HUDSON – Parishioners at Immaculate Conception in Marlborough received a wonderful gift for their parish’s 150th anniversary — a visit from their archbishop.
The parish kicked off its yearlong sesquicentennial celebration with an open-air Mass attended by close to 1,000 people, celebrated by Archbishop Seán O’Malley, followed by a parish picnic celebrated at the Elks Pavilion in Hudson on Sept 21.
Father Michael MacEwen, pastor of Immaculate Conception, in remarks prior to the Mass, welcomed the archbishop, saying, “On behalf of all the parishioners, I thank you for accepting this invitation and welcome you to our parish.”
Father MacEwen went on to recount a brief history of the parish — describing how before the parish’s inception, Marlborough residents were forced to travel 16 miles by horse and carriage to Worcester every Sunday in order to attend Mass. According to Father MacEwen, when the parish was built in 1854, it served Catholics from all the area towns.
During his homily, the archbishop cited the rich history of the parish. “The history of this community of faith stretches back a century and a-half,” he said. “During 150 years, Catholics have come together in this parish to worship God, to baptize their babies, to bless their marriages, to bury their dead, to pray for deliverance, to celebrate moments of intense pain and immense joy”
"Our sentiments today are of thanksgiving -- thanksgiving to God, to our Catholic faith and to our parishes," he continued.
Archbishop O’Malley told the parishioners they were “the beneficiaries of the love and sacrifices of so many good priests, nuns and lay people” who have given their lives in service of the Church. He urged the congregation “to offer the Mass for them — those who have come before us,” while praying “for those who will come after us.”
"We want to pass on our heritage to them," the archbishop added. He called on all the people present to be active transmitters of faith to the next generation. "Jesus said He wanted us to be fishers of men, but often we become keepers of the aquarium," he said.
During his homily, the archbishop also underscored the rich history of the Catholic faith. “We have always been a people of the Creed, a people of the Magisterium, a people who have embraced those teachings that have been transmitted to us from Christ through His apostles,” he said. He went on to stress that “it is around the Eucharist that our parishes have been formed.”
"We who are the Body of Christ -- His Church -- are fed by the Body of Christ," he stated. It is in receiving this Body of Christ, the archbishop went on to say, that Catholics can begin to love as God loves.
"He loved us first -- while we were in sin, while we were indifferent to His love," said Archbishop O'Malley. "We must be a people who love first."
"At the Last Supper... [Jesus] began the Mass by washing the feet of the disciples to teach all of us to stop fighting over the first place at the table and start fighting over the towel," he said.
The archbishop exhorted all to “be quick on the draw with our love, our forgiveness, our friendship.”
"We live in a world that is increasingly more and more individualistic." Citing New Age spirituality as an example, Archbishop O'Malley went on to say that there's even "privatization in religion."
However, “Jesus didn’t come to give us warm fuzzies,” said Archbishop O’Malley, but to build “a community of faith based on His love, inspired by His word and example… saved by His cross and united around the living bread on the altar, which is His body. Never lose sight of where we have come from or where we are going,” he declared.
At the close of his homily, Archbishop O’Malley entrusted the parish to Mary. “May she guide you and protect you always,” he prayed.
"The Mass was spectacular," commented Denise Priess, a parishioner of 17 years. "It was unbelievable that we got so many parishioners to come here," she added.
"I thought this was fantastic," said parishioner Don Landers, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and retired assistant superintendent on schools. "Just looking around I could see that people were uplifted, jovial even."
Dan Byron, den leader of Cub Scout Pack 24 brought his Boy Scout troop to the celebration. “It was interesting to hear all the history,” he mused. “I’m not native to this area, so it was wonderful to hear it.”
After the Mass, Archbishop O’Malley returned to the pavilion to mingle with the parishioners — stopping to bless children, to chat with families, and to bless the infirm.
Meanwhile, the parish picnic commenced with food, music, children’s activities, and races, to name a few. Parishioners Peter and Stacey Militello volunteered to coordinate the picnic. Beginning in March, they planned the five-hour event, although, according to Peter, close to 100 volunteers came forward to help the event run smoothly.
"They are the ones doing the work here today," he laughed. "Me? I have very little to do, just enjoy myself now."
The Mass and social kicked off a year of special events to commemorate the 150th anniversary. Upcoming events include a special Blessing of the Animals on the feast of St. Francis, a celebratory concert featuring Massachusetts State Trooper Dan Clark, and a parish-wide renewal of marriage vows on Valentine’s Day.
Lifelong parishioner Donna Kelley, music director for the church choir, the Contemporary Music Ensemble, is excited to see the parish come together to celebrate. “This is wonderful. Everyone has been very receptive,” she said.