It’s not often you come across a parish celebrating its 25th anniversary with the founding pastor still ministering to the flock. That would be Father Richard J. Maisano, who was appointed to the brand new parish, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother in Avondale, Chester County, on Aug. 30, 1988.
Bishop Timothy C. Senior visited Sept. 22 to celebrate Mass in honor of the 25th anniversary.
In actuality the worshiping community of St. Gabriel really goes back 120 years to a little mission chapel, St. Francis Xavier, in New Garden Township, served by St. Patrick Parish in Kennett Square.
In 1965, with an eye to the future, the chapel was relocated to a 35-acre plot in Avondale and renamed St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother in honor of a young Passionist saint venerated in the Abruzzi area of Italy from which many of the congregation’s ancestors had emigrated.
At the time it was elevated to parish status in 1988 it received most of its territory from St. Patrick and some from Assumption B.V.M., West Grove. Back then it had an estimated 400 households with 1,300 parishioners. That number has grown to about 750 households and 2,500 individuals today.
A modest church/all-purpose building was erected in 1966 and replaced by a $5 million award-winning church in 2002. The cost was partially underwritten by a 20-year loan from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that Father Maisano paid in full within six years. The original church is still used for the PREP classes and social functions.
“We waited and we were able to save until we could build the new church,” said Fred Marenco, a member of the parish finance council. “We not only built a church, we built a parish, and now we’ve built a new rectory.”
Marenco’s family has lived in the area for years, and before the parish was established he worshiped at times at St. Patrick and at other times at St. Gabriel Chapel.
Much of the success of St. Gabriel he attributes to Father Maisano. “He has provided stability and consistent leadership,” he said.
The parents of Sylvia Lawrence, Ezio and Marisa DiUbaldo, were both among the immigrants from the Abruzzi region who settled in the area. They were members of St. Patrick’s and were married there before the before St. Gabriel’s was established.
She remembers when everything took place in the original building. There were folding chairs with kneelers for Mass, but everything had to be broken down if there was a basketball game, a dance or other social activity.
In the beginning it was still mostly Italian, but that has changed over the decades, she notes. “The parish has grown both physically and spiritually,” she said, “but it still feels like family.”
In his quarter century, Father Maisano has seen three fundraisers, two of which were diocesan wide – Catholic Life 2000 and the more recent Heritage of Faith, Vision of Hope — and one strictly for the parish. All have been successful.
“I think we have a core group of parishioners who are responsible and dedicated,” Father Maisano said. “When we recently built the new rectory we did not have to take out a loan. It is a very stable parish.”
When he arrived Father Maisano knew it would probably be a long assignment but probably not this long. Now he can start on the next quarter century.