“We had some pretty unsure moments along the way, but our collective spirit was not dimmed,” Father Thomas Whittingham said after the Sunday, September 24 Eucharistic celebration at Saint Laurence Parish in Upper Darby. “Everything this weekend just proves that nothing is impossible with God.”
The pleased pastor enjoyed an uplifting time with parishioners as they marked the reopening of their spiritual home’s upper church. After a three-years-in-the-waiting experience, a weekend long celebration helped the faithful put behind them memories of ceiling asbestos that had left them with only a lower church.
“There’s always been a good spirit within the parish, and we have no place to go but up, quite literally,” longtime parishioner Harry Dietzler said of the 1,900-family-strong congregation’s reunion within its main spiritual haven. “Now that we’re back to what so many of us had grown accustomed to, it feels as if our mission to be a united flock has taken on more significance.”
A massive fundraising campaign that netted over $1 million, combined with existing parish funds, helped to counter the discovery of asbestos in the ceiling of the upper church in 2020. Already needing to adapt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dietzler and fellow parishioners met the initial change from having two churches onsite to just one with understanding but also hope that the impressive upper destination would once again take its place as a beacon in Delaware County.
“We want to inspire prayer however we can, and this will assist that goal,” Father Whittingham, who in June marked two years at Saint Laurence, said of having his first chance to lead services in the upper church that dates to 1951, making it 25 years younger than the lower one. “Our vibrant, diverse community has so much to be thankful for.”
Proving that statement, parishioners gathered on Saturday to tour the renovated location while also enjoying games, musical entertainment, and family activities, with prize basket raffles as another perk.
Come Sunday morning, nearly 1,000 worshippers, gathered to see what Dietzler dubbed “The miracle on West Chester Pike.”
Given the makeup of the community, the Mass called on Saint Laurence’s choirs (English, Vietnamese, and Latino). Having followed the upper church’s ceiling reconstruction process closely, Dietzler found himself overcome with emotion when everyone could again congregate safely in that sacred space.
“My eyes were filling up every five minutes,” he said, adding that more parishioners and guests might find themselves moved to tears, too, as further alterations, including the placement of a gold-tiled mosaic behind the main cross, enhance the space.
“We’re back to having a full-strength identity,” Father Whittingham said, explaining that such occasions as weddings and funerals will join with other events at the church and within the parish to provide encouragement, consolation, and other needed blessings to bolster parishioners’ and visitors’ vigor along their spiritual journeys.
“All is going back to what many people had come to rely on for years,” he said. Father Whittingham added that the parish is eagerly anticipating that the visit of Archbishop Nelson Pérez who will venture to Upper Darby on December 16 to confer an official blessing on Saint Laurence.
“No matter the wait, our faith and commitment to Christ have, as they always will, proven effective.”
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