By Steve Sears
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Flanders celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2015 with a year-long celebration.
However, faced with COVID19, this year’s 35th anniversary had to be tweaked.
“Due to the pandemic, our 35th anniversary will be a bit different,” says Shannon Jones, Youth Minister and Confirmation Coordinator who also serves on the Parish Advisory Board and Faith-Sharing/Evangelization Ministry. “As we enter into this new year, we celebrate the return of our parishioners to in-person Masses after months of virtual worship and turn our focus towards best serving the current needs of our parish family and building up our community of believers, even in the midst of challenges.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, part of the Diocese of Paterson, was founded in May of 1985 and officially became a parish that June. The beginning was humble. From the website “about” page, it reads, “For years many Catholics in the Flanders area traveled to surrounding parishes to attend mass. In 1974, when the population grew in the Clover Hill area, St. Lawrence Church of Chester began Masses and Religious Education classes in Mt. View School. The seeds for our parish were sown in those Masses almost 40 years ago. We had a humble beginning, we did not even have a name for our parish and we worshipped in the school cafeteria.”
Rev. John Wehrlen served as first Pastor until his 2005 retirement, and was succeeded by current pastor, Rev. Stanley C. Barron. “Fr. John Wehrlen was committed to making sure we were an inclusive parish and in the early days, he did that by inviting people to help,” recalls Joy Rastiello, Communications Ministry Leader. “When we worshipped in the school cafeteria, the Altar Society assembled and broke down the Altar every weekend, all by volunteering to do so. He got people to volunteer to direct traffic at the school during CCD, because it was so dangerous. He suggested weekend work sessions to clear our property once we had permission to build. As much as possible, he had parishioners ‘build’ the building. Fr. John went to the CYO Ball games every weekend. Because we had limited meeting space, he opened up the parish house to let us meet there. His dining room was the daily chapel.”
Fr. Stan now leads a 1,593 families-strong parish community. “With his background as both a pastor and an educator,” says Jones, “Fr. Stan is a wonderful teacher and mentor for our parish family. He generously shares his insight and knowledge through his homilies and monthly lecture series. Known for his kindness and wit, Fr. Stan continues to lead us to an even brighter tomorrow.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish performs a number of community service and outreach activities, serving the local communities of Mount Olive and Roxbury, the Diocese of Paterson, the northern New Jersey area including Newark, as well as beyond. Activities include food pantry, Thanksgiving food baskets, Winter coat drive, and much more. “The parish,” says Jones, “is also blessed to have a vast array of ministries available to our parish family. Ministries generally fall into four main categories: Prayer and Worship, Faith-Sharing/Evangelization, Service/Charity, and Social Enrichment. Additionally, our Youth Ministry, known as SPARK Teen Ministry, is open to all teens of the parish and encompasses a blend of spiritual, social, and service-related activities.”
“As we celebrate 35 years as a parish, we are grateful for all of our parishioners who open their hearts to the fire of God’s love and work together as disciples,” says Fr. Stan. “As we look to the future, we are ready to continue to grow as a parish community, sharing God’s love, serving all neighbors, and building up the Body of Christ.”
Jones adds that St. Elizabeth’s is embracing technology in innovative ways to meet the spiritual needs of its parish family. “In these times of social distancing, we are implementing new tools to keep our parishioners connected, even while apart. We’ve introduced a new communication program called Flocknote that allows us to keep in touch with our parishioners via email and text.” The Rosary group has been meeting via Zoom each evening, and the parish’s Vacation Bible School program will be shared with families virtually. Mass continues to be livestreamed each week, so that parishioners can watch from home.
“As we forge ahead,” Jones says enthusiastically, “we look forward to continuing to grow, support, and strengthen our family of faith.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church is located at 61 Main Street in Flanders.