If there is one parish that has touched my life more than any other, it’s St. Rose of Lima parish in Darlington, PA. I attended that church since I can remember — and it’s so special in so many ways.
I made my First Confession and First Holy Communion there in 1975. There were five girls and eight boys and we were all in the second grade. I actually went through all of my CCD classes with those same kids — until we were confirmed there in eighth grade. My Aunt Mary was my sponsor, and I can still remember the light purple dress I wore to make that sacrament — with Bishop Leonard and Father Lemp.
Father Joseph Lemp. He was the pastor there for most of childhood and into my teens. And, he had a huge influence on my entire family. He was a kind man with a great smile and soft disposition. He was always interested in whatever you had to say. He attended many of the celebrations we had at our home — for all of us kids — for all of our sacraments — and even some of our other parties. There was always a Catholic presence in our home from the time I can remember. Father Lemp inspired us to have a simple and deep relationship with God.
Father Lemp’s family had a house on Martha’s Vineyard, and we vacationed there a couple of different years by staying at their home when I was in high school. He used to frequent the Wooden Angel in Beaver, PA and was a wine connoisseur. I’ve been to the Wooden Angel a couple times in my life, but preferred the Wooden Indian right next door.
Father Lemp was very supportive in my brother Bob’s decision to become a priest. And when he got sick and passed in September of 2005 at the age of 75, he left his chalice to my brother. My brother cherishes it and uses it on his most special occasions.
St. Rose of Lima was our parish. Something wonderful happened there every single year of my childhood. We went to mass every weekend there. We never missed mass — hardly ever. We went to every holy day, every Christmas and every Easter there — well, sometimes we went to the sister church, St. Ann’s in New Galilee for some of the special masses. We all made our sacraments at St. Rose of Lima — our First Confessions, First Holy Communions, our Confirmations. My sister Debbie and her husband, Scott were married there in 1994, as were Tom and me in 2001. Tommy was baptized there and made his First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation there. He was an altar boy since he was eight or nine years old. Both my brothers were altar boys there. I was a Eucharistic Minister until I moved out of Darlington in 1998. My nieces, Megan and Tara were baptized there and made all their sacraments there, too. Bob and I were Godparents for Megan there. Tara just made her confirmation there this past Saturday. Bob had his first mass there and Mom burned many a candle for me there. And, we buried my Dad from there.
We supported that parish. There were all kinds of fundraisers that my parents volunteered for and we helped at many of the events. My Dad was on the parish council and my Mom was part of the Ladies’ Guild for many, many years. I remember the card parties. We would set up folding card tables and people came and played card games all night. That was back in the days when people smoked in public and the hall was a complete cloud of cigarette smoke. As kids, we used to sell cans of pop and empty ash trays so people could continue to fill them back up. Mom worked in the kitchen making food — and Dad worked the door and sold tickets and raffles.
There was a weekly bingo too, but Mom and Dad rarely took us back in those days — we were just too little to be allowed in the bingo hall. That was back in the days when they used hard cards with cork markers to cover your cards. But eventually, they started using the paper cards with ink daubers. My grandparents and Aunt Mary (when she was old enough) used to come and play every week. One week my Grandma had recycled her own dauber by filling an old one with red dye she made from pokeberries from her home. Well, as the night went on, the pokeberry juice started to expand in the dauber and it exploded with a huge bang right in the bingo hall — staining one of the brand new ceiling tiles as the bottle shot straight up and into the ceiling. My Dad told that story all the time, laughing as he did — telling us all how she scared the living daylights out of everyone. And then Grandpap would chime in that he was worried about the entire five gallon jug she had under the kitchen sink at home — he hoped it didn’t explode before they got home!!! That ceiling tile remain stained for many years.
We worked spaghetti dinners, flea markets, bake sales, dances (attended dances), funerals and all kinds of other events. Later, when I was in college, my parents resurrected the bingo and managed a weekly bingo every Thursday night. I rarely helped at that time in my life, but my parents were completely devoted.
We loved our church — we loved St. Rose of Lima parish. It was a place of faith, a place of community and friendship. So to say it holds a special place in my heart is an understatement.
The years have gone by and my Mom and sister still belong to St. Rose of Lima parish. I’ll go every once in a while with my Mom, but it’s hard for me to see all the changes that are being made, so I don’t go there that often. It’s so difficult, because for so many years going back to St. Rose was like coming home. But, today, in general, I feel that the parishioners are so disconnected from the pastors. Back in the day, Father Lemp was part of our family. He didn’t put himself above us. He was our equal, our friend, our confidant, yet a great disciple for Jesus — just knowing him made us better people. He didn’t put himself on a pedestal.
I talked to my Mom for a long time on Sunday evening as she’s just as sad as me. St. Rose is joining with three other parishes and becoming one — St. Monica’s. Are you kidding me? To me it will always, always, always be St. Rose of Lima parish until the day they tear the building down — and even then that ground will always be a holy place in honor of Saint Rose of Lima. Whoever made this decision obviously had no love for these parishes — only quick solutions — that don’t make any sense at all.
Long live St. Rose Lima parish in the hearts of all us who love it dearly.
Always B E L I E V E !
Prayer to Saint Rose of Lima
O Saint Rose,
you were filled with
the love of God
who enabled you
to leave the world
and be free for
Him through the austerity
Please help me to follow
in your footsteps on earth
so to enjoy the torrent
of God’s delights
in heaven with you.