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Church Celebrates Forty Years

Annual picnic highlights milestones.

Leah Tenorio remembers attending the first mass at Good Shepherd in May 1965. It was held at Walt Whitman School, now Mount Vernon High School. Now, Good Shepherd not only has its own church, but also a large community center with a meeting hall, offices and classrooms. Tenorio is married to Ricardo, whom she met while learning to speak Spanish; she has served as the director of Hispanic Ministry since 1999.

“My love began with Ricardo and spread like wildfire,” she said during her presentation to parish members at the Parish Picnic and 40th Anniversary Celebration held in the church hall at the end of June.

“My fondest memories of the early days at Good Shepherd are the feeling of community that existed, the level of participation in the masses and the family activities. It’s an active, vibrant, close-knit community,” Tenorio said. “Good Shepherd is most special because it is very service oriented; Good Shepherd places an emphasis on living the gospel in today's world. We also live the Gospel message to 'welcome strangers' by opening our doors to the immigrant community and making them feel at home.”

Patrick Rhoads chaired the picnic; he and his wife, Stasia, have been members of the parish since 1987. Stasia said that about 580 people attended the picnic.

Joe Ferguson, Pastoral Council President, spoke to the group, as did Father Gerry Creedon, former pastor, and the Rev. Charles C. McCoart, Jr. (Father Chuck), current pastor.

GOOD SHEPHERD has experienced many changes over the years. While masses were being said in the school, construction was underway for the church on Mount Vernon Highway. The first mass in the newly completed church was celebrated in April, 1967; it was formally dedicated on June 17, 1967 by Bishop Russell. It was a low-cost, quick-to-build, multi-purpose structure; it would be replaced later with a much more permanent structure.

The Rev. Joseph F. Schwartz served as the first pastor to approximately 900 families until June 1970, when Father William P. Connelly became pastor. He served until July 1971, when he was succeeded by Father Thomas J. Quinlan.

It was during Father Quinlan’s reign that the parish became very polarized, mostly due to the different way in which Good Shepherd interpreted the spirit of Vatican Council II, especially the role of parish council. This, and other aspects of the parish, came under scrutiny and received attention, both on a local and national level.

“I was present at the mass where Father Quinlan came down the aisle in a Volkswagen convertible,” Tenorio said. “It was Palm Sunday ... Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, so Father Quinlan wanted to show that if Jesus came today, he would come riding into town in a car.”

It was after this that more than 400 families left Good Shepherd; Tenorio’s family also left, returning in 1979. This was the year that Father Gerry Creedon was appointed as pastor; his mandate was to restore unity. He proceeded to bring the parish together in a variety of ways. He developed a neighborhood visitation process, and encouraged groups with diverse attitudes and viewpoints to participate in the rebuilding of parish ministries.

A pastoral council was elected by the community; they developed a mission statement, goals and guidance to parish activities. A pastoral team was also developed to provide professional support to parish life and programs.

“Building Community in the Light of Christ” became the theme for the parish as they moved forward in the area of social justice and service.

Creedon also recognized the growing Hispanic population and initiated a monthly Spanish-speaking mass. Hispanic parishioners now account for 35-40 percent of the church’s population and two masses are held every week — one on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and one at Sunday at 2 p.m. The Rev. Jesús Navarrete resides over those masses.

“The biggest change that I have seen over the years is the growing number of Latino or Hispanic parishioners, which I consider a positive change,” Tenorio said.

The International Festival, which had been initiated during Quinlan’s time, was held in 1980 with record crowds. That tradition continues until this day. The fair, which features diverse ethnic foods, entertain for children and adults; White Elephant; Bingo; and more, will be held this Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5, from 1 to 6 p.m.

IN THE MEANTIME, efforts were underway to build a new church. A groundbreaking ceremony took place in June, 1983. On Oct. 21, 1984, Bishop John R. Keating dedicated Good Shepherd Catholic Church — 19 years after the parish was formed. A new wing of the church would be added in October 1990.

In June 1991, Creedon was assigned to the Diocesan mission in Banica, Dominican Republic. His successor, Father George Griffin, continued to build a caring and sharing community.

Griffin was succeeded by Father Chuck in June 2003.

“I love Good Shepherd and I am privileged to be counted among its pastors,” said Father Chuck. “Good Shepherd has been a blessing to its parishioners, the surrounding community and to all the world in its generosity, outreach and concern. For 40 years we have praised God, loved one another and tried to the best of our ability to serve those who come to us in need. All are welcome. We are not a perfect Church, I am not a perfect pastor, and this makes Good Shepherd the perfect church for me and nearly ten thousand other people in our community.”

Father Frank E. Mahler, who served as pastor from 1975 through 1979, attended the picnic, as did several longtime members. Parishioners who count themselves as founding members include: Mildred Allan; Cathy Carpenter; Ingeborg Catlett; Kathy Coughlin; Ann Marie Cutting; Art Friedberg; Hal and Anita Hayes; Bill Higgins; Rex and Doris Reiley; Dick and Mary Rice; and Bill Yary. Longtime parishioner Art Bona spoke at the noon mass, recounting the history of the church.

John and Nell Murray were not founding members, but count themselves among the pioneers. They joined Good Shepherd in 1971 and while they lived elsewhere for several years, but always kept their connection to Good Shepherd. They have been back in the parish for six years now.

“There were some rough times in the late 70’s, but we decided to stick it out,” said John Murray. “Father Creedon brought the church back together — it was a clear and divisive split. It is now a clear and vibrant community. It’s great the way people get involved.”