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BROCKTON — On Aug. 9, Bishop Richard Malone, regional bishop of the South Region, celebrated the inaugural Mass marking the merging of St. Edward Parish, Brockton, and St. Nicholas Parish, Abington, into one new parish under the patronage of St. Edith Stein.
The Brockton parish is one of only two in the United States that bears the name of the 20th century convert and martyr.
Born in Poland in 1891, Edith Stein was the youngest child of a large Jewish family whose search for truth led her through a period of declaring herself an agnostic in her late teens and early 20s. She found it difficult, she said, to believe in “such a personal God.” The death of a close friend, as well as her reading of the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila, led her to ask for Baptism.
Eleven years after becoming Catholic, she became a Carmelite nun. During the early years of WWII, Jews, including Christian Jews, were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Offered the opportunity to be smuggled out of the convent, she refused, choosing instead to stay with her people. Stein and her sister Rose were taken to Auschwitz where they died in the gas chamber in 1942. Witnesses spoke of Stein’s heroic example in the camps, caring for the children of women who were overwhelmed by their existence in the camps.
The new St. Edith Stein Parish was officially established at 12:00 a.m. on Aug. 9. Approximately 150 parishioners marked that beginning with two hours of Eucharistic Adoration from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
"It brought everything together, it really did," said Father James Flavin, referring to the sometimes painful five year merger process. As pastor of the new parish, Father Flavin sees the merger as the means for strengthening the Catholic community in Brockton, ensuring "another 100 years of sacramental life in this part of the vineyard."
Leading the parish at adoration, and seeing such a large gathering so late on a Friday night (into Saturday morning) brought the words of a Christmas hymn to his mind.“‘The hopes and fears of all the year…’ — everything we struggled with throughout the process — ‘are met in thee tonight;’ before Jesus in the Eucharist.”
As he reflected on the significance of that prayerful beginning for the new parish, Father Flavin marveled at the gathering. It drove home for him the fact that “in the midst of hurt and pain, people have great faith, and come back to what is important.”
The celebration continued later in the day as Bishop Malone presided over the first official Mass in the new parish. The church was filled to capacity, including members of the McCarthy family of Brockton.
It was Edith Stein’s intercession on behalf of the youngest member of the McCarthy family, Benedicta, which led to the canonization of the Carmelite Sister. Now in her teens, Benedicta was just two years-old when she accidentally ingested a lethal dose of Tylenol. Irreparable damage was done to her liver, and she was not expected to live. The family began praying to Edith Stein, and asking others to do the same. The prayers worked, and Benedicta was completely healed.
In his homily, Bishop Malone called the five-year merger process “a pilgrimage.”
"Pilgrimages are not always easy," he said. "There are sacrifices. The pilgrimage that led St. Nicholas and St. Edward Parishes to this day has not been easy... The journey has sometimes been a difficult one, calling for sacrifice, for surrender, for letting go, and for trust."
The bishop also spoke to the congregation about their new patroness.
"Edith Stein, canonized by [Pope] John Paul II in 1998, was a complex woman and truly a saint for our times," he said. "Read about her. There is much to be learned, and what you learn, if you are like me, will both inspire you and challenge you."