St. Mary’s to honor 100th anniversary Monday

(Alexis Macklin/DD)
St. Mary’s Basilica will celebrate its centennial on Monday. Bishop Thomas Olmsted will lead the mass. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

St. Mary’s Basilica will begin a 14-month celebration of its centennial with a solemn mass at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted will lead the mass, which is being held on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Friar John Hardin, the superior of the St. Barbara Franciscan Province, will copreside with Olmsted.

Friar Vincent Mesi, the current pastor of St. Mary’s, said that the mass would be the appropriate start to the centennial celebration because it fell on the feast day of the church.

The mass will begin with a ceremony outside the church in which Olmsted will say a ceremonial prayer before opening the doors of the church. The mass will then begin.

“We hope to have a beautiful gathering of people,” Mesi said.

The mass represents the start of a celebration that will culminate in a similar celebration on Feb. 11, 2015. It was on that day, 100 years prior, that the church was founded. It was the first Catholic parish in Phoenix. Because it was the first church of its kind in the area, it drew parishioners from all over the Valley. Even today, Mesi said the church still brings in parishioners from a variety of different places, including Surprise, Chandler, Mesa and Buckeye.

“People would travel from all over the place to come to St. Mary’s for mass,” Mesi said. “In fact, they still travel from every place to come to St. Mary’s for Sunday worship.”

Margaret Gabaldon, a member of the centennial planning committee, said she notices this diversity every weekend when she goes to mass.

“More people are coming,” she said. “You see families with little children. And you see people that are just not in this area. They come from Laveen, they come from Pinal County, they come from all over.”

To find a parishioner who lives outside of the church’s traditional boundaries, Gabaldon need only look at her sister, Pat Rush, who lives more than six miles away from the church.

During the 1950s, when Gabaldon and Rush were growing up, the church and the school that was attached to it were staffed by many priests. However, as time went on, the priest shortage began to affect St. Mary’s.

Despite the shortage and the move of the church’s school from across the street to farther north on Third Street, Gabaldon said the church has actually grown in popularity.

She said the change was especially evident after the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that significantly altered the liturgy and made the church, in Gabaldon’s opinion, more open.

“A breath of fresh air came in,” Gabaldon said. “It involved more laypeople in the church.”

Rush also said the church has become more attractive to those in the Phoenix area.

“People go to the basilica because they like the ministry that is there,” Rush said.

Gabaldon also attributed this growth to the presence of Franciscan friars in the parish.

“I think it’s because they are Franciscan that they have this openness,” she said. “And it’s not always this doom and gloom. I think that Franciscans have a way of just making you love one another.”

Mesi, a member of the Franciscan order, also said that the Franciscan way meshes very well with the Catholic community in the Phoenix area.

“(The parishioners) like the Franciscan friars and the Franciscan spirituality,” he said. “The Franciscan spirituality considers all of creation — everything and everyone — as beloved of God. So there’s an emphasis on humanity and human needs.”

He pointed to an interreligious service that took place at St. Mary’s two years ago as an example of the openness of the parish. The service, which mirrored another service done by Pope John Paul II 27 years ago in Assisi, Italy, assembled leaders and members of various religious groups in the Phoenix area. Religions represented included Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.

“It was a very moving and beautiful evening of prayer for peace,” Mesi said. “Each one of these religions brought some of their own prayers and their own rituals.”

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