In this month’s newsletter of St. Thomas More Parish, Scranton PA, Fr. Eric Bergman writes:
In 2009 I went back to Illinois to bury my grandfather and at the end of October I was there again. In Belleville, just outside St. Louis, there is a shrine and retreat center under the patronage of Our Lady of the Snows, and the annual Ordinariate clergy convocation was held there. The governing council met with our Ordinary, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, and true to the promise he made during his August visit here, St. Thomas More Catholic Church was erected as one of only six parishes in the Ordinariate, and I was named the first Pastor.
Naturally I relished the irony that this great step in the life of our ministry happened in the land of my father’s birth, that my family’s journey out of radical Protestantism came full circle in Illinois, and the great-grandson of a Protestant preacher is now the pastor of a Catholic parish devoted to reconciling our separated brethren to Holy Mother Church. If you’ve wondered why it took so long for this to happen officially, I honestly don’t have the answer. But the fact that it took place in Illinois reminds me that we have a lot more work to do, there are many still left behind, my own flesh and blood among them, and our
new permanent status in the Church is a summons to celebrate, but then work harder.
To be erected as a parish is recognition that our community of convert Catholics has indeed borne much fruit, an affirmation of our labor these past ten years. But it also grants to St. Thomas More Catholic Church a measure of stability we truly did not enjoy before. Our mission and ministry cannot be suppressed without the approval of the Holy See and then only for just cause, with the right of appeal. Our work is not dependent upon me personally, either. If, God forbid, I were to become incapacitated for some reason, our Ordinary would be obligated to appoint another pastor to shepherd this flock. Thus, we have laid the foundation for continuity for our mission that we hope will extend long beyond our own lifetimes. I have said often that our intent should be to build a parish for the ages, one that stands the test of time, and I mean it. May God bless the work we have done thus far by helping our parish to endure for centuries to come.
Of course, not a few of us, including myself, thought that this step had been taken when we bought the St. Joseph Church campus in May, 2012. I never received a letter of appointment, so my assumption about our status was an honest mistake. The Ordinariate is so new a jurisdiction that we must have patience as we work out the kinks. We must also have humility, seeing how much we have to learn about how things are done in this Church that is now our home. So please forgive my naïvete. I did not intend to mislead anyone, and you can be sure that when the official letter of appointment naming me pastor comes in the mail it will be put on display for all to examine for themselves. Know, in addition, our parish has been civilly incorporated as a non-profit corporation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the deed to our physical property is in the name of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, a helpful protection in the event the Ordinariate is ever sued: our assets will not be counted as theirs.
That being said, our assets have increased. Last week we closed on the property about which I wrote to you a few months ago, whereon once stood the tenement adjacent to our garage. The lot will require considerable improvement to be used as a yard for the children of the parish, but the first step has been taken, and the literal footprint of St. Thomas More Catholic Church has increased.
Having abandoned the idea of refurbishing the rectory basement for classroom space, the only project on the horizon remaining is the handicap access ramp from the sanctuary into the nave of St. Joseph Church. We require about $5,000 and have raised $1,000 thus far. So I commend it to you as a potential direction for your charity, keeping in mind the necessity of including as many as possible in the worship we offer to our heavenly Father. This last project is of personal importance to me, as well, because of my own father. As Parkinson’s disease continues to take its toll on his mobility, I can foresee a time in the not too distant future that the absence of the ramp the church needs would mean my dad’s inability to assist at Mass with the rest of the parish. It would mean the world to me and my family if that time could be extended as far out as possible. For whatever you’re able to offer to enable this, we thank you.
Honored and humbled to be your pastor, and grateful for your patience and fortitude in your service to Jesus and His Body, the Church, I am,
Your Servant in Christ,
The Rev. Eric L. Bergman