In 1973, Bishop Jerome Hastrich announced that a new parish would be built in the city of Gallup, under the patronage of St. John Vianney. 50 years later, that parish is still going strong, and recently celebrated a special 50th anniversary Mass on February 11, 2023, with Bishop James Wall presiding.
“I was reflecting upon 50 years – 50 years of this church, its presence here, and the importance [it has] to our local community in Gallup,” Bishop Wall told the parishioners during his homily. “First of all, I was thankful for a number of lives: I was thankful for Bishop Hastrich – Bishop Hastrich was the one who established this parish, and what a good man he was! He did a lot of that – a lot of establishing parishes, a lot of inviting religious communities in, and we saw a lot of growth during [his] time.”
The bishop then acknowledged the priests who served as pastors during his episcopate – several of whom were present at the celebration – as well as the parish Deacon, John Margis.
Bishop Wall explained the impact of St. John Vianney, most well-known as the patron saint of priests, on his own life.
“St. John Vianney has always been somebody who’s very near and dear to my heart, somebody I’ve always relied upon for his intercessory prayers, going all the way back when I first discovered him, when I was doing my own discernment.”
The bishop recounted a famous story about the Saint, who found himself lost on his way to his new parish assignment in the tiny village of Ars. He finally met a little shepherd boy, who gave him directions, and then told the boy “You have shown me the way to Ars – now I will show you the way to Heaven.”
“And really, isn’t that the role, the job of a priest?” Bishop Wall asked. “In order to lead the people who have been entrusted to his care, lead them to Heaven. That’s the ultimate good for all of us. We should all desire that because God desires it for us.”
And just as there is a statue of St. John Vianney at the parish in Gallup, so too is there one of the Saint with the little shepherd in the village of Ars.
“And that’s why we mark moments such as this – the 50th anniversary of this parish,” the bishop said. “Because it’s not just simply a building, but it’s the house of God. And what is done in the house of God is that we give something to God that is due to Him and Him alone – our praise and our worship. And what He does out of love for us is He feeds us, feeds us with the word, and feeds us with the sacrament, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.”
St. John Vianney often encountered disinterest or hostility from the villagers and parishioners around him. So too, Bishop Wall noted, do Catholics in modern times often find themselves surrounded by hostility or distrust, especially when the Church stands in opposition to mainstream opinions on issues like abortion or euthanasia.
“Friends in Christ, as we enter into a new chapter – not only in our parish, but a new chapter here in our country – how is it that we can help to overcome the culture of death, and preach the Gospel of life? And I think the secret lies in the message that St. John Vianney’s bishop gave to him: it’s [our] duty to make sure that we’re living our faith to its fullest, [that] we’re living a good, holy, virtuous life, that we’re living that as a good example, and that we are helping to put the love of God in other peoples’ hearts.”
And just as priests and seminarians often ask St. John Vianney for his aid and prayers as they live out their vocation, so too can he be a powerful friend for the parishioners in Gallup.
“So we ask for the intercession of this wonderful saint for this beautiful community here at St. John Vianney [Parish], that he would intercede on our behalf,” Bishop Wall said, “so that we too can be courageous and live out our faith, just as he did.”
At the end of the Mass, and before those gathered moved to the parish hall for a meal and fellowship, Bishop Wall acknowledged the courage and spirit of parish pastor Fr. Augustine Opara and associate pastor Fr. Isaac Ogba, both Nigerians.
“As you all know, we are a missionary diocese, and so we rely upon assistance from outside in a number of ways, but one of the primary ways we rely upon assistance is through the priests that come to us, to serve here in our diocese,” the bishop said. “And we have two fine examples of wonderful priests – one who serves as your pastor and one who serves in this parish but also as our superintendent of schools.”
Fr. Augustine thanked the bishop in return, as well as the gathered parishioner. After spending some time looking through the records of the parish, he noted that the number of sacraments celebrated at St. John Vianney since its foundation reflected the importance of the church to the community, with more than 850 baptisms, 450 confirmations, and 150 marriages.
“We thank every one of you for your active participation in this Eucharistic celebration,” Fr. Augustine said. “We say happy anniversary to every one of you, as we pray for all of you today, and pray for those who built the foundation of this place.”
Featured photo: The members of the St. John Vianney Choir.