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No mention of Catholicism can be found in the earliest history of the local area. However, we do know French priests did follow the Susquehanna River to evangelize Native American tribes in Pennsylvania during the late 17th century. Jesuit missionary priests who traveled from Maryland during the early 18th century are most closely related to the faith communities of Parishes in the Harrisburg diocese today. Early missionary priests moved about searching for isolated Catholic immigrants, mostly Irish and German. The potato famine in Ireland caused Mass migration while war and religious persecution were factors in German immigration. The Irish, in particular, suffered great prejudice by the English colonists to the point of not acknowledging their Catholic background.
Missionary priests helped the settlers to hold on to their Catholic faith and identity. The recorded beginning of Saint Columba Parish dates back to the year 1826 during the construction of the North Branch Canal and the building of the railroads. The spiritual ministerial and needs of this small group of mainly Irish and German immigrants in and about Bloomsburg and Catawissa were attended to by priests who came either from Milton or Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
From 1844 to 1847, Father John Fitzpatrick of Milton regularly attended to the spiritual needs of the Catholic community, and services were held at the home of Michael Casey on North Iron Street. Also at this time, the spiritual needs of a group of German Catholics in the Lightstreet area were administered by a German priest, whose name has been lost in antiquity; however, here too the Mass was celebrated in private homes.
Twenty-two Catholic families resided in the Bloomsburg area at this time and among the early names recorded were John Hartman, Michael Casey, John Egan, Martin Crogan, David Jones, John Donolly, M. McQuillen, John Halligan, Michael Asby, John Smith, Peter Smith, Hugh Furrey, and James Cronin.
In 1848, the Catholics took their initial step toward becoming an organized Parish when they banded together to purchase land from Reverend David Waller and his wife on October 17, 1848, for $180 in Bloom Township, west of Iron Street, for a cemetery. This was occasioned by the fact that in that year, the angel of death visited the small flock for the first time and burial had to take place in Pottsville.
The next step in this journey toward becoming a Parish in Bloomsburg covered the years from 1849 to 1882. During the years from 1844 to 1849, their spiritual needs were answered by Father John Flanagan from Milton and later by a Father Hennigan who was in turn succeeded by Father O’Keefe, the first resident pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Danville in 1849. The Catholics of Bloomsburg became a mission of St. Joseph’s and St. Hubert’s churches. Father O’Keefe was followed by Father Kerney, who was succeeded by Father Sheridan in the fall of 1851. Father Edward Murray became the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church and the Bloomsburg Mission on September 30, 1857. As the years passed, the membership of the mission congregation continued to increase and it became apparent that a central place of worship was needed. On April 4, 1859, Father Murray purchased a property on East Third Street near the iron Street corner for $535.
It is recorded in Deed Book O, pages 765, 766, and 767 that the property purchased from John Snyder and wife and deeded to the Right Reverend John N. Neumann, Bishop of the Diocese of Philadelphia was a lot on Third Street, 68 feet, 6 inches wide and 163 feet long on which stood a stone church 30 feet by 50 feet, formerly owned by the “American Primitive Methodist Sect.” Father Murray dedicated the new property to the worship of Almighty God under the patronage of St. Columkil (Columba) on September 4, 1859. The Catholic congregation in Bloomsburg became known as the Saint Columba Mission. In 1866, Father Murray was succeeded by Father McGinnes as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Danville, and the Saint Columba Mission.
Bishop Neumann of the Philadelphia Diocese visited the Bloomsburg area on three occasions for the purpose of administering the Sacrament of Confirmation. In 1854, he confirmed nineteen persons; in 1857, twelve; and in 1859, a class of twenty-one.
Saint Columba Mission became a mission of St. Hubert’s German Church in Danville in 1870 under Father Schmidt, who was succeeded by Father Schleuter in 1872. In 1877, Father Schmidt returned as pastor of the two congregations, serving Saint Columba Mission until 1882.
In October 1882, the Saint Columba Mission achieved full Parish status with the appointment of the first resident pastor, Father Andrew O’Brien. His term and that of his successor, Father Charles Kenny, was very brief – one month. In December of that year, Father M. O’Reilly was appointed pastor of St. Columba Church.
Father O’Reilly was an outstanding administrator and organizer. He proved most successful in transforming St. Columba from a Mission to a Parish church. On January 13, 1883, Father O’Reilly purchased a property, which adjoined the church to the west, for $1500 from James Reilly. The brick building, which stood on the property, was used as the first Parish rectory. Father O’Reilly remained as pastor until June 1884.
Between June 1884 and February 1885, St. Columba Parish had no resident pastor, with Father Schmidt of St. Hubert’s of Danville attending. The next pastor of St. Columba was Father Edward Clark who served from February 1885 until 1886 when Father Arthur J. McCann was appointed pastor in September of that year. During his 13-year pastorate, additional property was purchased on the corner of Third and Iron streets on the east side of the church from Elizabeth Rawlings for $4250. The brick building, which stood on the lot, was intended to be used as a school. This particular structure is still standing and is in use today as the rectory. NOTE: In 1911, this building was moved about 70 feet west from the original corner location when construction began for a new church. Also under the direction of Father McCann, the existing church was completely remodeled and frescoed and new altars were installed.
Father James Bair came to St. Columba in 1899 and in October 1901, he was succeeded by Father Joseph R. Murphy. Father Murphy remained as pastor until May 1910. During this period, the congregation continued to grow and the need for a larger church was recognized. There were 270 souls in the Parish during the close of Father Murphy’s tenure and it prompted him to initiate planning for the construction of a larger church. However, it was during the pastorate of his successor, Father Edward Burkard, that the plans were completed and construction began on June 27, 1911. Bishop John W. Shanahan dedicated this new church on October 12, 1913. Ultimately, this church yielded to the current structure, which was dedicated in January 1970.
Reverend Herman B. Gies succeeded Father Burkard in December 1917 and remained until February 1936. During that time, the indebtedness as paid off, the church was frescoed, a new organ installed, Stations of the Cross erected, and another property was purchased on Iron Street.
Father Louis J. Yeager came to St. Columba in February 1936. During his pastorate, a substantial building fund was created and several additional properties were purchased for the purpose of future church expansion. While Father Yeager was the pastor, St. Columba experienced another first: Father Daniel Gearing was appointed assistant pastor. Father Gearing came to Bloomsburg from the Pittsburgh Diocese and was very active with the youth of the Parish. The two priests recognized a void in the Parish involvement with the Catholic students attending Bloomsburg State Teachers College and consequently founded the “Columbian Club” to serve their spiritual needs. Today’s chaplains assigned to the Catholic Campus Ministry by the Diocese attend to the Catholic students at Bloomsburg University. Sunday Masses for the students have been conducted at St. Columba, with the consent of the pastor, since the fall of 1970.
During World War II, about 110 boys and girls of St. Columba’s Parish entered the armed services, and six of their number made the supreme sacrifice. And independent Catholic U.S.O. Center was conducted in the church hall.
Father William J. Burke became the pastor of St. Columba Parish on May 24, 1945, and during his pastorate, the Parish school building was constructed. The school was dedicated in 1954 – the Marian Year – and was staffed by the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. With the addition of this school, St. Columba became a complete Parish. Father Burke inspired the congregation toward many spiritual, social, and fundraising activities, not the least of which was the reactivating of the Parish stand at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds.
On November 8, 1957, Father Vincent Topper assumed the leadership of St. Columba, and he purchased the property on Iron Street for use as a Parish convent.
Father James W. Beeman came to St. Columba as Father Topper’s assistant, and they were responsible for establishing the Benton Mission of Christ the King in November 1961.
On August 9, 1963, Father John J. Suknaic replaced Father Topper and served for a five-year span. During that time, he paid off the Parish debt and initiated the preliminary planning and architectural work for the construction of the present church.
Father Suknaic’s time was marked by a flurry of assistants. They were Fathers David T. McAndrew, Bernard Petrina, Hubert J. Kealy, and Martin T. Brown. Although their tenures were short, each left his mark on the Parish, the community, and Christ the King Mission.
Father Joseph T. Kofchock assumed the Parish leadership on September 19, 1968, and under his direction, the final plans for the building of the new church were approved. The old church on the corner was razed in the fall of 1968 and construction of the present church progressed quite rapidly, culminating with the dedication ceremony and first Mass on January 19, 1970. The church cost $473,000 to build and furnish and seat 700 people. During construction, Masses were held in the school cafeteria/gymnasium and at the Columbia Theater on Center Street where in lieu of kneelers, Parishioners and the university’s Catholic students would stand.
Father Kofchock purchased a property on Iron Street across from the church in anticipation of the need for a new rectory. He was instrumental in the formation of the first Parish school board, which was instituted to take an active role in the operation of St. Columba School.
In June 1973, the pastoral responsibilities of St. Columba were placed in the hands of the Reverend Leonard V. Casey. Under his leadership, the Parish debt was substantially reduced, and he initiated a myriad of ongoing activities and programs, notably the formation of the “Casey Club” for the over-fifty members of the congregation and the formation of the Parish Advisory Council, which plays an important role in Parish decision making. His greatest pleasure was derived from helping make the liturgy meaningful for all Parishioners that included the introduction of what at the time most called a guitar-music ministry. Father Casey was a fixture in the school and was active in the children’s religious education whenever he was asked.
During Father Casey’s administration, he was assisted by Father Lawrence McNeal and Father Thomas Scala. Both priests aided in the operation of Christ the King Parish in Benton. Father Casey’s leadership continued until 1986 when Father Thomas Langan, former Bloomsburg University Chaplin, assumed the role as pastor, continued the debt reduction program and meeting the religious need of St. Columba and Christ the King Parishes. He was assisted for a short time by Father Scala and in November 1987, by Father Ronald Moratelli, who remained until 1998. 1988 saw the return of Father Thomas Scala as pastor, and he served until 1994, concentrating on the religious educational needs of the Parish.
Father Patrick Devine replaced Fr. Scala as Pastor in June 1994 beginning his goal of guiding the Parish to a rich spiritual fulfillment and creating an outreach to the community of Bloomsburg,
The Parish began the Food Cupboard under the leadership of Martha Sheehe in 1994-1995, which distributed food twice a week out of the old Parish Center on Iron Street directly across from St Columba’s Church. After several years, the sponsorship of the Food Cupboard was taken over by the Bloomsburg Ministerium with Martha Sheehe remaining as the Director. This ministry was met with such success that the operations now work out of the former Winona Fire Hall, which the Parish purchased and renovated, dedicating it to Father Patrick Devine at the time of his retirement. The hall also houses a preschool program and is used for meetings of the Knights of Columbus and other Parish activities. After almost 25 years the Food Cupboard has distributed over 400,000 parcels to the poor in the Bloomsburg area.
In 1998, a committee, led by attorney Al Luschas, began a study of the Parish buildings and what needs the Parish had at that time. Two problems emerged immediately: the Parish had filled its existing storage spaces and the Parish office building was in bad shape with too many other buildings the Parish had purchased that were simply not cost-effective and a drain on the Parish budget. The committee’s study came up with a plan that included a new Parish center, renovating and purchasing the Winona Firehouse on Center Street that was up for sale, and razing five buildings for the building of a new Parish center and a new storage center for Parish supplies. The plan was presented to the Parish at a cost of $1.2 million in 1999 and Parishioners contributed $1 million of the total over three years. The remainder of the money came from Parish savings. Ground was broken for the new Parish Center in 2000 and it was dedicated in November 2002.
The addition of the new Parish Center was designed to make a statement of the church’s commitment to the neighborhood and the town. This was recognized in a Press Enterprise editorial column, “Roses to the ambitious building program that includes construction of a $1.4 million education and meeting center. Not only is the Parish transforming one of the town’s oldest neighborhoods, but it is also proving wrong predictions about the inevitable decline and demise of mainstream churches.”
By this time, the old Winona building had been renovated by the generous volunteer group of men and women headed by Larry Snyder. On the main floor, it housed the food bank and other areas were used as a preschool program for St Columba School and as a meeting area for the Knights of Columbus.
Father Keller, the next Parish assistant, arrived in 1998 and stayed until 2000.
From 2002-2010 under the principalship of Mrs. Maryann Vernarchick, the Parish grade school expanded from Pre-K to 5th Grade program to include 3 more grades, giving the Parish a complete Pre-K through eighth-grade elementary/intermediate school.
The liturgy at St Columba Parish continued to be the main component of Parish life. In 2001, The newest Director of Music Ministry, Catherine Chayko, continued to build on the programs that the former director Dennis Bobber had started, with an impressive number of young people and older Parishioners contributing to the choirs, musicians, and cantors.
In 1994, Fr. Devine asked attorney Jack Mihalik to organize a basketball program for the Parish and since then, it has flourished with championship programs for both girls and boys.
In 2000, Fr. Sceskie became both Chaplain of the University and Pastor at Christ the King Parish in Benton, an arrangement that continues today.
On June 18, 2002, the Press-Enterprise newspaper printed a letter written by Rev. Thomas A. Young, Pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church and President of the Bloomsburg Ministerium, stating, “Father Patrick Devine has been a loyal and dedicated servant here for the past nine years and has contributed in many ways to the quality of life of the town. He has been active in so many ways and involved in the town to improve it. We are grateful for his witness among us as a brother in the faith and co-worker. We wish to thank the members of Saint Columba for the many ways they contribute to improving the faith and life of the town of Bloomsburg.”
Father Joseph H. Fennessy provided spiritual guidance and support to the St. Columba Parish family following his retirement from St. Mary’s Parish in Berwick in 1999 until his death on Dec. 10, 2015. He was a well-loved and ever-present part of Parish life during this time and made lasting friendships with several families during his tenure. Father Fennessy was also very influential and active in ecumenical activities and the Legion of Mary.
Father Paul Fisher followed Father Devine and served as our Parish Pastor for two years, from 2009 to 2011. Father Fisher maintained his duties with a focus on liturgy and the sanctuary decorations in the church. He was very interested in making the sanctuary look different for each of the Holy Days of the Church. He was also the Diocesan Ecumenical officer during this time.
From June 2011 through 2021, our Parish had been led by Monsignor Robert E. Lawrence, who is driven by the Theology of Presence; he strives to be present in all aspects of Parish life. On a given day, Msgr. can be found visiting the elderly/homebound, attending to the sick at home or in the hospital, offering Mass at the Senior Residential facilities in our Parish boundaries, and maintaining his availability on the Parish grounds as well. He has initiated the new funeral meals hospitality committee as an outreach program to the bereaved.
In communication with the Parish Finance Council, Msgr. Lawrence paid off our parish debt and has spearheaded many initiatives to improve infrastructure, including replacing the church carpets, installing new HVAC systems for the church and the school which enables each classroom (including the gym and cafeteria) to have its own heating/cooling system, replacing the PA system and carpeting in the church, installing a new carillon (chiming bell system), and developing an overhead shelter and handicap accessibility ramp at the Parish entrance from the main parking lot adjacent to the rectory. Msgr. Lawrence also increased the parking options for our Parishioners with the purchase of adjacent properties. He has also active in the Diocese of Harrisburg as a member of the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council.
In 2018, the Religious Education Program was housed in the Parish Center and under the direction of Helen McMenamin. Joe Mullen recently retired from this position after 15 years as the Director of Religious Education, but he continues to lead the adult education program.
A monthly Good Neighbor collection enables the church to distribute approximately $7,000 per year to local charities and individuals in need. During the holiday season, Parishioners purchase gifts for the needy members of the community. The church’s work with Bloomsburg University students must be mentioned as an important part of their college lives, and sports activities for the youth and adults incorporating the use of the school’s gym are very popular.
In June 2018, Monsignor Lawrence approached Sam Bidleman and Catherine Chayko about updating the Parish Website with a new focus on parishioner engagement through our parish community and liturgical ministries. By late 2018, Bidleman had built a new 92-page site (https://saintcolumbachurch.org/) which was shared with Parish Council and representatives of various parish groups. After tweaks for tablet and phone use, the site was launched on March 3, 2019. At the end of that first year, 18,276 visitors had made 48,285 visits to our site. The second year saw a jump to 30,903 visitors making 76,843 unique visits to our constantly updated website. As of March 3, 2021, visitors from 167 countries and all 50 states have spent some time on our Parish Website. Bidleman and Chayko have continued to volunteer as website administrators and our site continues to be a lighthouse of information for our Parish Community.
St. Columba continues to maintain a Middle States Association accredited elementary-intermediate-middle school (Pre-School through Grade 8) program sustained by Parish monies and tuition. Through character education and religion, hundreds of young people including many who have made significant contributions to the Bloomsburg community while attending our school, have moved on to regional high schools, well prepared for the rigors of higher education. Principal Nancy Becker (2010-2015) completed her term with an added pre-school program and an increase in student population from the closed middle school program at Berwick’s Holy Family School.
Dr. Robert Marande then started his first of five years in 2015, improving the school with expanded technology for all classes and the addition of a cooperative Spanish instruction program with interns from Bloomsburg University. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic closed St. Columba School and all schools in Pennsylvania during March 2020, and they stayed closed for the remainder of the school year. Within a day or two of closure, SCS teachers introduced Zoom online/virtual instruction and other delivery means so that students would not miss any grade-level academic requirements.
Peter Morisco was hired as the newest principal in the summer of 2020 and with safety measures in place that included classroom sanitizing, hand-washing, and mandatory facemasks, the new school year opened with students in-person in their classrooms. The only time the school went virtual was the week after Christmas due to the many families who traveled out of the area while the pandemic raged across the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted both religious and secular life in 2020. On January 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the first Coronavirus-related pneumonia in Wuhan, China and by Jan. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started airport screenings for Coronavirus. The next day, the CDC confirmed the first US Coronavirus case in the state of Washington. And on Jan. 31, the WHO issued a Global Health Emergency with the US declaring a national Public Health Emergency on Feb. 3. On March 6, PA Governor Tom Wolf reported the state’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Delaware County and in Wayne County. On March 11, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Two days later, President Donald Trump proclaimed a National Emergency. On March 13, Wolf announced that all PA schools would be closed for at least two weeks.
The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg suspended all public Masses and devotions until further notice to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus on March 16. Bishop Gainer also asked that all churches and chapels be closed, including all perpetual adoration chapels. “For Catholics, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life in Christ, strengthening us to remain firm in our faith as we journey through this life. Making this difficult decision to temporarily suspend Masses and close our churches was not made lightly,” said Bishop Gainer. “Rather, this decision has been made after careful discussions and considerable reflection on the advice being provided by healthcare professionals. I deeply care for all those members of my flock. As chief shepherd, it is my duty to see to their spiritual health, and now in these challenging times, also to their physical welfare. I continue to pray for all those impacted by this virus, for our medical professionals caring for the ill, and for all people facing these uncertain times. I also pray for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Mary, health of the sick.”
On March 18, the PA Department of Health reported the state’s first death related to the virus. The next day, Governor Wolf ordered a statewide closure of all “non-life sustaining businesses operations and services,” with enforcement of this order going into effect at 12:01 am on Saturday, March 21. That weekend, Monsignor Lawrence approached Sam and Ginny Bidleman asking them to video record Daily, Holyday, and Sunday Masses since the Diocese had issued a Dispensation from the Obligation for attending Mass that was put in place after the Governor’s statewide closure order.
Catherine Chayko then started a St. Columba Parish YouTube channel for our Mass videos starting with Monsignor’s Homily on Sunday, March 22, 2020, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Sam and Ginny recorded Daily Masses often in an empty church until pandemic restrictions were relaxed. Catherine Chayko shared her musical accompaniment during Holyday and Sunday Masses With that effort, our Parish YouTube Channel has been extremely successful in keeping our parish family united through the shelter-at-home period, with over 41,000 views and over 241,000 impressions since its creation. Chayko expanded the video offerings with musical and artistic productions that included the Rosary, music videos with images of our church and grounds, and virtual choir performances that were some of the channel’s most popular additions.
Daily Mass videos continued through May 29, 2020, with Spiritual Communion in place of the traditional Eucharist. Daily Mass recordings ended with the reopening of St. Columba Parish with Mass in person at Pentecost Saturday evening Mass on May 30, 2020, celebrated by Monsignor Lawrence, accompanied by Catherine Chayko, Director of Music. Hymnals, Misselettes, WorshipAids, Holy Water Fonts had been removed and after service sanitizing efforts were part of the “Kneelers down” request after every Mass. Attendance was limited to 1/3 capacity seating with Columbia County in the “Yellow” phase of recovery. We entered the “Green” phase on June 12, 2020 which opened the church to 1/2 capacity.
Sunday and Holyday Mass recordings continued through June 2021 with over 160 videos posted to our YouTube Channel. However, when the church opened to full capacity with singing and altar servers returning, viewership dropped to an average of under 150 IP addresses per Sunday.
Winterfest 2020 took on a new look with strict health contingencies in place. Yet, even without the usual local vendors, Winterfest coordinator Elaine Luschas announced a successful event with proceeds once again going to St. Columba School. Plans for Winterfest 2021 started immediately with plans for a bigger, better, and normal program. The newest Winterfest will be the 17th version of the annual fundraiser for the Parish school.
On March 17, 2020, the Bloomsburg Food Cupboard, housed in the Father Patrick Devine building, made the decision to stay open and go outside to serve families in their cars or on foot. Initially, they prepackaged all the food but came to realize that they have always been a choice food pantry and that choices help families feed their households the best. They transitioned to a hybrid of prepackaged and choice, which has made it possible for them to do what has always been most important – greeting each person, often by name, and extending friendship as well as potatoes and soup. In 2020, Food Cupboard volunteers distributed 33,909 bags of groceries, saving families over $500,000.
The rest, Coordinator Martha Sheehe summarized in their annual report:
What We’ve Missed
• Volunteers, old and new, especially college, middle and high school students and those over 70.
• Even though snow the day of the post office food drive would have deterred us, the loss of that important drive resulted in fewer supplies. In addition, so many places like churches, BTE, businesses and schools, especially CCMS, have been unable to collect for us.
What We’ve Gained
• Although we thought we knew, an increased appreciation of the generosity of our community.
• Four pop-up tents, three heaters, two carts, outerwear for all kinds of weather, and many masks.
• Traffic control skills and evasive maneuvers. A special thanks to the Bloomsburg PD for their opening of the parking lot.
Why We’re Grateful
• Businesses have continued to donate and our volunteers have continued to do pickups.
• Donations have happened in many creative ways including food drop-offs when we’re open and in the bin when we’re not. Cash has made it possible for us to buy fresh produce and other food.
• Volunteers and clients have observed safe COVID protocols.
• Students in the Bloomsburg School District received 10,400 Panther Packs with weekend food, continuously, including summer, with help from district teachers and staff.
In the Spring of 2021, Monsignor Robert E. Lawrence announced his retirement which would be effective on June 21, 2021. Soon after, Bishop Gainer issued a statement that Father Richard J. Mowery had been appointed as our newest Pastor. Monsignor’s final Mass was celebrated on Monday, June 21. 2021 at 7:30 a.m. Monsignor Lawrence retired to the Harrisburg area.
Father Mowery had been Newman Chaplain at Bloomsburg University until two years ago. Fr. David L Danneker, our Diocesan Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, publicly and officially installed Father Mowery as Pastor of St. Columba Parish on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.
The obligation for Catholics in the Diocese of Harrisburg to attend Mass in person was restored, effective August 15, 2021. However, those who are seriously ill or have a serious health risk, were still dispensed. In continued alignment with state health guidelines, Bishop Gainer lifted the COVID-19 masking mandate and all other remaining COVID-19 restrictions on the same date. However, those who wished to continue wearing a mask were welcome to do so. We also continued to encourage those who are unwell or under care for COVID-19 to refrain from attending Mass in person.
March 7, 2022 marked three years since we launched our Parish website. Since that time, we have had over 81,000 unique visitors making over 200,000 visits from 176 countries including Isle of Man. Our most popular pages (in order) are Parish News with 77,000 visits, Contact Us with 13,000, Sunday Mass Videos with 9,000, then Confirmation. Parish History, Prayer Requests, Our Parish Community, New-Renew All are Welcome, Music Ministry, Pray and Learn About Our Faith, and Sacraments.
Our parishioner, Deacon Jerome Kleponis, a seminarian at Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, MA, was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg in June of 2022 and celebrated his first Mass at Saint Columba Church on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, at 2:00 p.m. Attendance at this Mass satisfied the Sunday obligation and was a great opportunity to celebrate the very first parishioner of St. Columba to become a priest. (Above): Father Kleponis, second from left, celebrated his first Mass with former pastor Monsignor Robert Lawrence, current pastor Father Richard Mowery, and former pastor Father Patrick Devine.
Father Kleponis was assigned to St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Mechanicsburg.
On Corpus Cristi Sunday, June 19, 2022, after the 10:30 a.m. Mass, the parish participated in an Eucharistic procession that stoped for prayer at various locations near the church and at several places in town including the Bloomsburg Food Cupboard and a walk down Market Street from uptown locations.
A Eucharistic Processional Canopy is used outdoors during the Eucharistic procession, most particularly on Corpus Christi Sunday. Canopies often come in various sizes, have a stiffened top and various types of embroidery. The church canopy is made of precious fabrics: brocade and silk. During the summer of 2022, our Seminarian, Richard McAlister, above) made one for St. Columba as a token of thanks for giving him a “wonderful summer assignment experience.” He ended his note writing, “You all truly have a remarkable and loving parish!” Larry Snyder and the Tuesday Crew have volunteered to make the posts that will support the canopy for future use in parish ceremonies.
March 7, 2023 was the start of our Parish website’s fourth year, with close to 41,000 visitors during the past 12 months that brought the three-year total since our launch to over 121,000 users representing all 50 states and over 160 countries and territories.
During the past three years, our visitors have made 283,000 visits to our site with his past year’s top page hits including Contact Us, Parish News, Prayer Requests, Parish History, Sacraments, and Special Mass Videos. All of our 96 pages of content received visits, and our on and off-site linked material having its best year.
Above: The finished mural by parishioner Rain Escovedo now frames the statue of our parish’s namesake, St. Columba. A prayer request box and several pages explaining the background of the various icons in the mural were added after the 8-month original art project was completed. Below, Escovedo explains how she and the mural came to add an artistic tribute to our church.
“Painting a mural is a lot like trying to follow Christ.”
It is finished! Although my heart is relieved and I can now rest in the satisfaction of the mural’s completion, I cannot imagine this sense of accomplishment draws near to that which Jesus felt upon the cross. I hope that upon its unveiling, it will draw your heart to consider the greatness of Him who suffered with so much love for us. This note is not intended to explain the meaning of the mural; at the request of the parish, that will come later. Instead, this article will expound upon the conception and rendering of the mural.
It began long ago in the heart of a devout parishioner with an appreciation for all things good, true, and beautiful. When our new pastor Fr. Mowery showed an interest in improving the aesthetics of our church; she asked him if it would be possible to have someone paint a mural on the blank dusty wall behind the statue of our patron, Saint Columba. Somewhat aware of the artistic capacities God bestowed upon me, Fr. Mowery asked if I would be willing to paint the mural. After a little thought and prayer, I received this as an answer from God to the silent longings of my heart to glorify Him in some way with the gift he had given me. There was hesitation in saying yes however, because I am not a trained artist. To be honest, it was a foolish thing to say yes to a project I had minimal experience in; but God can do great things with very little. For weeks I could not think of what to paint. Until one night after venting my frustration to God I went to bed and He gave it to me in a dream. Awaking in the middle of night, I fervently sketched out a horribly rough depiction of what I saw. What is painted now does not even come close to its beauty.
Above: Mural artist Rain Escovedo, atop three layers of scaffolding, is shown at the start of her original mural in July 2022.
When I presented it to Fr. Mowery, I suspect he thought it was a bit much, because he asked me to complete another idea so the parish could vote on what they wanted. The next couple of weeks I scoured the internet and art books for ideas, absorbing image after image. I read scriptures and tried to visualize in my mind their descriptions. I knew if I tried to sketch this entire piece on my own it would never get done in the time I was allotted. So, I traced portions of several references and altered them to form a composite that was satisfactory. The two options were displayed for the parishioners to vote on and to my shock and dismay and you chose the vision from my dream. I prayed to seek God’s consolation. He reminded me that if He had asked me to do this, He would provide the grace. The next couple of months I spent days researching the proper materials, methods, refining a color palette and begging for God’s providence.
Then the scaffold was erected, and a dear friend and fellow parishioner CJ Perez helped me project the sketch onto the wall to trace the faint outline. Once the paint and supplies were purchased, I would spend almost every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday night after work in the church with Jesus trying to portray what he showed me that night months before. At the start of each session I would come before Jesus in prayer to remind myself Who I was doing this for, and to offer it back to Him. If it was not for that time in prayer, this project would never have been completed. Each passing day I felt time was slipping through my hands. I would think I was finished with a portion only to come back another day and hate it so I would change it. Many nights I would literally cry out to God in frustration wanting to quit, but begging His help instead, admitting I couldn’t do it on my own. Like the Good Father He Is, He would come with grace to aid me and I would stand humbled and baffled at how what was impossible for me alone suddenly became possible. Soon, He started teaching me to pray as I painted which prevented mistakes and additional help came in the form of another dear friend, Lucas Southerton, who helped lay down crucial base layers of paint on the lower portion of the wall. In the final stretches of the mural’s creation I began coming in Saturdays to paint also until finally, one day it was the last stroke of the brush. I packed up my things, thanked God, and went home.
Painting a mural is a lot like trying to follow Christ. He invites us. We say yes. Often we foolishly think we can do it quickly, excellently, and without help. He humbles us. He helps us. He uses us, in our inadequacy, to do something beautiful. In the end, He is the one to be thanked, then we go home.
~PAX, Rain Escovedo
St. Columba continues to realize its community responsibility. It maintains an accredited elementary-intermediate-middle school program sustained by Parish monies and tuition. Through character education and religious, hundreds of young people including many who have made significant contributions to the Bloomsburg community, have moved on to regional high schools, well prepared for the rigors of higher education.
Former Diocesan Archivist Kathleen Signor wrote in March 2000 about St. Columba Parish, “This message is not new, and the history is not unique. The historical experience, however, is ours, and it offers a valuable and contemporary message of evangelization. Through liturgy and our historical memory, these efforts and our common faith endure being passed to our children and succeeding generations. In thanksgiving, we celebrate our Catholic heritage of faith. Let us, always, recognize this legacy, which is the unifying thread in our historical church – the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.“
Originally written by Richard Connolly for the 2007 St. Columba Parish Directory
Revised and updated through 2021 for use in this website by Sam Bidleman and Alvin Luschas.
JUNE 9 IS THE FEAST DAY OF OUR PATRON, SAINT COLUMBA
St. Columba, also called Columcille, or Colum, (born c. 521, Tyrconnell [now County Donegal, Ireland]—died 597, Iona [Inner Hebrides, Scotland]; feast day June 9), was an abbot and missionary traditionally credited with the main role in the conversion of Scotland to Christianity. Columba was ordained priest about 551. He founded churches and the famous monasteries Daire Calgaich, in Derry, and Dairmagh, in Durrow. Columba and his 12 disciples erected a church and a monastery on the island of Iona (c. 563) as their springboard for the conversion of Scotland. It was regarded as the motherhouse and its abbots as the chief ecclesiastical rulers even of the bishops.
Columba gave formal benediction and inauguration to Aidan MacGabrain of Dunadd as king of Dalriada. Columba accompanied Aidan to Ireland (575) and took a leading part in a council held at Druim Cetta, which determined the position of the ruler of Dalriada in relation to the king of Ireland. The last years of Columba’s life appear to have been spent mainly in Iona, where he was already revered as a saint. He and his associates and successors spread the gospel more than any other contemporary group of religious pioneers in Britain.
The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, great medieval masterpieces of Celtic art, are associated with Columba. Three Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba with some degree of certainty. Excavations in 1958 and 1959 revealed Columba’s living cell and the outline of the original monastery.
Our archives are treasure troves – a testament to many lives lived and the complexity of the way we move forward.
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