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100 years of faith at St. Joe’s

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:22AM

It’s been 51 years since the Rev. Thomas Purtell got his first assignment as a priest, working at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Homewood. He left in 1965.

But one never really leaves St. Joe’s, Purtell said Sunday before the parish celebrated its centennial with a mass said by Cardinal Francis George.

“Great families. Great people. Great spirit. It lasted 100 years because of the faith of the people. They love their parish. It’s a vibrant parish,” said Purtell, retired after 20 years as pastor of St. John Fisher Parish in the Beverly neighborhood.

Faith, hope and love determine a parish’s success, he said, and there were ample amounts of all three Sunday at the church.

Older parishioners greeted former priests warmly. Youngsters waited in line to have photos taken with George. It was standing-room-only inside the church, which seats 625, and another 50 or so sat outside on padded white folding chairs beneath a white tent, watching the closed-circuit broadcast of the mass on a TV.

Before the mass, while chatting with the Rev. Richard Kozak in the rectory, George said the centennial reflected the parishioners’ dedication.

“It’s a testament to the longstanding faith of the people who created this parish 100 years ago. There’s great continuity, not only in the faith but also in the people. It’s a multigenerational parish because that’s the nature of Homewood. They’ve had pastors who’ve loved them in Christ’s name. So, I’m very pleased to be here for the 100th anniversary celebration,” George said.

With a procession led by altar servers clad in red and white, 18 members of the Knights of Columbus and 10 priests, George entered the church holding a wooden crozier to the fanfare of trumpets and a choir in the balcony.

“It’s a great joy for me to be with you on this particularly important occasion, 100 years of your parish,” George said, noting how the parish has weathered two world wars and the Great Depression.

He mentioned a story in Friday’s SouthtownStar in which parishioner Joe Santschi, a member of the centennial fest committee, said, “The one thing that people have in common with each other is the sharing of their faith.”

George called it “a wonderful quote.”

George had those in church laughing when, while talking of faith, he recalled as a young boy asking his father, “ ‘Who is God?’ and he said ‘Go ask your mother.’ ” God, he said, can be seen all around us.

He also had the church laughing when he told of meeting the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Mich., who taught at the school from 1926 until 2002, at far-flung places around the globe. Their penchant for working in exotic locales may explain “why they were in Homewood so many years,” he said, jokingly.

After the 90-minute mass, George blessed the new 13-foot-tall stainless steel cross in front of the church. That’s where a time capsule, actually a burial vault donated from the American Wilbert Company through the Ryan Tews Funeral Homes, will be buried after it’s filled with mementos.

Barbara Fox, a parishioner since 1991, was surprised to see a bust of Pope John Paul II in the time capsule. She was pleased to be part of the centennial.

“It’s nice to see religious institutions can last like this. There’s a lot of good people who attend this church,” Fox said.

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