Healing the Contemporary Five Wounds of St. Joseph Monastery Parish: Introduction

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Four years residing in the Passionist religious community at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish, Irvington, Maryland with Father Bill Murphy, C.P. and Father Alban Harmon, C.P. has led me to the awareness that the local parish life and ministry are emerging with a new pulse of faith in 2007. I have concluded that, more and more, the Gospel is coming to life through social outreach with the local neighborhood poor. Before I explain the present-day dynamics of this outreach, I want to say that this insight came after observation, historical study, and reflection. As a historian, I know that Irvington and the Passionists have gone through major changes during the 19th and 20th centuries. Imagination to understand and make sense of this process comes to life in an urgent way when I walk along the parish rectory corridor. I always look at the historic triptych painting that describes the Passionist local presence in Baltimore since 1865. I ponder the portrait of Irvington-born “martyred” missionary to China Father Godfrey Holbein, C.P. (1899-1929).

Sometimes I find myself asking a question. How would I explain to people of the past what St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish is like today? The easiest and most logical way is to simply tell of the weekend liturgies at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Each weekend an average of 300 people come to pray, sing, participate in religious education and make financial contributions to keep the parish solvent. As is typical of so many parishes today, many parishioners come from outside the geographical boundary of the parish. Furthermore, each weekend can see a select number of visitors passing through the area or those who might come back to their old neighborhood. Still others participate to celebrate a special liturgical family event such as a baptism or the traditional Easter or Christmas worship services.

To be honest, the historian in me wondered how I might describe the present day parish to Father Adrian Poletti, C.P. (1907-1980). Long-time parishioners hold him with iconic status. He had the ability to galvanize the people of the parish and lead them to become a living part of 1950s Irvington. Constant wrestling with that historic image made me appreciate that the present members of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish are faced with the same challenge: to enliven the people of the parish as a living part of 2007 Irvington.

Conversations with Father Bill Murphy have led me to understand his vision of ministry. First, he knew the parish well. He grew up here as a young boy and left the area in the mid-1960s to go to school. Upon his return in 2000 as the local pastor, he knew in a personal way how the neighborhood has changed. Second, his understanding of Passionist spirituality and experience in diverse Province ministries encouraged him to make a commitment whereby the sense of faith in the local weekend worship community would lead to tangible service or outreach. Third, this notion meant opting for a consistent approach where he might encourage active parishioners to name their talent and express their faith so as to make the Gospel stories come to life in Irvington. To be sure, the urban and economic makeup of St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish has required that he balance direct requests to the parishioners in a practical way so as to make the spirit move among the immediate and larger population of the area. In a genuine way this vision has come to see five wounds of the parish. Steeped in Passionist tradition, Father Murphy has let the people develop programs of service to heal these five wounds. It has taken time. Over the past month various discussions with parish members have led me to find out this information, which I wish to share with you.