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Statesboro parish celebrates its 75 year anniversary

Originally Appeared in : 9920-9/26/19

STATESBORO--In a testament to not only their past but also their future, the parishioners of St. Matthew Church began their parish’s 75th anniversary celebration Sept. 13 with a Mass celebrated in the company of their newly installed pastor as well as three of their former pastors.

 

Principal celebrant Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., formally installs Father John Johnson as the new pastor of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro Sept. 13 during a Mass to celebrate the parish’s 75th anniversary. Including Father Johnson, St. Matthew Church has had 19 pastors. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

Father John Johnson will initiate a new era in the history of the Statesboro parish, which Fathers Douglas K. Clark, Brett Brannen and Timothy McKeown shepherded the last 12 to 13 years.

 

In his homily, principal celebrant Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., reflected on the important role played by the community in establishing St. Matthew Parish.  

 

“A spirit of adventure and a can-do faith defined the early Catholic presence in this area,” Bishop Hartmayer said.

 

The bishop noted that the mission would first be served by the Glenmary Home Missioners, who used to host plays, camps and other activities at the local Strozzo family farm.

 

Parishioner Jo Anne Strozzo, whose husband’s cousin helped establish the parish, has fond memories of attending the camps. She described the Glenmary Sisters as “cool and collected.”

 

“I wondered how in the world that they stand over those hot stoves...and then go out and play ball with the kids,” she said.

 

When the time came to build a permanent church, located at the intersection of Highway 80 and Savannah Ave., the bishop said that a Ukrainian family built its maple benches, side altars and cedar communion rail to save money. Glenmary Fathers Edward W. Smith and Joseph E. Nagele carved its stations of the cross.

 

The original church building couldn’t accommodate the parish’s growing population for long, however.

 

Maria Lefebvre née Strozzo said that she was sad when the church was torn down. Lefebvre’s grandparents played a role in the establishment of the parish as did Marie Wall’s great grandparents, the DeNittos, whose home hosted some of the Catholic community’s early Masses.

 

Lefebvre described the original parish where both she and her husband as well as her parents were married as “very close knit,” a quality that she suggested still exemplifies the present-day parish, where her children received their first communions.  

 

“The people,” she said, explaining the hallmarks of St. Matthew Church. “The people are very loving; they’re very caring, and they’re very Catholic.”

Two pews of clergy attended the 75th aniversary Mass of St. Matthew Church in Statesboro Sept. 13 including Father Daniel Firmin, vicar general of the diocese, and former pastors Fathers Douglas K. Clark, Brett Brannen and Timothy McKeown who shepherded the parish through its last 12 to 13 years. Photograph by Jessica L. Marsala.

 

She continued, “(They’re) very understanding. If we ask a question and you can’t find an answer, you’re going to find the answer because they are going to find the answer for you. (They’re) very caring: They always take time to listen to you and that sort of thing. It’s just a wonderful community, and it’s good to see that so many people are here and are very active in the church.”

 

Bishop Hartmayer later preached that in 1986 a larger, multipurpose building was constructed at what is the church’s home today: the corner of John Paul Ave and Gentilly Road. Land for the facility was purchased, on “a leap of faith,” from a non-Catholic.

 

A permanent sanctuary followed in 1996 and in the years that followed, a cry room was added, the narthex updated, and the social hall renovated, he said.

 

Bishop Hartmayer also took a moment in his homily to address the parish’s current members and expressed his appreciation to them for saying yes to service and volunteering.

 

“A Christian community does not just happen. A parish community is truly a Church when people begin to see each other as members of the Body of Christ and embrace the mission of the Catholic Church and long to participate in the sacramental life of the Church,” he said. “A Catholic parish is not a social club or an organization that just does good works. The Rotary Club or the VFW are great service organizations, but they are not Church. That is what you are. You are Church—a faith community of the Roman Catholic tradition—and you have been that for the past 75 years, and that is what Jesus Christ founded on the night before he died. He founded a Church.”

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