The Most Rev. William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, helped the parishioners of St. Ignatius, Hickory “bring to a fitting conclusion” their yearlong celebration of the parish’s 225th anniversary Sunday.
Lori celebrated the noon Mass Sunday in St. Ignatius’ main 850-seat chapel, which was filled to the brim with parishioners.
St. Ignatius, which was dedicated Sept. 27, 1792, is the oldest Catholic parish in Harford County and the oldest continuously-operating parish in the Baltimore Archdiocese.
The campus, which is at the intersection of Route 1 and East Jarrettsville Road, is about three miles north of the Town of Bel Air.
“The grace of God has enabled you to be renewed and to be deepened in the true missionary spirit, the same spirit that prompted our forebears in the faith to lay the groundwork of this parish so long ago,” Lori said during his homily.
The archbishop used Sunday’s gospel reading, Matthew 20:1-16, to illustrate the parish’s history and the contributions made during specific points to get St. Ignatius to its present state.
The gospel selection, known as the parable of the workers in the vineyard, is about a vineyard owner who hires laborers at different parts of the day to work in his fields.
Each worker receives the same pay, regardless of how many hours they have worked, because they agreed to the same amount.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” the vineyard owner concludes.
Lori said the gospel reading “speaks about our calling to be laborers in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Lori compared the laborers who were hired at dawn to the Catholics who settled in Harford County in the early 1700s and the Jesuit priests who established a mission house where traveling clergy could minister to local Catholics.
Catholics were not permitted to worship openly in Maryland until the American Revolution. They had to worship in private dwellings until then, according to a history detailed in a 225th anniversary book distributed to parishioners following the Mass Sunday.
Lori compared the workers hired during the day to those who opened St. Ignatius and maintained it through the centuries.
Lori said the workers hired last would be the present-day leaders, such as the Rev. James Barker, who became pastor in the summer of 2001.
The new chapel opened in December of 2001, according to the parish history.
“I don’t have to tell you that, among the laborers in this vineyard, none has worked harder,” Lori said of Barker.
Barker delivered the closing remarks of the Mass.
“We’re very grateful to our excellent staff and to our dedicated volunteers who keep this parish going,” Barker said.
St. Ignatius has more than 3,500 families as of 2017, according to a history in the Mass program.
He noted the parish has “a reverent devotion and a deep love for the Holy Eucharist,” or the body and blood of Jesus Christ represented through bread and wine.
“It is at the heart of this community, and it serves as the catalyst from which all of our ministry flows,” Barker said.
Parishioners proceeded outside for a re-dedication of the parish’s refurbished monument to the Holy Family and the Unborn Child.
The monument, a project of the Knights of Columbus, was established in the mid-1990s.
“May this memorial enlighten our minds to an awareness that all life is sacred, and that the family is Your divinely created domestic church for the nurturing care for all new life,” Lori prayed to God.
Members of several Knights of Columbus councils participated, including the parish’s own Council 9729.
“This is much better,” John Kane Jr., the council’s past grand knight, said. “It's more in keeping with the church and the property.”
The red brick monument was rebuilt with stone similar to that of other buildings on campus, according to Kane.
Kane and his wife, Darlene, have been parishioners since 1982. They were married in the historic church, which is still used for Mass services, in 1983.
“It's just so special to be part of that history, all that have come and gone before us,” Darlene Kane said.
Parishioners and clergy gathered in the parish hall for a luncheon.
Pilar Gracia, administrator and chief counsel of the Harford County Liquor Control Board, has been a member for about eight years.
“It's been a tremendous sense of community and a tremendous sense of fellowship,” the Bel Air resident said.
Other public officials, such as County Executive Barry Glassman, State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly and his brother, state Sen. Robert Cassilly, could be see among parishioners Sunday.
Pat Wesdock, of Bel Air North, and his family have been parishioners for about 20 years. He has been a leader in Cub Scout Pack 238 and Boy Scout Troop 238, which are affiliated with St. Ignatius. His wife, daughter and sons have taken on leadership roles within the parish.
“We find this place to be home,” he said. “It's a very welcoming environment, a very welcoming atmosphere.”
Barker noted during Mass that more than 30 groups and organizations meet at St. Ignatius on a regular basis.
Wesdock chatted with Ian Longenecker, 25, of Bel Air. Longenecker was a member of Troop 238 and became an Eagle Scout in 2009, along with his brother, Zachary.
Ian, the son of Deacon Jim Longenecker, grew up in St. Ignatius, and he is still a member.
“I really enjoy a close community with other brothers and sisters in Christ, from all ages,” he said.
He said he would “absolutely” want his future children to be part of St. Ignatius.
“It's just that close community that feels like family,” he said. “People look out for each other.”
Mary and Walter Hunt, of Forest Hill, have been parishioners since 1970. Walter Hunt’s 84th birthday will be Wednesday, the 225th birthday of his parish.
“It was a very warm comforting [parish], and all my children loved it,” Mary Hunt said. “It's grown, and even with the growth of the church I still feel everybody is friendly and accommodating.”