Saint John the Baptist Parish in Scottdale holds a very special place in my life, since in the past forty one years I have served there in three different capacities: as a deacon in the Summer of 1972 ... as an associate pastor from 1978 to 1984 ... and as pastor from 2000 to 2008. I have journeyed with some of those families for my entire priesthood. But this reflection will be on my second term there, the six years that I served as an associate.
Saint John the Baptist parish was comprised of about 950 registered families, with a grade school that went back to the 1880's as well as two cemeteries (old 1879 and new 1960). Father Bill Gavron was the pastor at the time, having served there previously as an assistant. I arrived in June of 1978, in time for the August celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the parish (1878).
There were two assignments in my priesthood that were very difficult ... and yet so rewarding. This was the first of them. The people at the parish were wonderful, the faith deep, the place nice, and my family had its roots with the parish (before Saint Joseph Polish Church in Everson was established). The difficulty rested in my relationship with my pastor. This working and living relationship of a pastor and an associate is sort of like an "arranged marriage". Someone makes the determination that you can be together and you are expected to make it happen. Sometimes it works ... sometimes it doesn't. For me this was a most difficult six years, made bearable by the love and support of these good people of faith. Many of my stories revolve around this sometimes rocky relationship, but some I will not share.
Arriving just prior to the 100th Anniversary was interesting in that the former associate, a truly energetic man, had everything arranged and in place. There was little for me to do but to wait for and then celebrate the occasion. And it was a great celebration, with Bishop William Connare (whose family was originally from Scottdale and whose grandparents are buried in the cemetery) leading us.
When I arrived the parish was worshipping in the first floor of the new school building, using it as a "temporary" church since the early 1960's. It was soon after the 100th that plans were made for a new church structure which was dedicated on the Feast of Christ the King in November of 1980. This process of building a new church was interesting to watch and wonderful in its outcome. I was not included in any planning or discussion except for one meeting to which our auxiliary bishop, Norbert Gaughan, insisted that I be present for. After that nothing but being a passive observer and supporter of the project.
There was one terrible day during construction that stands out in my mind. It was the day that the main beams for the roof arrived - two very large, long beams and two shorter cross beams. Everyone was out as the trucks maneuvered the streets. Father Gavron suddenly got in his car and sped off, with everyone wondering why, until we heard that a long time parish family was in a tragic accident on the turnpike. They had just left for vacation in their motor home and were hit by a tractor trailer. The grandfather was driving, and he and his wife were badly injured, along with their daughter. However the daughter's two young children were both killed in the accident. As word spread prayers were lifted and hearts broken. It was a very sad funeral that followed. Father Gavron at the dedication named the two larger beams after the first two pastors of the parish - Father Lambing (52 years) and Father Graney (28 years) ... and the two smaller beams he named after the two Barkley children.