I have served as pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish for over four years now. It is a wonderful place made up of great people of faith in this portion of Southwestern Pennsylvania (presently experiencing a storm of ice and snow that prompts me to express my gratitude at being able to hibernate here at the house). I am the fifth pastor of this parish which was established in 1978.
Today is an important and sad day of remembrance for this parish community. It was on this day, December 26th, 1992 that the rectory (the priest's house) was ravaged by a fire, originating, I believe, from a faulty furnace. The rectory, with offices, was attached to the church building, forming our complex. I was speaking with a parishioner on Saturday who was a local fireman. They had been called out to a traffic accident and were returning to the local station house when they saw the smoke from the road and arrived even as or before the alarm was sounded. While unable to turn back the destructiveness of the fire, they were thankfully able to save the church building itself.
This was indeed fortunate, for after hard work at cleaning the church, it was able to serve as the gathering of the community for the funeral Mass for their pastor, Father William P. McGuire, who had suffered cardiac arrest and died in the rectory during the fire. Kory, who was telling me the story of that day, said that after entering the front hallway, the first thing they found was Father McGuire lying on the floor near the front door. He was already gone, adding to their sadness and grief. Father McGuire, who was 53 at the time of his death and looking forward to his Silver Jubilee of Ordination, was the second pastor of the parish, a hard worker, an outgoing individual that endeared himself to so many. His loss, coupled with that of the rectory and offices, was a devastating blow to this parish family. And all of that took place twenty years ago today.
I was pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg at the time, and my young Associate, who had gone home to Irwin on Christmas Day, called me to tell me of the fire. I drove out here, but things were pretty well in hand by then. So I sat across the road watching from a local restaurant parking lot and praying for the parish. I did not as yet know of the death of Bill, or the extent of the damage. But I remember the sinking feeling in my gut. I also remember attending the funeral Mass a few days later, never imagining that I would serve here as pastor some years later.
We remembered Bill McGuire at Mass this morning, and prayed for this parish family. He came to our diocese from Philadelphia, where his brother was a priest, and was ordained on May 10, 1969 by the late Bishop William Connare, serving then in a number of assignments before coming to North Huntingdon. As I said above, he was hardworking, and outgoing, he loved parties and enjoyed cooking (our kitchen in the parish hall bears his name), and he loved Christmas, especially decorating and celebrating. Say a prayer for Father McGuire. Say a prayer for this community on this day. And say a prayer for their current shepherd, who could always use the prayers.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2012 were wonderful. The liturgies were great, the choirs and musicians awesome, the spirit of the season manifest, and the kindness of people clearly evident. My sister, Janie, came down late on Christmas Eve after work, and attended the Midnight Mass. Yesterday she did the cooking, for which I was very grateful - it was a delicious meal with many left overs - and we then sat around and enjoyed each others' company along with Sammy (the puppy). She left this morning as the ice and sleet were beginning, and arrived safely home in time to get ready for work again (the trip normally takes an hour ... it took her just over two because of the road conditions). I worried a great deal, but she is a good driver in snow, and made it home safely. I hope that your Christmas was blessed, and I hope that you thought of and remembered all of those whose Christmas was a little less so due to tragedy or storm.