It was a great day for Catholics in Island Pond July 25.

Parishioners of St. James the Greater Church celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of a Catholic parish with a resident priest there. Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass that was followed by a brunch.

“Despite changes in the Church and in the world, you are still here,” he said, noting the rich history of the parish.

In 1853 a group of Irish Catholic laborers came to the area to help build the railroad. When their work was complete, many remained in the Island Pond area to work on the railroad, in the lumber industry, on farms or in businesses. Early settlers also include Catholic French-Canadian families.

When Bishop Coyne asked members of the full congregation how many of them had received sacraments in the church, many raised their hands. “There is a lot of history in this place in terms of your family history.”

It is the faith of the people who come to church that make the building a church, he said. “The most important thing about this church is you and your gathering together, your faith.”

Bishop Coyne explained that God works through the “normal realities of life,” using simple things like water, bread and oil to bring about “something incredible” through the sacraments.

Three boys from the parish received their First Communion from the bishop during the 150thanniversary celebration Mass. One of them, Braxton Lyons, said he was excited to receive the sacrament from the bishop. “Church is good,” he said, “because Jesus is here,” and he plans to attend Mass and receive Communion every Sunday.

His mother, Melissa Lyons, said it was exciting to be part of the history of the church by attending the anniversary celebration at which her son received First Communion. “It was pretty amazing to have the opportunity to do this with the bishop. It was awesome,” she said. “We have such a small church, but it’s family, and it’s growing,” she said.

Brett Gervais, 27, has been attending St. James Church all his life. “It’s important to all of us, he said. “We’ve been coming here every Sunday our whole lives.” St. James Church is now Part of Mater Dei Parish and is served by Vocationist priests who live in the rectory at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport.

Margaret (Foy) Morrill lived next door to St. James Church when she was growing up and went to the parish school. She now lives in Newport but returned to Island Pond for the church celebration. “This is home,” she said. “The memories. …”

Leo Casavant has been attending St. James Church for 46 years and said he was happy to have the bishop visit the church: “It’s good for him to be here.”

One of the parish coordinators and an organizer of the 150th anniversary celebration, Anita Gervais, said the fact that the church remains open after so many years is cause for celebration. “We provide a lot of spiritual help for the community. We need this church,” she said. And in light of the lifting of Covid-19-related restrictions on gatherings, she said the anniversary celebration was a great reason for the parish to gather.

According to Vocationist Father Rijo Johnson, pastor of Mater Dei Parish, the anniversary was a “time to be alive” after the pandemic’s restrictions. “Our people love to be in church,” he said, pointing to a congregation filled with persons of all ages from toddlers to seniors. “They wanted to be back.”

“It’s beautiful to be here,” he added. “Feel the joy!”

A half dozen members of the clergy joined the bishop in the sanctuary for the Mass, and the church was decorated with gold ribbons and “150” ribbons on wreaths on the pillars and historic photographs. Members of the Knights of Columbus were present.

The first bishop of Burlington, Bishop Louis deGoësbriand, invited the pastor in Stanhope, Quebec, to minister to the Catholics in Island Pond and other nearby communities. A wooden church — 24 feet by 36 feet — was built in Island Pond in 1859. Priests from Quebec continued to serve the church.

A larger church opened in 1868; it could hold 500 people. Father Joseph-Eusebe Amedee Dufresne and was the first resident pastor of St. James Church. The current church built in the Roman style is 58 feet by 115 feet; its cornerstone was laid in 1898, and it was dedicated in 1899. The Island Pond parish once included a school and convent.

Craig Goulet, a lifelong parishioner who welcomed everyone to the 150th anniversary Mass, described the parish community as “faithful, loving and spiritual.”

Bishop Coyne offered his prayer that parishioners would continue to be “a holy people doing holy things … spreading the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

 

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