06/01/2009 15:24

By Mary Stadnyk

Bittersweet memories and sentiments tinged with emotions of sadness, hope and anticipation were expressed by parishioners from Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish, Trenton.

They witnessed the closing of the building that was their spiritual home, Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Church, for more than 67 years. Since 1941, the building, located on Pennington Ave. in the city’s Battle Monument area, that had been the icon for a faith community with a rich, ethnic African American heritage, is now closed. But the spirit of the people of Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd will carry on for many years to come, said Bishop John M. Smith in his homily during a Mass he celebrated to commemorate the closing Dec. 21.

Bishop Smith said that Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd was established in 1941 in response to a petition presented to Bishop William A. Griffin by several hundred black Catholics who wanted to have their own house of worship. Priests of the Society of the Divine Word were charged with ministering to the parish, and Bishop Griffin had named Father Joseph Ford the first pastor. 

In 2005, Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd was merged with nearby Blessed Sacrament Church and became Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Parish as part of a diocesan restructuring initiative for parishes in the Greater Trenton area.

Three years later in January, 2008, the parish established two task force groups — a strategic planning committee and a development committee — to study the financial and religious needs of the parish and recommend options for meeting those needs. The strategic planning committee recommended closing one of its worship sites to help bolster the parish’s finances against anticipated financial shortfalls.

A lease of the former Blessed Sacrament School building to the Trenton Board of Education was not going to be renewed in 2009, resulting in a loss of substantial revenue. ln that the OLDS site had a 200-person seating capacity and Blessed Sacrament Church, which had been designated the principal worship site in the merger, accommodated 800 persons, the recommendation to close the second site was issued.

Bishop Smith received the parish’s request to close the secondary site and, after consulting with the required diocesan officials, issued his approval. The bishop commended the work of Father Edward Tetteh, pastor of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd, and the planning committees, acknowledging their decision "was not an easy task."

"I am confident that the parish will continue to develop its unity, even as it celebrates its diversity, and that the vibrancy of parish life that will result from these efforts will enrich the faith of all parishioners," said Bishop Smith.

In his homily, the bishop offered words of assurance to the parishioners, acknowledging how difficult it must be for them to see their beloved church close.

Yet, said Bishop Smith, we must remember that “places are sacred because of the people we meet there, the things that happened there and the memories we carry with us. This is a sacred place because for many of you, your memories of faith are rooted here."

Now, Blessed Sacrament "is your new home," said Bishop Smith. "You’re going to a new home, but it’s your home and you bring all the memories of the past and all the life that is within you and all the goodness and beauty and truth that makes up this parish community of Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd.”

Father Tetteh delights in telling how Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd is a diversified parish with a rich and cultural heritage. He affectionately refers to his flock as the "twenty five apostles" because there are more than 25 ethnic groups that comprise the parish. They come from

the United States, a number of Eastern European countries, the Philippines, the African countries of Nigeria, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Ghana, as well as from Central and South American countries — Colombia, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, Panama, Guyana and the Bahamas.

As a priest who was born and raised in the southeastern part of Ghana, West Africa, and in a country where people are trying to raise money to build churches, Father Tetteh admitted that it’s been tough for him to wrap his mind around the concept of merging parishes, let alone ever think that he would ever be a pastor in charge of a merged parish.

"I had heard about merging of parishes and schools in the United States, but I never thought I would be in this position," he said.

Father Tetteh showed his emotions when he offered a sincere apology to his parishioners about the closing of OLDS.

"I’m very sorry," he said. "I wish I could do more to bring healing to many of you who are hurting because of this transition. I pray that the merciful God who brought us this far, will be the same God who will give us the strength and faith we need to bring other people from far and near to this parish we are proud of."

“With faith, I do believe that if we could turn a Masonic temple into a very thriving place of Catholic worship, we could surely do the same thing when we move to the new site at Blessed Sacrament," he said. (text copied from "The Monitor" January 1,2009-Diocese of Trenton)

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