continuing to rise, Christine Ward has often found herself in need of a helping hand.

She is very thankful for the dedicated volunteers of Saint Paul Parish in Scranton’s Green Ridge section, who operate a parish food pantry every Friday from the basement of Saint Clare Church.

“It is very important. We come twice a month and there is a lot of stuff that you can choose. They have a lot of choices,” Ward said.

Christine Ward of Scranton expresses her gratitude to the volunteers who operate the Saint Paul Parish food pantry on a weekly basis. The parish received a $5,000 Social Justice Grant this year from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to serve its community. (Photo/Dan Gallagher)

The pantry has seen its numbers skyrocket in recent years.

“People fall through the cracks every day that never thought they would fall between the cracks and sometimes we don’t recognize, just in the general public around us, who those people are,” food pantry volunteer Noreen Rowland said.

Ward says the volunteers are courteous and respectful and really want to help their community.

“It’s actually good to come here because you get there and they ask you what you want. You can choose what you want – like Corn Flakes or any kind of cereal – and then you can choose your coffee, hot chocolate, tea, fruits and all different things,” Ward added.

In just the last year, Saint Paul Parish food pantry volunteers distributed more than 22,500 pounds of food.

Barbara Burkhouse, who has helped coordinate distribution efforts for the last 16 years, says the food pantry might have helped only five families a week in the past.

Now, the number of families helped each week is usually upwards of 25 families.

“They have increased significantly this year. We could see that as some of the benefits that were being given to people were cut back,” Burkhouse explained.

While supported by parishioner donations and area businesses, gifts to the Diocesan Annual Appeal also play a critical role in helping the Saint Paul Parish food pantry fulfill its mission.

The parish is one of 24 parishes that has received a Social Justice Grant from the Diocesan Annual Appeal this year. The parish also received a grant for its food pantry in 2022.

The $5,000 grant that the parish requested directly helps people in their local community.

“It is amazing. We use every penny we get our hands on. With the grant, we do a lot of meat and seafood coupons. We actually give people a $20 meat/seafood coupon once a month so they can go to Gerrity’s and pick out their own choice. That is really appreciated,” Jody Maloney, co-coordinator of the Saint Paul Parish food pantry, said.

“The Diocesan grant, the $5,000, is extremely important to us and we’re delighted to receive it,” Burkhouse added.

As you consider how you are called to serve others, think about your brothers and sisters who receive a helping hand from the dedicated volunteers at the Saint Paul Parish food pantry.

“There are many clients that really rely on this and we see so many people that are raising grandchildren,” food pantry volunteer Kathleen Manley said. “Some of them are very outspoken as to just how grateful they are!”

MOUNTAIN TOP – A new academic year is underway for thousands of Catholic school students across the Diocese of Scranton.

As children and young adults return to their studies, they are returning to 19 schools that prioritize strong academic programs, a commitment to faith and a family-centered community where love and respect abound.

Students from Saint Jude School in Mountain Top walk through the halls of their school.

At Saint Jude School in Mountain Top, students, faculty and families work together to create a special environment.

“The kids that are in my class, that have been here since kindergarten, are all very close,” seventh grader Hannah Fauerbach said.

Dedicated teachers play an important role in the success of each school.

They plan interactive STREAM activities, connecting science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math, in lessons for all grade levels.

“We have a lot of activities in social studies, literature, English and science,” seventh grader Leah Smith said.

“I feel like they know each kid individually and they get to know their kids and they care about their children and my kids see that and they connect with the teachers and they have a special bond,” parent Rebecca Cabrera explained.

It is clear Christ is the reason for Saint Jude School.

Through artwork on display in the hallways, He is the unseen – but ever present – teacher in each classroom. Students are invited to become His disciples by praying daily and celebrating Mass weekly in neighboring Saint Jude Church.

“In the morning and in the afternoons we have prayers and then after lunch we have prayers,” seventh grader Elizabeth Bilbow said. “They really emphasize just how much religion means to us.”

“During Lent, every Friday, we do the Stations of the Cross and not many schools do that kind of stuff anymore so that just sets us apart,” fifth grader Robert Marcalus added.

Parents are also actively involved in the school.

Take for instance Saint Jude’s Field Day at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

More than 70 parents volunteered to participate. There is never a project too big or too small that parents will not tackle.

“Things get done. Things come together. People want to make things happen and make a great place for our kids,” parent Jill Carone said.

The Diocesan Annual Appeal directly benefits all 19 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton, including Saint Jude School.

Your gifts help each student learn that God is present and active in their lives.

With enrollment growing at Saint Jude School, Sister Ellen Fischer, school principal, says so do requests for tuition assistance.

“The (Diocesan Annual) Appeal is so important because the reality is, there are other families who want a Catholic education for their children, and the reality is sometimes they can’t quite afford it,” Sister Ellen said. “Donations to the school in various ways assists with making that a reality. We have to serve all God’s people.”

By your financial support of the Diocesan Annual Appeal, Saint Jude School can continue to be that warm, welcoming environment where even more students can come together to learn about and glorify God.

“We’ve got Saint Jude Spirit and we’re not afraid to show it and no one else can copy it!” sixth grader Rachel Atwal said.