Better Know A Parish: Saint Catherine Laboure Church, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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Article Parish Life

Parish Name: Saint Catherine Laboure Church

Location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Founded: 1948

Diocese: Harrisburg

Pastor: Rev. Neil Sullivan

Number of Parishioners: 6,636

Parish websitewww.sclhbg.org

What makes your parish different from other parishes?

Saint Catherine Laboure was the first church in the world named for Saint Catherine Laboure following her canonization in 1947. Because of this honor we were privileged and blessed to have been given one of the surviving original Miraculous Medals that Saint Catherine had kept in her possession until her death. There are presently only two of these medals in the United States. We also have a Perpetual Miraculous Medal Novena each Monday night throughout the year.

What’s the most distinguishing characteristic of your church building?

Our magnificent windows are an integral part of the structure of the church. They were designed and created by the artist Gabriel Loire of France. The windows were made of small pieces of colored glass, which have irregularly shaped edges from being chipped by a hammer. This enables the glass to catch the sunlight and bends the light creating "walls of living light." Depending on the time of day and the season, the windows sparkle in different patterns. The primary color of the windows is blue which Loire considered the color of peace. Encircling the church are six large windows depicting the seven sacraments.

Who is your most interesting parishioner, and what makes them so interesting?

Our most interesting parishioner is Msgr. Vincent Topper, a retired priest who has lived in our Rectory since his retirement several years ago. Monsignor just turned 101 years old in July and has been a priest for more than 75 years. He says Mass on weekends and some weekdays, still hears confessions, still writes and researches material for his homilies on his computer, and still genuflects the whole way, putting the kids to shame. Our parishioners, especially the children, love him. 

What’s the most popular event, ministry, or holiday tradition at your parish?

Saint Catherine Laboure Church has an active outreach which covers many areas, including Catherine's Cupboard (an emergency food pantry) and our commitment, tithing, and service to a sister parish in Panama. However, we are most proud of our ministry to the dying and their families. When one of our parishioners dies our bereavement team consisting of the pastor or parochial vicar, the director of music, and the bereavement coordinator meets with the family of the deceased to pray with them and to plan the funeral Mass. During these meetings they are invited to talk about their loved ones; to tell what kind of person they were, interesting things about their lives, and their faith life. Another team prepares and serves a luncheon free of charge. A few weeks after the funeral the bereavement coordinator, who is a trained social worker, will call the family, especially a surviving spouse, to check on them. Each year in November we have a beautiful solemn service of remembrance for all of the families who have lost loved ones during the past year. They are given a remembrance candle with their loved one's name to light for the service and take home to keep. Few people leave the service without being deeply touched.

If we asked parishioners what they love most about the parish, what would they say?

I would hope that they would say that they feel that when they come to Saint Catherine Laboure Church, they're home like family. We are an active parish and have been working in many ways toward becoming a warm, welcoming parish that cherishes time and talent as much as treasure. We try to plan strong liturgies that encourage active participation, and create many opportunities for prayer and spiritual growth throughout the year by adult education as well as missions, days of recollection for our parish leadership and ministries, and various social events just so people can enjoy each other's company. We use social media daily to keep in contact with our parishioners, especially our young adults, families, and community and do as much as we can, especially during the holidays, to invite people to stay close to their faith and return to the sacraments if they need to.

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