"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." So says Charles Dickens in the beginning of his "A Tale of Two Cities". As I reflect upon my move from Masontown to Saint Paul Parish in Greensburg on a bitterly cold January day in 1992, I would embrace this quote but with a minor change - "It was the worst of times, it became the best of times".
Let me explain the situation upon arrival. My predecessor was a good man who had served the parish well and was loved. He was to be moved by the bishop, but left active ministry instead. The concern and anger of the people was not dealt with well. When I arrived, as one sent by the same administration, I was welcomed by some, tolerated by most, and resented by a few. The bitter cold of the day was a reflection of some of what I felt. The installation Mass was nice, but it was a difficult transition.
The welcome dinner for family and priests scheduled by the administrator never happened, the bank gave me problems with the signature cards, both myself and my assistant were brand new and finding our way, Lent began soon after, the Sunday before Holy Week the Music Director quit, leaving us to scramble. This turned out to be a catalyst for a renewed liturgy and music program which continues to be an envy of many. I did what you are never to do, I changed things in the sanctuary within the first six months of arrival, making the setting more intimate. Using volunteer help and reusing materials, we did it for next to nothing. In June we received a young new associate, with the previous one staying on in residence. The associate challenged me in creative and at times frustrating ways, as I learned to live "in community". We are the best of friends to this day. My secretary quit, necessitating the continued restaffing that ultimately proved beneficial. We continued to be in debt and suffering from deficit spending, a debt that had been there since the building of the complex in the 1960's. A few years into the pastorate, we consolidated the three Catholic Schools in Greensburg into a regional Catholic school named Aquinas Academy, using our building as part of the entity, but necessitating the closure of Saint Paul school. At one point someone was interested in purchasing our campus, and while we entertained the thought of selling and rebuilding elsewhere, it was not possible with what they offered without going further into debt, and I said no.
It took me over two years to begin to make inroads and to win the support of the majority of the people. But when it happened, this assignment became "the best of times". The support of many from the beginning, of a great support staff, and the knowledge that this is where the Lord had placed me, kept me going and brought me blessing. I will share a few more thoughts and experiences from my days at the Church of Saint Paul soon, along with a few pictures.