April 3, 2009


Through ashes and tears of joy, prophetic words bring our faith home this Easter

The words that Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new St. Anne Church in New Castle on March 29 were prophetic.

So was the wisdom shared by Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth two years ago after historic St. Anne Church was destroyed by arson on Holy Saturday, April 7, 2007.

“Just consider the rain and snow as tears of joy from God,” Archbishop Buechlein told the several hundred parishioners and guests who huddled in the cold wind, rain and snow last weekend during the St. Anne groundbreaking.

Sister Shirley, St. Anne’s parish life coordinator, was just as poignant after the arson fire that gutted St. Anne Church forced the parish to celebrate its Easter Sunday Mass at Bundy Auditorium adjacent to New Castle High School in 2007.

“It’s new life, and I think out of those ashes, new life will come,” she said. “We’re the people of God, and our faith is strong. … Surely, we’ll grieve, but at the end of grief comes new life.”

Both messages can serve as timely reminders of how our Creator is there for us, at all times in life, offering a message of hope and love to people of faith.

And the message is relevant not only as we celebrate as an archdiocesan family the groundbreaking for a new

St. Anne Church, but also as we prepare to enter into Holy Week to commemorate our Lord’s death and resurrection.

The St. Anne story and what our faith teaches us about life’s trials doesn’t end there, though.

“Jesus not only has the power to forgive, but to grant us the ability to forgive others just as we have been forgiven,” reads a sign in the corridor of St. Anne’s Parish Life Center.

The words, placed there by Sister Shirley, no doubt serve as a visible reminder of how healing needs to be a part of the process as well. Although William L. “Billy” Abbott admitted to burning down the historic church, apologized and received a

40-year prison term as a result, the scars left by his heinous act remain for many parishioners.

“I couldn’t begin to even imagine it [the gutted church] until I came home, and when I saw it, I cried,” said

Julie Defibaugh, who has been a member of St. Anne Parish for 40 years and lives near the church. “This is my neighborhood. I go by here I don’t know how many times a day, and every time I go by [the church property] it just breaks my heart.”

Through the pain and suffering, Sister Shirley has consistently talked about forgiveness, Defibaugh said. “Sister Shirley has been the lifesaver here. She has taught us to forgive and not forget, to forgive and go on, and [that] this is the start of a new life for us here.”

New life.

An appropriate message for St. Anne parishioners and all people of faith to contemplate this Easter.

May we never forget what is at the heart of the Easter message: that with dying indeed comes new life.

—Mike Krokos

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