Time capsule opening brings reminders of former Salem church

SALEM -- A time capsule from the former St. Joseph's Church opened on April 7 took people back for a glimpse at the days when the parish was first established in 1949.

As a senior priest in residence at St. James Parish in Salem, Father Lawrence Rondeau opened the time capsule for a crowd of about 200 people gathered at St. James for the opening.

At the time when St. Joseph's closed, the welcoming parish was St. James Parish in Salem. Father Lawrence Rondeau, the pastor at the time, went to St. James to begin retirement along with many of the faithful from St. Joseph.

Earlier this year, the St. Joseph Church building was demolished and the time capsule was recovered from the foundation.

"I had never attended an opening of a capsule like that. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what would be included in such a thing," Father Rondeau said.

He said even though the opening did not convey great personal insight from the creation of St. Joseph's Parish, items did give a glimpse of the times when the parish was established. The parish served as the home for Salem's French-American community for over 60 years before it closed in 2004.

Parishioners at the parish opening in 1949 added a local newspaper, The Salem Evening News, to the time capsule, which Father Rondeau said gave a clear lens to the past and insight into what the opening of St. Joseph's meant for the local community in Salem.

"There were just logical things that they wanted to preserve, and that was, first of all, the newspaper of the day commenting on the opening of the new church. They had comments as to how that was going to help the community at large in 1950, and all the positive things they had to say about a church of that magnitude," he said.

"It was something that was not seen, even in this area at that time, the style of church, the richness of the church, and so forth. They showed their appreciation of adding that element to the Catholic presence in this city and in this community," he said.

The time capsule also contained a French-language newspaper, Le Courrier de Salem, which Father Rondeau said listed names of people who helped with the opening of the church.

"I am sure the families involved were very proud to see that their ancestors are mentioned in the French rendition of the whole situation that day," Father Rondeau said.

Though the event highlighted the finality of the end of that parish, Father Rondeau said he saw a spirit of hope alive in the presence of former parishioners at the time capsule ceremony.

"There was a positive side to their presence there," he said.

Father Rondeau led the community, where he spoke French in service to the community, from 1982 until 2004.

"I think we can approach our communication and our ability to add to the strengthening of the Church in this town and this community, simply by being members of the general community here in Salem," he said.

He was part of the community in Salem and said his joy for ministering to that community kept him there as a senior priest after his retirement.

"When they closed the parish I was 73 years old, so I was just about at the brink of age that is required for retirement. So, I asked to be retired and they gave me that privilege of retiring two years early. That is when I came across town. I wanted to stay in Salem because I fell in love with Salem. To tell the truth, I love the community, I love the people, and I love the city itself," Father Rondeau said.

In January the Archdiocese of Boston announced that St. James Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, Immaculate Conception Parish, and St. Anne Parish will form a collaborative of four parishes in Salem.

The current pastor at St. James is Father John Sheridan, who will leave his parish in June to serve as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Middleboro-Rochester as well as at Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Lakeville.

Father Sheridan was at the final Mass at St. Joseph's Parish.

"What we talked about was to take the light that shone so brightly at St. Joe's, and to bring it to not only the parishes of Salem, but to take that light everywhere," he said.

"I think that is the real legacy of St. Joseph's. Every great gift that was shared for so many years, that legacy still lives on," Father Sheridan said.