From Staff Reports
A mix of emotions was shared by the more than 500 faithful who gathered for the last Mass that was to be celebrated in Holy Angels Church, Hamilton.
Tears of nostalgia reflected the sadness that some folks experienced as they recalled special memories they had of times spent in the South Broad Street church that has served as the spiritual home to many since 1921.
But there were also some happy tears and expressions of resolve and optimism among those who were focused on meeting challenges of the future. A few even expressed a sense of peace in knowing that although Holy Angels will no longer serve the Roman Catholic community in that area, it will continue to serve as a house of worship to Coptic Orthodox faithful who are purchasing the building.
“It is a lot easier knowing that the building will be used, that it won’t be vacant or torn down and that it will continue to give glory to God as it had over the past 90 years,” said Michael Parks, a member of the parish since the 1970s.
Holy Angels Church was one of two worship sites for St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, a merged parish established as part of the Trenton Ward Study in 2005. The church, which had seen lower Mass attendance and deteriorating physical condition in recent years, had been included in the consultation and deliberations that took place during the Diocese’s Faith in Our Future initiative, which stretched over 18 months and culminated in the fall. Among the many factors considered in that process were Mass attendance and financial stability. It was noted that Mass attendance in Holy Angels was only about 25 percent of the available capacity, an amount that could easily be absorbed into St. Raphael Church.
Complications arose in January, when the need for a number of serious and costly repairs in Holy Angels Church was made known. The determination was reached that the repairs were not financially feasible, and that operations were to be transferred from the church to the St. Raphael site. Shortly thereafter, a Coptic community using space in St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square, expressed an interest in buying the Holy Angels site.
The final Mass in Holy Angels Church was celebrated July 2 with Father Gene Daguplo serving as principal celebrant. Among the concelebrating priests were former pastors including Msgr. Michael Walsh, who is now pastor of St. James Parish, Pennington, St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and St. George Parish, Titusville; Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, and Father John Chang, parochial vicar of St. Veronica Parish, Howell.
Jennifer Sidone, who took part in the Faith In Our Future consultation, said that former Holy Angels School faculty members were invited to attend and great care was taken in the selection of hymns, readers, gift bearers and altar servers.
“We wanted to emphasize the memories, the special events and the celebration of the Sacraments that took place here for 96 years,” Sidone said.
For fellow parishioner Kathy Steuber, the most moving part of the Mass was at the end when the altar candles were extinguished, the altar cloth was folded, the Blessed Sacrament was removed from the tabernacle, the sanctuary candle was extinguished and the altar gates were closed.
However, Steuber said her spirits were lifted when she learned that a few members from the Coptic church were present for the final Mass and they “assured us that Holy Angels will continue to be a sacred space.”