Story by EmmaLee Italia, Correspondent
Anticipation is building for the 75th anniversary of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. With various events leading up to it, the anniversary Mass will take place at noon June 10, celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
“For me, it’s a return home, as I was born and raised in the next parish, St. Joan of Arc, Marlton,” Father Swift said of the anticipated festivities. “However, before St. Joan’s was founded in 1961, the Swifts were members here at St. Mary of the Lakes. It’s great to be stationed in the area where I grew up, as I know many parishioners from yesteryear ... I love it here, and I feel blessed to be their pastor.”
The Mass will be followed by a luncheon reception on the church grounds. Continuing the celebration, a dinner-dance is planned for June 15 at The Merion, Cinnaminson.
Other events to mark the anniversary will include the first annual parish carnival June 26-30, and already underway is the “Our Faith, Our Family, Our Future” capital and building campaign to commemorate 75 years.
“We set a stretch goal of $3 million, and we have pledged over $3.5 million,” Father Swift said. The funds will be used for much-needed renovations and additions to the parish office, giving the parish room to hire more staff; create additional meeting rooms to accommodate an increase in ministries, and to upgrade the 60-year-old HVAC in the church and the rectory.
“And best of all, [we can renovate] the current baptistery (which is not used) into a Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in church,” he noted.
Parishioners Claudia Aguilar and Christine Brandt reflected on being part of a parish with such a history.
“Celebrating the continuity of our parish in the lives of our parishioners and non-parishioners alike strengthens our presence as a permanent and bona fide institution of faith within our community,” said Aguilar, who is active in her parish’s Legion of Mary and parent spirituality groups. “It is as if we are new wine in old wine skins, ready to burst forth with evangelical enthusiasm. Vitality and growth seem to be the order of the day. I think it has taken us 75 years to look this good.”
Brandt explained that the family photos will be part of a parish directory to be published in honor of the 75th anniversary. And last Christmas, the parish sold 75th anniversary tree ornaments.
Recently returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with more than 50 St. Mary of the Lakes parishioners, Father Swift reflected on the significance of marking the parish’s anniversary with such a poignant trip.
“When I was pastor of Holy Trinity (formerly an Italian national parish which is now part of Christ the King Parish) in Long Branch, we celebrated our 100th anniversary. One of our celebrations was to return to Calabria as most of the original parishioners came from that region,” Father Swift explained. “I wanted to make a similar type of trip, and thought of the Holy Land, as it’s been on my list to make a pilgrimage since I was a young priest. I made a similar pilgrimage in January with my brother priests, as I wanted to get the lay of the land.”
Brandt thought the trip was a wonderful way to experience the joy of the mission, bringing with her prayer intentions from fellow parishioners as well as a parish return address label from an envelope to put in the Wailing Wall.
“I prayed for all of them at every site we stopped,” she said. “To go where Jesus taught and gave the great commission, and then to come back to live it makes it all the more present. The trip has already enhanced my appreciation for the Mass Readings by providing a visual of the places described in them.”
Aguilar called the pilgrimage life-changing, having the context of the Holy Land surroundings in her mind’s eye as she prays the Rosary or reads the Gospels.
“I feel connected. I was honored to bring intentions with me from friends who requested prayers,” she said. “I feel energetic and full of the Holy Spirit … Although I hadn’t thought about it, perhaps the Holy Land trip reaffirms my commitment to my parish. I feel nudged to evangelize … perhaps it helps the parish continue the celebration by sparking renewal in the hearts of parishioners. All I can say is that trip was a gift from God. I will never be the same again.”