By Susan Mikula Campbell
Parishioners at St. Bernard's RC Church in Youngstown were saddened and shocked last weekend as longtime pastor Monsignor J. Thomas Moran announced he would be retiring as the year ends.
Those at the 11:15 a.m. Sunday service rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Many had tears in their eyes. Moran himself was visibly moved. There had been rumors of possible retirement in other years, but somehow, Moran, who will be turning 84 soon, kept on serving.
With the news, members of the relatively small parish wondered what would be the fate of their church services and religious education programs.
Moran said the Diocese of Buffalo was considering various options and that parishioners would be informed as soon as possible. He said he expected weekend Masses to continue for the time being, although daily Masses probably will be cancelled.
Kristina M. Connell, communications manager for the diocese, issued the following statement this week: "The diocese is working on plans regarding pastoral leadership at St. Bernard Parish following Msgr. Moran's retirement. No decisions have been made at this time, however."
With the shortage of priests, members of St. Bernard's have long feared that, if Moran left, the parish would be closed and incorporated into the much larger St. Peter parish in Lewiston.
The Rev. Msgr. David G. LiPuma, pastor of St. Peter for a little over two years, participated in the Youngstown Thanksgiving ecumenical service, hosted by St. Bernard's this year. In announcing his retirement, Moran said that one scenario might be LiPuma overseeing, at least temporarily, reduced services at St. Bernard's. Moran, who is known for inserting the occasional and sometimes corny joke into his sermons, commented that LiPuma is much younger (55) and more energetic than he is.
Donna Parent, coordinator of religious education for St. Bernard's, said she is still waiting for word from the diocese on the fate of her program, but she expects classes for youngsters will continue at least through spring. Dates for First Communion and First Penance have already been set and a date for Confirmation is pending at this time, but all that could change, she said.
Parent has been involved in the parish's religious education program for 23 years, previously serving as a first-grade teacher. Moran baptized all of her children, plus her first grandchild.
"He's like another father to me. He's like that to a lot of people," she said. "It was a very sad day when I found out about his retirement."
Moran grew up in Lockport and was ordained in Rome, Italy, in 1957 after four years of theological studies at the North American College there. Pastor at St. Bernard's for more than 30 years, he founded the annual Rosary Crusade for World Peace (now held at Our Lady of Fatima shrine in Lewiston) while pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Niagara Falls in the late 1970s. He led the 35th annual event this past September. Moran also is well known in the general Youngstown community, even to blessing the boats at the Youngstown regatta.
In his letter to parishioners, Moran stated:
"It is with deep regret that I will be retiring at the end of this year as your pastor. Bishop Malone has already granted this. After almost 31 years here and about 58 years ordained and about to turn 84 (hard to believe), I find I am only human and need to go into retirement. I probably should have done this last summer, but thought I could keep going. However, age, stress, and the need to have a more regular lifestyle, have led me to this decision, and I really believe it is time.
"As many have surmised for too long a time, with the shortage of priests, our parish will probably go under the leadership of some neighboring parish. All of this is to be determined by the process in the diocese. Please give whoever it is your full support and cooperation as you have done for me. Sorry to say, there probably will be no daily Mass here.
"I've been playing with this idea for some time, and I feel now is the best time for everyone. As I get older, my mental and physical health become a factor, and my nervous system. Being a pastor is a stressful job and needs young men to handle all of the situations that occur.
"So many new things are happening in the diocese, administration becomes harder with the computer age, culture changes, all of these tell me it is time to go. Also many questions about wedding dates, Mass dates, and so many asking about things coming up, it is best to know where we are at this time.
"There are so many people living and deceased to thank for their cooperation and understanding through the years. I thank all of the trustees we have had, past and present for being such great people and helpful. I also apologize for anyone I may have hurt inadvertently, by commission or omission. You shall always be in my prayers and continue to pray for me and to keep in touch. We will keep you up to date as to what is happening."