First Posted: 8/27/2013
The will of God is hard to understand, the Rev. Walter Skiba explained to the congregation of his church on Sunday.
After 99 years in the borough, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church closed its doors for the last time Sunday. Skiba, the pastor there from 1981 until retiring in 2006, gave the homily during the final Mass.
He spoke of Scripture’s most trying moments when Jesus had to yield to God’s will. In the end, he said, God blesses those who persevere.
Due to declining attendance, St. Joseph’s consolidated with Our Lady of Sorrows in 2010 under the new name, St. Monica’s Parish. The Rev. Leo McKernan led both churches, directing Mass at St. Joseph’s once weekly.
Our Lady of Sorrows along West 8th Street is now the primary site of St. Monica’s.
St. Joseph’s was founded in 1914 by a group of Polish Catholics and that heritage was laid thick during the final Mass.
Above the congregation, the well-known St. Joseph’s choir sang out hymns lead by veteran organist, Theresa Dickson, playing the St. Joseph’s world-class pipe organ. Songs like “Scerdeczna Matko,” the traditional Polish hymn meaning “Beloved Mother” were favorites in the congregation, and many parishioners sang out in the old tongue, some only knowing the context of what it was they sang, but all in the name of tradition.
The swirling sound of voices and organ pipes resonated to the sanctuary rafters clean and bright, unaided by amplifying speakers.
Dickson said the organ itself, custom built for the church in 1979, is a unique instrument with inverted white on black wooden keys that collaborates perfectly with the building’s acoustics.
“When you hold that chord at the end of the song and then you take your hands off, you hear that resonance…” her voice trailed off. “What gives an organist joy is when you heart the people singing too. And they were.”
Some of the church’s long-held Polish traditions will continue at St. Monica’s.
During the Easter season, the congregation brings their baskets full of food for Easter breakfast to be blessed by the priest and the breaking of the wafers at Christmastime will hold fast as well.
The common sounds of parents shushing children in the pews were heard just like during any other service, but the chanted prayers sounded a bit more melancholy as parishioners young and old said them one last time in their church.
Four Knights of Columbus — Pittston Council, JFK Assembly, decked out in their fine regalia, swords glistening — heralded the final Mass.
An old usher with misty eyes wiped his nose. Nodding his head, he agreed that the old Polish recitations spoken from the loft above sounded beautiful.
In a Scripture reading lector Walter Bednar read a passage from the book of Isaiah to the congregation of about 200 that the Lord will bring all his people together in one place, encouraging them that the bright and spacious sanctuary they were sad to leave is only a temporary stop, anyway.