Sunday, Sept. 25 was a glorious day — the sun was shining, the sky was deep blue and the First Baptist Church in Pittston held a double celebration.
The church, situated on the corner of Water Street and Kennedy Boulevard, celebrated two milestones, one of which was its 240th anniversary. It’s just crazy to think that the Declaration of Independence was signed just months before the church was created.
The other important anniversary was that of Rev. James H. Breese’s 10-year tenure at the church. Breese was installed at the church on Nov. 25, 2006, when there were just 12 members of the church. Probably half of those were the late Willy Miller’s family. He was instrumental in having Breese installed.
Miller, a local businessman, had the foresight to see something in Breese back then, and the rest is history. There is a light at the top of the front of the church that illuminates a stained glass window that is lit nightly in honor of Miller.
When Breese was installed, I had the honor of writing the very first article on his arrival to Pittston. Breese, a FedEx driver by day, did not grow up in Greater Pittston, so there was a big learning curve, which continues today, 10 years later.
Over the years, Breese relied on the Millers, but Bob Lussi and his wife Jane, along with people like Ben Tielle and others have taken the pastor by the hand to guide him.
Breese has had a great working partnership with other members of local clergy like Msgr. John Bendik of St. John the Evangelist Church and even Fr. Paul McDonnell, a Greater Pittston native who now leads the Oblates of St. Joseph headquarters in California.
When Breese met McDonnell for the first time, they both conducted a funeral. Breese said in the car on the way to the gravesite, McDonnell had Breese in stitches. At one point in time, Breese turned to McDonnell and said they better get serious because the bereaved family would think they were a bit odd.
Knowing Breese like I have for all of these years has been, as he would say, a blessing. Speaking of blessing, when we first met and had a chat, I was still recovering from prostate cancer surgery, so before I conducted my interview, he wanted to pray for me. Nobody ever wanted to do that before — I was stunned.
We grabbed hands and closed our eyes. He asked God to rid me of the cancer and he prayed for a speedy and complete recovery. I was totally impressed and blown away that a complete stranger would do something that nice for me. Granted, he’s in the God business, but I was so honored.
I can see why membership at the church has grown from 12 to 150 over the last decade, and it’s still growing. Once people meet Breese, they’ll understand why, too.
Every time I run into Breese, I always get a hug and a great big smile that is so infectious, it just warms up my heart. I’m sure that is another reason why the congregation has been building up; he’s just so charismatic.
He, like McDonnell, had a calling to work for the Lord at an early age. While McDonnell was playing priest when he was a child, Breese was playing minister. Knowing both stories, I found that amazing.
Life hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Breese; on July 5, 2013, he lost his first wife Brenda, who had been ill for a few years prior to her death. The couple had been married for 28 years with two sons, Vincent, and Sidney, who passed away at childbirth.
Nobody really wants to be alone and Rev. Breese was no different — he wanted to find love again. He, like the good man of God that he is, put his life in the hands of Jesus asking him for help. God heard his prayers and on April 17, 2015, he wed his current wife, Sherrell.
With the exception of a two bad hips, one having been replaced and the other waiting for surgery, Breese can’t be any happier.
He has built up a dying church to be strong and thriving, and this was all through personal tragedy, physical ailment and a full-time job.
Breese has been working for FedEx for over 30 years and is looking forward to retiring. There’s no doubt he will put all of his attention to his church once that happens.
Good luck and here’s looking at your next 10 years and more, Rev. Breese.
Quote of the week
“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.” – Brigitte Bardot, French actress.
Thought of the week
“In order to act, you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.” – George Clemenceau, French statesman.
“The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.” – Jacques Benique Bossuel, French bishop.
Tony Callaio’s column My Corner, Your Corner runs weekly in the Sunday Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]