May 11, 2014

St. Paul Parish celebrates hall dedication with prayer, music, food



Story and photos by Rebecca Drake

SPRINGFIELD -- A parish that was in danger of closing eight years ago celebrated the dedication of its new hall and social center Saturday evening following the 4 p.m. confirmation Mass.

St. Paul the Apostle Parish, here, welcomed Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, principal celebrant, who confirmed the young parishioners and blessed the new 7,500-square-foot St. Joseph Hall. Prior to the hall blessing and dedication, Father Peter Ha Dinh-Dang, administrator of the multicultural parish, thanked the bishop for his presence.

"I think the spring rolls had something to do with it," Bishop McDonnell joked.  

"We will have a night of food," said Father Dinh-Dang, known as Father Ha to parishioners. He then recognized parishioners who in 2006 welcomed the Vietnamese Catholic community to St. Paul's.

"I work for Americans too," Father Ha continued. "Together, we are one faith, one family of the church, with one God here in St. Paul Church."

The name of the new hall was, in fact, chosen in recognition of former parishioners of St. Joseph Mission Church in nearby East Longmeadow. When St. Joseph's closed in 2003, its parishioners joined St. Paul's and' according to a press release sent to local media, "Those parishioners of St. Joseph's Mission have remained steadfast members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish."

Father Ha was named administrator in September 2013, when former administrator, Father Quynh Dinh Tran began a leave of absence due to an ongoing serious illness. As Father Ha brought the construction of St. Joseph Hall to its joyous completion, the press release stated, "He promised to continue Father Tran's project of bringing together the Vietnamese- and English-speaking cultures together through the completion of our parish hall, combined liturgical celebrations and religious education, as well as his dynamic preaching aimed at bringing back those who left our parish family.

"His enthusiasm encouraged us to reach out to our friends and neighbors and invite them back to St. Paul the Apostle Church," the press release stated.

At the conclusion of the May 10 Mass, Bishop McDonnell praised Father Ha for assuming the role of administrator as the parish hall was being built. "I've noticed the one who thanks you, often doesn't get thanked," the bishop said. "So, thank you, Father Ha. You've been a wonder here, a good shepherd, and we thank you."

The priests, deacons and parishioners processed from the church to the new hall, accompanied by rain and wind, as a predicted line of thunderstorms passed over the city. Underneath a canopy erected over the main entrance to the hall, Bishop McDonnell read the prayers of blessing and dedication. He then blessed each room with holy water before settling in the main hall for those spring rolls and other Vietnamese and American food.

As the first of the evening's musicians began to play and hundreds of parishioners lined up for food, longtime parishioner and building committee member Larry Wood spoke to iobserve, sharing his excitement about the new hall.

Wood said the hall will facilitate the religious, cultural and social enrichment of American and Vietnamese parishioners and will provide much-needed space for meetings and religious education classes.

Father William Pomerleau, a diocesan priest who has ministered to refugee and immigrant populations for more than three decades, also spoke to iobserve about the joining of American and Vietnamese worshippers at St. Paul's.

"This is a shining example of pastoral planning at its best," Father Pomerleau said. As a young Catholic community, he said the Vietnamese families are active in the parish and the community.  He praised the Vietnamese Catholics, many of whom fled their native country after the fall of Saigon in the 1970s, for their perseverance and example of strong faith.

Father Ha was on the move most of the time during the dedication festivities, making sure the musicians set up safely inside the hall as the storm rumbled and rain poured, and greeting the hundreds of parishioners, special guests, clergy and religious who gathered in the hall and outside underneath blue canopies.

Pausing briefly to speak to iobserve, Father Ha explained that the new hall will accommodate the parish's more than 100 children in religious education classes and many parish events and ongoing activities. Asked what he was feeling as the celebrations continued, he said he felt great gratitude.

"It is raining outside, but not inside the parishioners' hearts," he said.

As the evening wore on and the storms moved to the north and east, a group of children playing outside the hall proclaimed the appearance in the sky of a double rainbow -- an event that needed no translation.   

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Watch for a video version of this story on an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese's weekly newsmagazine, "Real to Reel," which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.