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Byzantine Catholic community celebrates 100th anniversary
September 07, 2017
HILLSBOROUGH — Brian Bezick remembered as a child attending picnics that would involve practically the whole church community. Brooks Boulevard, a main road that runs through the Hillsborough-Manville border, used to be closed to accommodate the crowd.
Today, the church at 1900 Brooks Blvd. to which Bezick, 51, has belonged his entire life, St. Mary Byzantine, has amassed a “nice core” of members, he said. “And we have a beautiful church.”
On Aug. 20, Bezick, who served as chairman of the parish’s centennial committee, joined parishioners and visitors filling the pews at St. Mary's for a “Hierarchical Divine Liturgy” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish. In the early 1900s, people from the Austro-Hungarian area of eastern Europe came to the Manville-Hillsborough area in search of a better life. According to an online history of St. Mary’s, the immigrants also sought to replicate the religious life they had led in the homeland, and their Byzantine Catholic church was the cornerstone. The church was originally in Manville, and a construction contract for the first St. Mary’s dates to Sept. 15, 1917. Bishop Kurt Burnette, shepherd of the Eparchy of Passaic (Ruthenian), which includes New Jersey and all or parts of 10 other states, presided at the two-hour liturgy. He was assisted by former St. Mary’s pastors and other clergy, including Father James Badeaux, the current pastor. In Byzantine tradition, the liturgy featured nearly all singing, except for Bishop Burnette’s homily and a few prayers and announcements. The liturgists, including parish Deacon Nick Sotack, who served
as sort of an emcee, and the choir led the congregation in glorious, a cappella music of hymns and prayers. During his sermon, Bishop Burnette used the liturgy’s Gospel from St. Matthew and the parable of the unforgiving servant to focus on mercy.
“The single most important thing you can do to forgive someone when you’re really badly injured is to pray for them,” Bishop Burnette said. “To pray for somebody that hurts you is the best way to forgive a really bad injury.”
Bishop Burnette said someone wounded him so harshly over a period of time that he could not pray for the person. “You know what I did?” he said. “I prayed to Mary. I said, ‘Would you please do it for me?’ It worked.
“Well, St. Mary’s Church here in Hillsborough … I want to give you one thing to think about: When Jesus was on the cross, who stood there with him? His mother did.” The parish welcomed Bishop Burnette with gifts of bread, salt and a large key. Bezick and another longtime parishioner, Margaret Pavol, of Bridgewater, presented the bishop with the gifts, handed down from tradition, as he entered the church vestibule following a short procession of clergy, altar servers and a contingent from the Knights of Columbus. Pavol, another member of the church’s centennial committee, said the loaf of bread represented hospitality, the salt friendship, and the key a symbol of the church. Upon entering the church, Bishop Burnette sat in a chair in the center aisle near the altar. He eventually joined other clergy in dispensing incense and blessings, and celebrating the Eucharist.
After the event, Father Badeaux, who has shepherded St. Mary’s since the centennial events began last year, said he was awed by the liturgy. He called the celebration “quite a feat” and also said he was “overwhelmed, blessed, grateful and happy. We look forward to another 100 years.”
Even newer members, like Mike Bates, said St. Mary’s is special. He and his wife, Suzanne, who have been Roman Catholics, joined the parish about five years ago.
“I tell Sue, ‘This is really the perfect home for us,’” the Belle Mead resident said. “What attracted us was the liturgy. It changed the way God was. You see with all the iconography that they are still alive with us, and they’re praying with us.” Indeed, St. Mary, with its large, onionshaped domes above its modern-day church, which was dedicated in September 1996, also houses walls of icons and religious paintings looking like images from the ancient Church. A wall above the altar shows exquisite depictions of The Annunciation with several saints, including St. John the
Baptist. It’s hard not to carry a sense of being in the presence of early Church leaders. “And the church is more than just talking about issues today,” said Mike Bates, who was serving as an usher for the special liturgy. “The Church has existed for 2,000 years and it will continue to exist, and with so much vigor than what we are.”
“It’s just a very important part of our church that we lasted 100 years,” said Pavol, when asked what the Mass meant to her.
Following the liturgy, church members and guests continued the celebration with a banquet at the parish center. The parish held other events during the centennial celebration, including a logo contest and a special effort to encourage former members to return to the flock.
St. Mary Catholic Church, which has about 300 households, is one of nine Byzantine parishes in the diocese.
Indeed, St. Mary, with its large, onionshaped domes above its modernday church, which was dedicated in September 1996, also houses walls of icons and religious paintings looking like images from the ancient Church.
By Anthony Salamone, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit