Writer: Rita O’Nell-Wiseman
From its birth in The Twenties through the struggle to grow into a vibrant, active parish, the people never cease their efforts to fulfill the dream. Late in life, the parish continues to generate love, compassion, and faith in the world. Filled with the Holy Spirit, there is a new vision of hope, The Nineties. 1990 On Ascension Thursday, Bishop Rose appoints Father Thomas Johnston, O.P., as Diocesan Director of Worship and Associate Pastor of St. Thomas Parish. The Parish Council begins the transition to two major advisory groups of parishioners, resulting in the establishment of a Financial Council. Dave Bulkowski accepts the position of Youth Minister. Father Don Heydens celebrates the 20th anniversary of ordination. Evangelization Program Training begins. The initial Liturgy of the Word with Children takes place with 81 children participating during the nine o’clock Mass. The parish congratulates Martha Despres on 14 years of dedication to scheduling and overseeing our Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Dorothy Clingman continues to moderate the Scripture Study Group. Hospital Ministers now visit each hospital daily. Seventy-nine people take part in the Communal Celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick. Expanding the Usher Ministry, a new group is formed. The Ministers of Hospitality are families who together welcome and carry out their duties – seating, orderly communion, presentation of the gifts, and reorganization of the pews after Mass. 1991 Appeal 2000 seeks funds for the St. Thomas Educational Foundation. A support group is established for those having family members involved in the Gulf War. Father Don visits Esperanca. St. Thomas adopts a smoke-free environment policy. Mrs. Louise Eardley, a charter members of the parish, celebrates her 105th birthday. Our beloved parish secretary of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, Sophia Hermann, celebrates her 96th birthday. Tributes are paid to Mary Ann Blum and Kathryn Bowen for their years of untiring dedication. 1992 In January, healing services are initiated, taking place after 11 o’clock Mass. A Parish Mission with the goal of spiritual renewal and refocusing is led by Father Phil Shangraw, Sister Mary Ann Barrett, O.P., and Father Jim Chelich. Father Tom Johnston is appointed secretary general of the Order of Preachers headquartered at Rome. Thanksgiving at St. Thomas has always meant Christian service. Generous donations of food and clothing enable the delivery of bountiful baskets to those in need. This year, the parish sponsors the first Thanksgiving Day dinner for the poor, needy, and homeless. 1993 Eileen Bockheim takes the post of Music Director. In April, Father James A. Chelich accepts the invitation to come to St. Thomas as temporary administrator. In June, he is appointed pastor. Father Jim began his pastoral work first as assistant at Holy Trinity, Alpine and St. John Vianney, then as Pastor of Sacred Heart, Evart and St. Agnes, Marion. He comes to St. Thomas from St. Adalbert, Grand Rapids. Noon hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament begins. Father Jim goes to World Youth Day when Pope John Paul II is in Denver. The Dominican Sisters move out of our convent to Marywood. David Faber accepts the post of principal of St. Thomas School. 1994 The school expands the pre-school program to include three-year-olds. In addition, a media center addresses the unique learning needs and style of each student. The first step in a long-range technology plan, the media center combines the current library with a new 22 station computer lab. Multi-media stations are added in each classroom, and all computers network together throughout the school and parish office, forming a local area network for voice, video, and data. The media center is the informational hub of the school, paving the way for internet access in the future. Father Jim inaugurates a tape ministry at St. Thomas. For a nominal fee, parishioners can purchase tapes of homilies and other teachings. An art program is added to the school curriculum and V.I.P Volunteers in Partnership program begins. Over 200 volunteers a year take part in a multitude of prgrams and opportunities that offer benefits to our students. For the first time in its 70 year history, St. Thomas School goes through an extensive accreditation process with the Michigan Association of Non-public Schools (MANS). Father Jim makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Sunday evening Vespers begin. A long-range plan steering committee is formed. Sue Haas Williams agrees to facilitate the process. 1995 A new sound system is donated and installed. The decision to use the convent is announced; it will not be sold. A written survey is sent to parishioners regarding the long-range plan. 1996 Father Jim celebrates his 20th Anniversary of Ordination The long-range plan is sent to parishioners. Over 200 children participate in the first week-long shared ministry with Calvary Reformed Church, a Vacation Bible School. A Ministry Center Commission meets to determine the best use of the convent and completes a plan to renovate and expand the buildings as part of the long-range plan. Gerard Bribiescas becomes Coordinator of Ministries, and Beth Price accepts the position of Youth Minister. Ann Geer assumes the position of Director of Religious Education and Formation. 1997 The long-range plan continues to unfold with the funding and building of a Parish Ministry Center. In March, Father Jim’s message enlarges on the benefits of the Ministry Center to our retired parishioners. After long and careful planning, a Pastoral Council is selected to work with the pastor. JoAnn Ambrose, Cindy Clingman, Jim Ens, Dan Erlandson, Christian Fernando, Ken Kelly, Jeff Needham, Jill Skinner, and Art Veneklase are installed at Vespers on Pentecost Sunday. A once-a-year collection envelope marked Altar Society is a reminder of the the former Altar Society and the generous women who were active in it over a great number of years. Most of their work has been taken up by the Parish Liturgy Commission and the volunteers associated with it. Contributions and the efforts of selfless women who to this day iron small altar linens assure the continuation of their work. Jon David Vander Ploeg, son of Stephen and Mary Vander Ploeg, joins the Companions of Christ Community, St. Paul, Minnesota. A complete Spanish program is added to the school. 1998 Ministers of the Eucharist to the Homebound visit our parishioners who live in nursing homes or are confined to their own residence by poor health or impaired mobility. Noreen Wurz steps down as leader of this ministry, after some 50 years of vital involvement in various parish ministries. Jeam Popma now heads this caring group. An elevator to the church’s lower level is installed. The first Annual Health Fair takes place. Each year, as we are called to stewardship, we recall the unceasing efforts of the Women’s Guild, the Ushers Club, and other organizations to support the physical growth and foster parish harmony. 1999 The parish congratulates Marcia Carbines on her many years dedicated to innovative planning, coordinating, and developing our liturgical environment. Seventy-five years after three Dominican Sisters began teaching here, our school today employs a total of 15 full-time lay teachers and administrators, eight part-time teachers, all of whom maintain current certification requiring continuous postgraduate coursework. Although the Dominican Sisters have moved to other ministries, St. Thomas School will always honor their mission, the Christ-centered education of St. Thomas children. The Ministry Center opens. Father Jim continues to work in the parish garden, chatting with folks who see him at work creating a vision of beauty, spring, summer, and fall. For three years, Paul and Jane Maczka planted and weeded those areas between the rectory and church. Now the gardens are filled with plantings fromother parishioners and friends. The plants in Fr. Jim’s pastoral garden also continue to blossom year round as he prayerfully and compassionately tends to us daily.
In late August sales of mementos begin. After all Masses parishioners have an opportunity to purchase baseball caps, T-shirts, brass key chains and ceramic mugs. The 75th Anniversary logo appears on all items. September 1999 On September 26 a picnic is held at Townsend Park, the site of the first of many parish picnics through the years. Parishioners watch with nostalgia as their children play in the creek as they themselves once did. In this place created by God and preserved by man, memories continue to be made as some 600 people enjoy the day. October 1999 On October 17, an Anniversary Mass with Bishop Robert Rose is celebrated with Father James Chelich, Father James Cusak, Father Raymond Bruck, Father Bernard A. Hall, and Father Richard Lawie in attendance. Prayers and songs of thanksgiving honor the past and the present. Descendents of charter members representing generations of St. Thomas parishioners are gift bearers. Many Dominican Sisters and retired teachers are present to celebrate with us. The original candleholders used in the first church adorn the sanctuary and the entire worship space is spectacular in subtle beauty. At the candlelight reception held afterwards in the lower level, memorabilia tables display items of interest to both recent and long-time members. With keepsake candles lending a soft glow to the hall, delicious food, dance music, and the sparkling spirit generated by a parish playing together, the dinner dance on October 23 is truly a diamond jubilee event. Connecting with the Inner-City Christian Federation, the Christian Service Commission purchases a lot upon which parishioners will build a home for the benefit of a low-income family. Ground is broken on October 23 and the project will come to completion sometime in the next year. November 1999 On November 2, an evening Mass of remembrance of all deceased members of the parish creates an aura of benediction; our loved ones in glory seem to fill the church with their presence. December 1999 The book of memories rolls off the presses. A copy is reserved for each parish household. As each of us is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, so the school is part of the parish, yet another entity in its own right. Entering its 75th year, the school begins its own anniversary.