St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, where Archbishop Charles Chaput visited March 31 to celebrate a 100th anniversary Mass, could just as easily claim it was marking its 156th anniversary. That is because the worshiping community in that part of pastoral Bucks County, although initially small, traces back to 1863 when a priest from Haycock Run would visit and celebrate Mass in a private home.
The first chapel was built in 1868, according to an early history prepared by Father Columbus Wenger, who was pastor from 1931 to 1965 and himself a convert to Catholicism. Most early Catholics in the region were German, according to Father Wenger’s research but many were lost to the faith because of a lack of ministry.
Later we see in 1877 when Father John Keul was visiting, he would stay with Rev. Jacob Kehm, the Protestant Reformed Church pastor — a nice touch of ecumenism in a very nonecumenical era.
One early attempt to establish a parish instead of a mission failed, but finally in 1919 the parish of St. Agnes came into being with Father Scott Fasig as pastor, and it has been doing very well ever since.
At this point the parish has almost 11,000 people and baptisms outnumber funerals, which is always a good sign. Over the years because of growth it has had three church buildings, each bigger than the last but all three are still used for various purposes, according to Father Jeffrey Stecz, the current pastor. As a matter of fact the first tiny church is now his office.
Among the outstanding features at St. Agnes are a well-attended adoration chapel established five years ago, an active Bible study group and outstanding youth ministry, according to Father Stecz.
The weekly meetings of parish teenagers are very well attended and every summer a full busload of students departs for Franciscan University, Steubenville, for a youth program there. This year teens will also be attending a Catholic Heart Workcamp service program in New York.
The effectiveness of the St. Agnes youth programs is evidenced by the fact that two young men of the parish are now studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and next year there will be three, according to Father Stecz.
“Another will be studying in a Neocatechumenal Way program and we have one young lady studying with the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth,” he said. “We have had great youth ministers for many years.”
“We have a faith-filled parish, I love it,” said Lesia Petrizio, the lead anniversary coordinator for the parish and herself a 20-year parishioner. She is not surprised the parish has religious vocations.
“We have always been a liturgical parish and we pray every morning for vocations,” she said.
Petrizio remembers how St. Agnes’ late former pastor, Msgr. John Wendrychowicz, he would elevate the eucharistic Host during Mass. “The smile he had on his face — and Father Stecz is the same way,” she said. “It rubs off. Our 10 a.m. Mass is packed with young people, and I have to say it has to do with our pastors.”
Deacon Lyle Benner has been in the parish for 25 years and his kids attended the parochial school there through middle school. He and his wife, Donna, have charge of the youth group and they look forward to the Steubenville trip.
“There is nothing like seeing 2,500 teens in one place all worshiping God,” he said.
But as far as he’s concerned the whole parish is wonderful.
“It’s a welcoming parish, it’s like family,” Deacon Benner said.
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