Writer: Rita O’Neill-Wiseman
Thankful for physical and spiritual growth, the people experience a need to reach out to others less fortunate. Inspired by love and faith, the parish wagerly moves forward in the era of lay ministry, the sharing years of the Eighties. 1980 The parish decides to give 5% of the weekly collection to ESPERANCA, a medical missionary project on the Amazon River in South America. In September, the first Communal Anointing of the Sick takes place. The parish is free of debt. Renovation plans for the church are finalized. 1981 Father Cusack celebrates his 25th anniversary of ordination. Reflecting on the meaning of being Catholic in relationship with our fellow Catholics, parish renewal weekends begin. The first, such weekend in the Diocese, several more are planned at St. Thomas. The parish welcomes Sister Marie Emile Rivard, O.P., new principal of the school. Monsignor Raymond J. Sweeney, Pastor Emeritus, dies at age 80 – 41 years after he assumed pastoral duties here in July 1940. Mass of Resurrection is celebrated at St. Thomas in the church he strove so diligently to build 29 years before. In view of the declining number of sisters in residence at St. Thomas, the Parish Council approves a proposal to contact the Chancery Office for permission to lease or sell the convent. 1982 The RENEW program commences, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of grand Rapids. in phase one, small groups meet to enhance fellowship in faith through scripture, prayer, and dialogue. The program is to continue for three years. The parish adopts a Vietnamese family. Monsignor Sweeney Council of the Knights of Columbus is organized. Father Rock Badgerow joins us as associate pastor. 1983 A gift bearers program begins. Greg and Kathy Proulx begin their guitar music ministry, succeeding The Little Lights. New, permanent furnishings are installed in the sanctuary. 1984 Jeanne Zielinski retires, ending a dedicated 13-year tenure as secretary to three pastors and numerous associates and resident clergy. Tisha Leanord assumes duties as parish secretary. Sister Paschal Barth, O.P., long-time principal of St. Thomas School, celebrates her golden anniversary with parishioners at St. Thomas. John Jaksa assumes the post of principal, the first lay person and the first male to ever hold this position at st. Thomas School. A gift of the Fritz family in memory of Edward Fritz, a chair lift to the lower level is installed to accommodate handicapped persons. The parish donates property on Fulton Street to the Mercy Respite Center and continues generously to support the construction of a new facility on the site. A Polish couple, Yvonne and Thomas Lisniewski, is adopted by the parish, the second family to be helped via the Refugee Resettlement Program. 1985 Sarah Meinke continues the organ and choir ministry. Our school now serves about 300 students, an increase from a count of 205 in 1980. 1986 A series of musical performances benefits the Mercy Respite Center and celebrates Father Cusack’s 30th anniversary of ordination. The parish pledges to support the Educational Foundation. In addition to the founding members, the board consists of Edward B. Carlson, Daniel J. Vidro, Calvin F. Wallis, Nancy Greening Kennedy, Thomas L. Quinn, Sr., David A. Taylor, and Suzanne Haas Williams. The first Parish Empowerment Weekend takes place under the direction of Father Churck Gallagher, S.J>, as part of RENEW. 1987 Through the combined efforts of Nancy Poggi, Gerry Quinn, and Father Cusack, Stephen Ministry is inaugurated at St. Thomas. Father Donald J. Heydens is appointed pastor, coming to us from Holy Family Parish in Caledonia. Ordained in 1970 at St. Francis de Sales, Holland, Father has also served as assistant at St. Andrew Cathedral and St. Francis Xavier in Grand Rapids. 1988 Men’s and Women’s Annual Retreats continue at St. Lazare’s in Spring Lake. Dianne Penning Koperski continues the music ministry. 1989 Religious education classes continue for parish children enrolled in public schools.