By Galen Holley
NEW ALBANY – Members of St. Francis of Assisi parish in New Albany gathered around the Eucharist, then broke out their dancing shoes and fired up the grill as they celebrated 70 years of community on Oct. 6.
Some 250 members, a robust mix of Anglo and Latino, sat in lawn chairs, as Fr. Jesuraj Xavier celebrated an outdoor Mass, serenaded by mariachi and ranchero-style music.
During Mass, members read a brief history of the parish, from the first gatherings inside the home of the Kelso family, through the years when the Glenmary Home Missioners staffed the church, to the vibrant, culturally diverse community it has become.
“This is really a family, everyone together, sharing food, having a good time and worshiping together,” said Mario Garcia, as he walked the impromptu midway alongside the church, amid the delicious smell of carne asada cooking on an open grill and the squeals and laughter of children.
Garcia’s daughter, Rosa, agreed, “This is an example of what community looks like,” she said.
As the music shifted gears, Cindy Gonzalez, Ella Zoniga and Monica Vasquez danced the Zenda Nortena, wearing cowboy attire and moving around each other in sprightly ellipses. Around them, parishioners lounged in the shade, eating tacos and tortas and sharing stories. Twelve-year-old Ashley Vasquez took a fearless, championship-quality ride on the mechanical bull.
For young Diana Pizarro, the party had deep symbolic meaning.
“There is a language difference here, but as you see, we don’t allow it be a barrier,” said the 23-year-old.
Parishioners read the remarks of Glenmary priest, Fr. Wil Steinbacher, a former pastor of St. Francis, who spoke of the architecture of the church. Steinbacher noted the comfortable courtyard, nestled between the parish hall on the north and the offices and classrooms on the south.
“The design was meant to symbolize two arms, reaching out to the community,” Steinbacher said.
April Stanton was delighted to see the children enjoying themselves.
“We have such a great mixture of young and old,” said Stanton. “We’ve all enjoyed the beautiful Mass, and food, and music, and fun, it’s just a great day for the church and for its future.”