A new pastor, an anniversary celebration and a visit from Cardinal Dolan may be just what was needed to revitalize Holy Name of Jesus parish in Valhalla as it celebrated its 125th anniversary with a Mass offered by the cardinal and a banquet Nov. 20.
Six hundred people attended the Mass in the church and attached parish auditorium. The church with 1,915 parish families was averaging a combined 450 people at its four weekend Masses during the Covid pandemic.
“It was awesome,” said Fran Berger, the 71-year-old parish manager and a parishioner since 1978. “Everybody felt the energy. They’re very passionate about Holy Name. It’s where I worship, and it’s where I met other wonderful people that come to worship, volunteer and do wonderful things for our church.
“It’s a welcoming and warm community to celebrate our faith.”
Brad Swick, 61 and a parishioner since 1999, said the turnout was unexpected and that Mass attendance was up the next day.
“The whole evening I think it seemed like for so many people, it was their first time out since the pandemic,” Swick said. “People were so excited to interact with each other at the banquet. They hadn’t seen each other in a long time.”
Father Abraham Berko, who was installed as the parish’s first pastor since 2018 on Sept. 24, is assisted by Deacon Thomas Abbamont, a permanent deacon. Salesian priests come from New Rochelle to serve as weekend associates.
Weekend Masses are 5 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon on Sunday. Masses are at 7:15 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. on Saturday.
Maria Gallo is the director of the religious education program, which has 385 children, and 190 children are involved in the parish’s CYO program. Before Covid, the parish had a children’s choir, and Father Berko is hopeful the children’s choir will return soon.
Parish ministries also include a choir, altar servers, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, lectors, ushers and greeters, a prayer shawl group and the Rosary altar society. A parish social concerns group of caring volunteers assist those in need with comfort, joy and basic items such as food and clothing.
“Anything you ask of them, they do whatever they can,” Father Berko said of the parishioners. “They’re good people here. They made me feel at home.
“My dream is to make the church a lively family. We are a church but at the same time we are more than that, we are a family.”
The parish was started in 1896 by Father Regis Gerest, O.P., a Rosary Hill Dominican. The Dominicans continued to operate the parish until the archdiocese took over in 1998.
Masses were celebrated in a chapel until a multipurpose auditorium, completed and dedicated in 1959, became the site of parish Masses. A parish school was built attached to the auditorium; dedicated in the summer of 1963, it closed in 2013.
The auditorium suffered minimal damage from a Jan. 3, 1977 fire, and opened about a year later following reconstruction with a moveable wall to the new and current church, which was dedicated in 1979.
Deacon Abbamont, who was ordained in 1977, became parish deacon in 2015. He put together the organizing committee for the 125th anniversary celebration, and this year started a parish senior club, which is averaging about 50 people per meeting.
The parish celebrated its 125th anniversary with a family Mass followed by a social with coffee, juice and donuts in July; a parish barbecue in August; a family Mass followed by a pancake breakfast in September; an outdoor Mass in September and an Italian/English Mass followed by pasta night in October.
“I had a vision two years ago,” Deacon Abbamont said. “I started a committee. The people were very generous on the committee and were successful in what they did. The dinner was wonderful. The Mass was beautiful. The liturgy was wonderful. The choir was great.
“Everything was good and my vision came to fruition but it’s a plan for the future. It’s not over. It’s just starting. If we could keep the momentum going that we had (for the cardinal’s visit), we’d be good.”