First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Welcoming Hopewell Junction Parish Is Like a ‘Big Family’
By DAN PIETRAFESA
Maria R. Bastone
St. Columba Church, which was dedicated by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1989. The church served as a mission to St. Denis parish before becoming a parish in 1992.

Father Michael McLoughlin now comprehends firsthand what he heard for years from Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro.

“All I would hear is how great a parish St. Columba is. He always spoke so highly of it,” Father McLoughlin said of his conversations with Bishop Lagonegro, the founding pastor of St. Columba.

“Once you get here, it’s quite a place and a great place to be a priest.”

Cardinal Dolan marked St. Columba’s 25th anniversary at a Mass he celebrated at the parish church in Hopewell Junction Sept. 9.

Parishioners will continue the celebration with an anniversary party at Christos Restaurant in Poughkeepsie Friday, Oct. 27, at 6 p.m. Bishop Lagonegro, who was pastor from 1992 to 2002; Msgr. Gerardo Colacicco, the pastor from 2002 to 2014; and former parish music director Linda Moore will be honored.

“The people are just so involved in their faith and so willing to serve and volunteer in any way,” Father McLoughlin said. “There is a tremendous energy here with the love of God, faith and Church. They’re an absolute delight to work with.”

St. Columba, which has 2,500 registered families, averages 2,600 people at its weekend Masses. The parish offers more than 20 programs and ministries such as the 900-student religious education program and CYO basketball, with 250 athletes. The parish also has a God Squad, a youth group for high school students, and hosts Ignite regional meetings for young adults.

Since Father McLoughlin’s arrival in 2014, the parish added among other things a care ministry to transport parishioners to Mass or appointments, and a monthly student leadership Mass where young people assume adult roles, serving as lectors and ushers.

“As soon as I walked in the door (37 years ago), I felt right at home, and I got involved right away,” said Mary Walsh, chair of the parish council and a teacher in the religious education program for more than 25 years. “We have a welcoming parish with many ministries. People like to get involved in the community and we’re community-minded.”

Mary Theresa Soyka, a parish trustee, has been a parishioner for 34 years, dating to when St. Columba was a mission church of St. Denis in Hopewell Junction. She is a longtime member of the choir and also assists with the student Mass and God Squad.

“I really enjoy being a parishioner, and we’re a big family,” said Ms. Soyka, who previously served the parish as a religious education instructor and coordinator. “The people are very friendly and everyone wants to do something for the parish.”

St. Columba was founded in 1904 as a mission church to St. Denis. The churches grew with the region as many parishioners worked at IBM or commuted to jobs in Westchester County or New York City.

With the growing number of parishioners, an extension to an existing church was needed at St. Denis and a church was needed at St. Columba where parishioners attended Mass in a school auditorium/gymnasium.

In 1989, Cardinal O’Connor dedicated a new St. Columba Church, a 750-seat building that cost $2.3 million. Three years later, Cardinal O’Connor approved the move to make St. Columba a parish.

In 1998, St. Columba got its own mission church, St. Kateri Tekakwitha of Lagrangeville, which became a stand-alone parish in 2002.

St. Columba is in a tri-parish cluster with St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Denis as part of Cardinal Dolan’s Making All Things New pastoral planning initiative in 2013. The three parishes share some ministries such as a tri-parish teen group, Respect Life group and the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, which feeds more than 160 families per month.

The St. Columba parish and St. Denis-St. Columba regional school teamed up to start growing its own produce this year to support the pantry. Sister Kathleen Marie Gerritse, C.R., is the principal of St. Denis-St. Columba, which has about 200 students.

St. Columba is starting an Alpha group, an evangelization ministry to bring people back to their faith and into church. The parish also is preparing for a ministry fair Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24, giving parishioners an opportunity to learn more about the parish’s programs and ministries.

“What makes St. Columba so special to me is you feel welcome and special, you matter and you’re given every opportunity to participate not only at Sunday Mass but in any other way you can,” said Chris Merenda, a 20-year parishioner who is a third-year candidate preparing to become a permanent deacon.

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