St. Rocco Center dedication, groundbreaking for church marks growth of Catholic community in Chester County

By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

AVONDALE – “It is a special day made possible through the hard work of many people,” said Cardinal Justin Rigali as he dedicated the new St. Rocco Mission Center in Avondale, and broke ground for a new church Aug. 16.

The church will serve Spanish speaking Catholics and further the work of Misión Santa María, Madre de Dios, also in Avondale, which was established in 1992 to serve the growing number of Hispanic Catholics living and working in southern Chester County. The center opened in June. {{more}}

Msgr. Francis Depman, chaplain of Misión Santa María, describes this Catholic community as very young and growing more quickly than any other in the Archdiocese. “When Mision Santa Maria was founded in 1992, there were 10 children in the CCD program, and now there are more than 1,200 registered. We celebrated 425 baptisms last year,” he said.

The religious education program at the Misión was staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from 1992-2004. In 1996, the Sisters, Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará arrived and now assist with evangelization. Four of the sisters teach religious education classes with the help of lay catechists.

“With so many children, we are very grateful for our lay teachers,” said Mother María del Cenaculo, S.S.V.M., local superior of the order. “One of our sisters, Sister Stella Maris, has been here from the beginning and still drives our school bus,” she added.

In addition to religious education, Misión Santa María and St. Rocco Mission Center offer numerous other services, including social services, a food cupboard, marriage preparation, citizenship classes, transportation and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The St. Rocco Mission Center was made possible when Rocco Abessinio came forth in 2006 with a dream to build a place where Spanish-speaking Catholics could worship and celebrate the sacraments; and he desired that it be named for his patron, St. Rocco (also know as St. Roch or San Roque), whose feast day is Aug. 16.

“The good people here have wanted a church for so long, and I am honored to be able to help them get one,” said Abessinio after the dedication ceremony, which was also attended by State Sen. Dominic Pileggi; Sister Mary Rachel, I.H.M., and Sister Rosemary De Paul, I.H.M., both former directors of CCD at the Misión.

Carmen Collazo, who directed the music for the ceremony, will be a parishioner at St. Rocco.

“I am so proud to have this new center of worship,” she said. “I have been in this area for 40 years and all of my children and grandchildren were born here.”

Previously the Hispanic community attended Masses at five area parish churches on a rotating basis: St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother in Avondale; St. Patrick in Kennett Square; Assumption B.V.M. in West Grove; Sacred Heart in Oxford; and Our Lady of Consolation in Parkesburg.

“We came here from Mexico eight years ago and waited for many years for this new church,” said Cecilia Nuñez, who attended the dedication with her husband Vicente and their three children. “This really means a lot to us.”

Msgr. Hugh Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics for the Archdiocese, was in attendance at the dedication and groundbreaking.

“It is our hope that this center will serve not only as a home for Spanish-speaking Catholics to come together and celebrate the sacraments, but also as a bridge for this community to integrate with the Archdiocese as a whole,” he said.

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.