By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
POTTSTOWN – Sophie Voyner, 103, and Dr. Stanley Nowacki, 99, were among a packed congregation who bid farewell to the former St. Peter Church at the Aug. 31 closing Mass of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s Pottstown site.
“It was very difficult to see it close – it felt like a death in the family,” said 41-year-old John Cherneskie, a lifelong parishioner. “It was the heart and soul of my Catholic faith,” he added.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Limerick was formed July 1, 2006, from the consolidation of St. Peter Parish in Pottstown and St. Clare Parish in Linfield. Since the consolidation, Masses have been held at both sites, as well as at St. Pius X High School in Pottstown, while the new church is being built.
With the recent completion of the parish’s education center at Swamp Pike and Neiffer Road in Limerick, five weekend liturgies will now be celebrated there beginning Sept. 13-14. The parish’s last Mass at the Pius X High School site was celebrated in late June. Until the new church is built, the Linfield site will continue to be used for daily Mass, the 6 p.m. Sunday Mass, as well as for weekly Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Father Paul C. Brandt, the founding pastor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, was the principal celebrant at the closing Mass. “As pastor, I knew the day I was assigned that this day would come,” he said. “It’s all part of the changing life of a new parish.”
All ages were represented at the Mass. Special arrangements were made to get the homebound parishioners, including 103-year-old Voyner, to the church. She sat in the first pew. Just as he does every week, 99-year-old Nowacki walked to church. Attending the closing Mass was also the goal for an 88-year-old woman who had hip surgery eight weeks ago.
After the congregation, choir, organist and clergy recessed out of the church, two lifelong parishioners closed the church door for the final time. Father Brandt then locked the door. As he turned around, Father Brandt was struck by the solemn faces of all who lingered along the sidewalk. “At the same time, through the tears, many of them were saying, ‘It’s time to move on. We knew this was coming. It had to happen.'”
There is now one educational center for youngsters of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, as the Pottstown site’s elementary school and the Linfield site’s pre-kindergarten program closed this past June. In addition to those youths, some students from the parish’s Linfield campus who had attended four different Catholic elementary schools in the area will report on Sept. 8 to the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s new education center. A comprehensive childcare program will also be started at the site, to accommodate youngsters who are 6 weeks old to school age. The parish PREP program begins there Sept. 21.
Despite the sadness of the closing of the church in Pottstown, “my faith is stronger than the brick and mortar of St. Peter,” said Cherneskie, who attended the noontime Sunday Mass with his mother, Margaret; his wife, Kirsten and their four children: Johnnie, 14; Kirk, 12; Kylie, 10 and Julianna, 8.
Just as their father served Masses at St. Peter when he was a boy, Johnnie and Kirk Cherneskie were altar servers at the closing Mass.
A sentimental moment of the closing liturgy for Cherneskie occurred when the sanctuary candle would not extinguish. For 30 years, Cherneskie’s late father, Robert, was a caretaker of the church and it was at that moment especially that Cherneskie felt his father’s presence there.
Cherneskie is a 1981 graduate of St. Peter School. His oldest boy, Johnnie, is a 2008 alumnus and member of the last class to graduate from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta School’s Pottstown site. Cherneskie sees the new education center as a new chapter for his three younger children and their peers. “I know the future is bright for the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta,” he said.
The new school will open with 226 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades, a 40 percent increase from last year’s enrollment, Father Brandt said. In addition, 34 children are currently registered for the comprehensive child care program.
And by all accounts, the school children are happy about their new school building. “They can’t wait,” Father Brandt said. In addition to those youngsters who volunteered to help get the new school ready for classes next week, others “ask their parents to drive by,” the pastor said. “They want to know where their classrooms are.”
Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas is scheduled to dedicate the education center at the noon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 5.
For more information, call Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish at (610) 287-2525 or visit the Web site www.blteresacalcutta.org.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or email@example.com.