The parishioners of Our Lady of the Cedars of Lebanon Church have a saying that has been passed down through generations: “If there is a problem Our Lady of the Cedars will be there to watch over you and protect you.” And for 125 years, Our Lady has watched over her parish community in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Boston, Massachusetts is the proud birthplace of the first Maronite church in the United States, with its history dating back to 1893. Through the years, the parish has had its fair share in ups and downs. In the early years of the church, the parish endured some difficulties as a result of a priest’s failing health, parishioners relocating from Boston into the suburbs, financial issues, and a church fire. In 1959, a homeless man started a fire in the basement of the church where Chorbishop Douaihy was storing newspapers for a paper drive. The church and the rectory were quickly engulfed in smoke. Despite the danger, Chorbishop Douaihy ran to the sanctuary to save the Blessed Sacrament from being destroyed. Although he made it out with the sacrament in hand, his failing health could not endure the trauma and he succumbed to a heart attack on the sidewalk of the church that he had built and helped serve for thirty years.
Despite the trials and tribulations of the past, Our Lady of the Cedars stands stronger than ever. Rosanne Solomon has been a parishioner from birth and takes pride in seventy years of service to the parish. From an early age, Solomon can recall her parents emphasizing the importance of faith in their lives. Since the church within walking distance from her home, there was never an excuse to not attend Sunday Divine Liturgy.
Reflecting on the past, she is profoundly grateful for those lessons which were instilled at such an early age. “Church has always been the biggest part of my life,” Solomon said, “I have had all my major milestones in the church. I was baptized in the church, I met my husband through the church. All my memories of my childhood into my adult life are here.”
Preserving the faith and culture of the parish proves to be one of the most important goals of the parish according to Monsignor Georges Y. El-Khalli, who was appointed pastor in 2010. “With so many distractions in our daily lives, it is these annual events that attempt to bring family and friends together to celebrate their faith and culture.”
With several events taking place throughout the year, efforts are made to gather the Maronite community of the parish as well as introduce the Boston community to the Lebanese culture. The Feast of Saint Maron Hafli is an annual event that celebrates our patronal feast with an abundance of our traditional food and authentic Arabic music. Traditionally, November always brings “Bazaar” an annual event since 1967. In 2014, Monsignor El-Khalli changed the name to the Autumn Extravaganza Raffle—an event many parish members look forward to each year.
The most popular fundraiser of the year is the Annual Lebanese Festival which began in August 2010. What is known as a festival today started as a small outing on church grounds. Families would come together bringing food, family and music to make an intimate summer gathering for parishioners. However, with time, the small get-together developed into an event that brings together not only parishioners, but people from the Boston metropolitan area come to share an authentic Lebanese experience.
Keeping a community of parishioners engaged is not an easy task. Most parishioners live closer to another parish in which they could practice their faith. A majority of parishioners drive over ten miles to come to church every week and remain active in church endeavors—something Solomon says has been the secret to keeping their church doors open for 125 years. “We try to offer something for everyone to try and engage all groups” Solomon said, “It is an accomplishment to be still standing after 125 years. That is why we got to keep going and keep reminding people that the church is their home and is their responsibility.”
Involvement has always been a crucial element in the success of any parish. One of the main goals of Monsignor El-Khalli is to involve the entire parish community in several aspects of church activities—a factor that will ensure the prosperity of the parish specifically with more youth involvement. In fact, Our Lady of the Cedars was the first parish to start the MYO (Maronite Youth Organization), which was founded and given a name coined by former pastor Father Gabriel in the 1960s. Just like the MYO, several of the parish organizations can date their beginnings back for decades and continue to maintain a strong presence in the church.
The Daughters of Our Lady of the Cedars, also known as the “Mother’s Club,” was formed in 1929 and continues to be a leader in event planning and church functions. Since the early years of the church, they have always been considered the backbone of the church. In the years following the Second World War, young men and women returned from the war and started the Sacred Heart Society in 1945. The group is the forerunner of what is known today as the St. Maron Society, whose members spearhead events and fundraisers throughout the church year.
The future of the parish is exciting according to Solomon, however she has a healthy concern for what is to come. Looking back on 70 years in the parish, she understands that the world is changing and so are people and their priorities. She remembers the lessons that her mother taught her about the importance of faith—the same lessons that she has passed down to her own children who have gone to live in different cities all over the country. (Some of her children have moved to other cities. Despite distance from their “hometown” church, all her children continue to attend Divine Liturgy in the Maronite churches in their resident towns.) It may seem like an easy task to engrain these habits, but according to Solomon, this must start at an early age. “Life used to be simple and straight forward. Nowadays children and their parents are so busy with activities that they forget to bring their kids to Mass every Sunday. Make it a priority and they will never lose these habits for as long as they live.”
Show Comments (0)