Lawrence parish begins year of centennial celebrations

When Teresa Petralia thinks of Holy Rosary Parish, two words come to mind — faith and family.

So, when she was looking for words to write on the slogan contest celebrating the parish’s 100th anniversary, she didn’t have to go far. “I didn’t spend a lot of time,” Petralia said. “That’s what the parish is about.”

The Italio-American parish in Lawrence opened its centennial year Oct. 7 with a “Celebration of the Rosary,” sponsored by the Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality. The service commemorated the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, the parish patroness, and marked the closing of the “Year of the Rosary” as proclaimed by Pope John Paul II in Oct. 2002.

"It's appropriate to have our opening on this day," said Father James Ronan, the pastor, who referred to the centennial as "a celebration of faith."

“The life of a faith community is the faith of the people, which is a gift from God,” Father Ronan said. “So, the celebration of our centennial is our gratitude to God for the gift of faith and for the gift of all of those people who gave selflessly of themselves to share their faith.”

The service included a procession of images of Mary, as Our Lady of Pompeii, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Altagracia, by members of Holy Rosary, plus Sts. Peter and Paul and Holy Trinity Parishes, the two other churches that make up the North Lawrence East Cluster. As each image was carried into the church, there was a short explanation of the apparition it represented and songs were sung in Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, Spanish and English.

During the service, the Madonnas were displayed on easels in the sanctuary. The highlight of the service was the recitation of the rosary, with prayerful reflections and hymns in English. The service ended with Benediction.

A banner with Petralia’s slogan, “Holy Rosary — 100 Years of Faith and Family,” was unveiled.

"Besides a religious community, it is a community of people. I think, for me, it had a special meaning because my mother had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother," said Petralia, first in her family to attend Holy Rosary Church.

In addition to the rosary celebration, the parish sponsored a Centennial Health Fair on Oct. 4. The event featured presentations on stroke prevention, exhibits, buffet dinner and a question and answer period.

Holy Rosary Parish was founded in 1904 by Father Mariano Milanese, OSA, to minister to the spiritual needs of the Italians immigrants in Lawrence. Augustinian priests served in the parish until 1999 when the first diocesan priests were assigned. Father Ronan, the pastor, also serves as vicar of the Lawrence parishes. In addition to his pastoral duties at Holy Rosary, he was recently named the administrator of neighboring Sts. Peter and Paul Parish.

Although many of its parishioners have moved from the parish boundaries, Holy Rosary continues to thrive as a parish community. The parish has a Holy Name Society, St. Rita Sodality, Blessed Virgin Mary Sodality, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Respect Life and Health Ministry.

Maria Auclair, who has been attending Holy Rosary since she came from Italy 33 years ago said Holy Rosary is a family parish.

"It's a great family," Auclair said. "Right away, I felt like I was part of the family."

Carmela Santuccio has been attending Holy Rosary for the past 96 years. She said the church means a lot to her. “It’s my roots,” she said. “When I go to Holy Rosary is like going to visit my best friend, God.”

Santuccio is not surprised Holy Rosary is celebrating its centennial.

"There are so many people who love the Church," she said. "People who love God and don't judge the Church by what's happening."

Petralia agreed.

"It's a matter of faith. The people believe in the Church, the Church was like another home, another family for them. [The parish] has survived because of the people's devotion to it," Petralia said.

They have also opened its doors to other ethnic groups. Holy Rosary was the first church in Lawrence to host Masses in Spanish when Hispanics first came to the city in large numbers in the late 1950s. After a hiatus, the Masses were reinstated and are celebrated at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Members of Holy Rosary Parish Council unanimously invited members of the former St. Francis Parish to join them when their church closed last year. A Mass in Lithuanian is celebrated at Holy Rosary the first Sunday of each month.

The centennial year will include a variety of programs. The parish is holding a Centennial Raffle with a $10,000 first prize. Tickets are $100 each and each ticket includes dinner for two at the drawing on Nov. 6, as well as chances to win other prizes.