In the mid-1990s, a gifted Newsday reporter named Bob Keeler won a Pulitzer Prize for an in-depth series of articles about St. Brigid’s parish in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Back then, I remember paying close attention to Keeler’s reports for several reasons: They painted a complete and positive picture of a Catholic faith community; he was a marvelous writer and a gifted storyteller; and St. Brigid’s was my home parish growing up and as a young adult.
Why do I tell you these seemingly random bits of information so many years later?
Truth be told, St. Brigid’s has come back into sharp focus for me over the past few months. Due to a change in her personal circumstances, my mother now needs a ride to Sunday Mass each week. My sister and I share the duties, which has placed me in a pew at the venerable Westbury church five or six times.
St. Brigid’s was a great place to learn about and practice the Catholic faith, so naturally I wondered how it would hold up to a close look all these years later.
My mother has been a regular parishioner for more than 50 years. St. Brigid’s is home for her. She was one of the founders of the parish outreach program about 25 years ago, as near as I can remember, and continues to serve as a volunteer two mornings a week at The Attic, a parish thrift store.
Consequently, a good many people at church know her. She is often greeted by name as she leads the way to her regular seat for the 10 a.m. Mass. Mom likes to arrive early, so she urges me to pick her up promptly at 9:30 a.m., even though St. Brigid’s Church is about four minutes from her home by car.
I have even started getting some hellos, including from the young family in the pew ahead of ours. The informal greetings are reinforced by a hello to neighbors around us at the start of Mass. The first couple of times I tightened slightly at this parish custom, but now it feels like a normal part of the liturgy.
A couple of weeks ago, Father Tony, as the pastor is known to all, came down the center aisle before Mass greeting people and jokingly explaining that he felt introductions were in order because he hadn’t celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass since before Christmas.
At the start of Mass, Father Tony went a little deeper, telling the members of his congregation that he misses them when he is away. Actually, he said that being together at Mass fills him with “joy, peace and contentment.” You talk about words that make you feel welcome.
I could write a whole column about the homilies I’ve heard at St. Brigid’s. Suffice it to say they are uniformly good, and connect God’s word to the lives of parishioners in practical and meaningful ways.
Sometimes, however, it’s little moments that stick with you. For instance, the way an older priest thanks the young lector by name and encourages the congregation to express its appreciation, too. (Young folks also lead the music ministry well in voice and instrument, including a violin.) Or the one-second smile or handshake the friendly usher shares with dozens of parishioners as he keeps the Communion line in good order. Or the personal prayer the priests direct to the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion who will bring the Eucharist to the sick and homebound in the parish.
It’s not too often in life we have an opportunity to go back home again. If anything, St. Brigid’s exceeds my expectations, and that makes me grateful to God, and my mother, for the blessing.
This personal story about my experience at one parish prompts me to ask if readers would like to share a few thoughts about what makes your own parish special, either briefly in a letter to the editor or perhaps in a slightly expanded way that we may be able to publish at cny.org.