by Antoinette Zeina
The history of a church does not a former Lutheran church for merely lie in the stones and cement $2,250 and founded Holy Family that built its walls, but rather the Maronite Church. The very first people who helped build it. The mass was held October 6, 1918. history of a church, like all history,is a history of its people, their 100 years later, the parish could stories, and their faith. This is what kept Holy Family Maronite Catholic Church’s doors open, and on October 13th-14th, they celebrated 100 years of operation in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The 200 families of Holy Family established a strong and committed community of parishioners to celebrate their faith as well as the Lebanese heritage since opening its doors in 1918.
Before the turn of the 20th century, catholic immigrants were fleeing prosecution in Lebanon and found a home in St. Paul. Seeking refuge and a new life, Lebanese immigrants came to America to not only find a home physically, but spiritually. They found their first spiritual home at St. Michael, a Roman Catholic Church on the west side of the city, before St. Maron in Minneapolis extended a hand and offered to share their priest. They created their own space of worship in the basement of St. Michaels Church, where they would celebrate Divine Liturgy for 15 years. It wasn’t until 1918 when the maronites of St. Paul purchased not have a stronger sense of faith and community, according to Father Emmanuel Nakhle, who was appointed pastor of Holy Family in 2014. Parishioners actively participate in fundraising, cultural celebration that keep the church up and running. Groups such as the Parish Council, Men’s Club, the Ladies Society, the adult choir and altar servers contribute to the stability of the church along with richness in faith participation among parishioners of multiple generations—something Father Emmanuel says is unique about their parish. “It is beautiful,” Father Emmanuel said. The nature of people who want to preserve the faith of the ancestors and the tradition and transmit from one generation to another is amazing. Pick one family and you will see multiple generations working within this church from alter serving to the adult choir to the parish council.”
Today, Holy Family’s emphasis on collaboration reflects the spirit of their immigrant ancestors who opened its doors a century before. Events and fundraisers are planned year-round to ensure economic stability, but more importantly, maintaining the Lebanese heritage. This past May, the parish took part in the 2018 Festival of Nations, which explores the cultural traditions of nearly 100 ethnic groups in St. Paul. In September, they put on their annual Fall Festival, a major fundraising event, which aims to attract crowds of people to bring them back to the community and to the faith and heritage of the church with food and dancing.
Many parishioners can trace their family back to the early years of the parish—a time where a small and tight knit community of immigrants and faith was a place they could call home. Parish Secretary Carolyn Marker was born and raised at Holy Family. Her grandparents helped build the church and all members of her family were married in the church. Many memories are carried within the walls of the church and many traditions have been carried into the present day of the parish. One of Markers favorite memories comes from the Annual Dinner which she remembers as a fond childhood memory.
“It was a rite of passage to be a server at the Annual Dinner and wear our white uniforms with a hanky in the pocket,” Marker stated. Our mothers did all the cooking. Afterwards when all the people were gone we sat down as a family and ate our dinner together. The same is done now.”
Though a lot of the work put into the church focuses on the now, the parish looks to the future now more than ever—in other words, the youth. A few times a year, the first communion class puts on plays that act out gospel stories—a fun and active way for children to learn biblical stories.
Groups such as the Maronite Youth Organization (MYO) serve to maintain faith and service within the adolescent of the parish. Last year five members along with 2 chaperons were able to travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and represent Holy Family at the annual retreat. This past summer, they had their first annual Church Youth Summer Overnight Camp put on by the Youth Committee—a group of experienced parishioners whose focus is solely youth activities. The camp entertained 16 youth and involved games, food, and a lesson on traditional dance of the “Dabki.”
“These children will be the future leaders of this church,” Father Emmanuel said. It helps parishes like ours to promote youth activities which means everything for the future of our parish.”
Looking back on a century, there are no doubts of the overwhelming sense of family with the people and their commitment their faith. The centennial celebration took a year of planning and plenty of fundraising to be able to commemorate the blessed milestone. A celebration that was expected to sell 350-300 tickets soon become 500 tickets sold for the event. The weekend of events began with Divine Liturgy on Saturday with a hafli following that same evening. Sunday brought the parish together once again as people brought food that they’ve prepared. More celebrations followed that Sunday’s liturgy.
It is not secret that parishes have had trouble keeping their doors open. Economic hardships and lack of involvement within communities have resulted in churches having to close its doors for good. However, it is, in Father Emmanuel’s terms, the “evangelization” of the church family and the willingness to work together to preserve its traditions that keeps Holy Family in a path to celebrate another 100 years of faith.
“We are a big family and as long as we don’t lose sight of our faith and each other, we will have a future. I know it sounds trite, but we are a community—we share it all together.”
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