Living the Faith: Celeste McCusker

HAVERHILL --In the Acts of the Apostles, the community of believers was exhorted to take care of the widows. In the case of Celeste McCusker, the roles have been reversed.

“I come from a people with a strong faith who lived their faith,” she declared.

In fact, McCusker serves her parish, St. John the Baptist in Haverhill, in a host of ways. She is the sacristan; a eucharistic minister; the wedding coordinator; and in charge of decorating the parish.

In addition, she is a member of the parish council and serves on the activities committee.

“I serve at the church pretty much every day,” McCusker said.

Participating in parish life has always been very important for McCusker.

Ever since she was a child, her faith has been an integral part of her life -- first in Lynn, her hometown, and later in Haverhill, where she moved after her marriage to James McCusker, a Haverhill native. James, who had been an active member of the parish since childhood, passed away seven years ago.

McCusker was there when St. John the Baptist Parish was first created in 1955. Only 15 years old at the time, she recalls visiting relatives in Haverhill and witnessing the beginnings of the parish.

According to McCusker, the area near the parish was originally a poor farm.

During the 1940s, “when the boys came home from the war,” the city sold each veteran a house lot for $1. “The area developed quickly,” she said.

With such an increase in population, the diocese saw the need to establish a parish in that section of Haverhill, she continued.

“The city of Haverhill sold the lot of land to the diocese for $1,” she explained, and the diocese sent Father James P. Ryan, a Haverhill native, to be the first pastor of St. John the Baptist, and lead the efforts to construct the church building for the parish.

While the church was built, McCusker recalls celebrating Mass at the nearby Haverhill Stadium. “In the winter, we celebrated in the locker room,” she said with a smile.

“It was always Father Ryan’s dream to build a school,” she said wistfully, adding that he bought a plot of land near the church and told the McCuskers it would be built before the oldest of their five boys was of school age.

“It’s a shame, but it was never built,” she said.

This past year, the parish sold the plot of land to the Merrimac Valley Hospital, using the money from the sale to renovate the parish’s basement, something the parish desperately needed, she said.

“We’re progressing, staying up with the times,” she said.

McCusker praised her pastor, Father Keith LeBlanc, for guiding his flock through these difficult times in the Church.

“Father Keith has encouraged us to move up to the times without having us lose what we value in our faith,” she said.

In addition, she feels his personality helps others to volunteer their time in the parish.

“We are a very welcoming people,” she explained. “People come and they feel welcomed here so they come back and see how they can get involved.”

“He has been a plus for our parish,” added McCusker.