Wesley Hills Parish Celebrates Jubilee Year, With an Assist

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St. Boniface is a unique parish adapting to its changing community.

St. Boniface celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Mass and reception on Oct. 8, and is planning for a visit from Cardinal Dolan on Saturday, Dec. 17.

“We’re very excited to have him come for Mass and a reception,” said Father Thadeus Aravindathu, administrator at St. Boniface.

St. Boniface is located in Wesley Hills, a Rockland County community that is now home to many Orthodox Jews. St. Boniface, a parish now with about 400 families, welcomed the St. Mary’s Syro Malabar Catholic Church in 2012, and the two parishes call St. Boniface Church their house of worship. It was the first bi-ritual church in the archdiocese.

“We’re a parish with older parishioners,” said Bob Chamberlain, a parishioner of St. Boniface for about 30 years, who noted that many parishioners live “on the outskirts of the parish…A lot of people have moved out of the area and our numbers dropped.

“With the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church coming in, the church is full and vibrant again,” Chamberlain said. “They’re younger families with children. They enjoy it and feel welcomed here.”

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church with 5 million followers based in India, has more than 90,000 members in the United States under one eparchy (diocese) in Chicago.

St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which formerly celebrated Masses at Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at the Rockland Psychiatric Center, has about 150 families.

“I’m celebrating my priesthood with the best of both worlds,” said Father Aravindathu, who also serves as the vicar at St. Mary’s. “It’s the beauty of the universal Church and the coming together of two cultures and nationalities. It proves we can work together and we’re all united.”

Cardinal Dolan originally was scheduled to celebrate Mass with current and past St. Boniface parishioners as well as St. Mary’s families on Oct. 8. A potluck reception followed with American and Indian food. The cardinal was forced to miss the Mass and reception due to a traffic backup, and the December date was just set.

“My wish is it will be a grand occasion to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Father Aravindathu said. “Cardinal Dolan was so gracious to call us from the car when he was stuck in traffic to talk with people at Mass” through a microphone in the church.

“Cardinal Dolan has been wonderfully gracious and loving to us.”

This is just one event that St. Boniface and St. Mary’s celebrate together.

“They come to our picnic, and we go to their picnic,” said Chamberlain as an example of the two parishes participating together in activities.

“They’re a part of our parish family, and they’re helping our parish out. It’s a great relationship between the two parishes and Father Thadeus is good with both parishes. He’s a very likeable, friendly, outgoing and spiritual man, and is able to balance the ball between the two congregations, which is a tough job.”

St. Boniface was one of three new parishes in Rockland County formed by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1966, along with St. Aedan in Pearl River and St. Joan of Arc in Sloatsburg. St. Boniface’s first Masses took place with 100 families at Ivy Manor Restaurant with Father John P. Keogh serving as pastor. On Christmas Day in 1966, St. Rita’s Chapel was blessed as the parish home of St. Boniface.

In 1979, the parish council approved the construction of a new church on Willow Tree Road, with parishioners volunteering their time to build the structure. The new church opened with the first Masses on Christmas Eve in 1980.

In 2012, Father Aravindathu and St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church came to St. Boniface.

“We don’t know what will happen in the future. We will take it year by year,” Father Aravindathu said. “This is an experiment to see how it goes. Both parties get along really well. They need each other. St. Boniface needs St. Mary’s to stay open, and St. Mary’s needs a place to worship.”

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