3rd Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021
200th Anniversary; St. John the Evangelist, Long Green Valley
A Word of Congratulations and Thanks
Let me begin with my heartfelt congratulations to the parish community of St. John the Evangelist Parish here in Long Green Valley, as you celebrate your bicentennial anniversary. You trace the roots of this parish to Jesuit missionaries who travelled the region on horseback, planting the seeds of faith. Founded in 1822 as a mission of St. Ignatius Church in Harford County, St. John’s was housed in a little frame church that was destroyed by fire in 1855. Before moving on, let us remember those pioneers who endured considerable hardship in laying the foundations of this parish. Even if their names are lost to history, may we remember them gratefully in prayer.
The next chapter of St. John the Evangelist opened in 1855 when a new church, the present-day chapel, was constructed on this beautiful piece of land that was generously donated by the Jenkins family. Here I would like to recognize and thank Mr. Calvin Jenkins and the members of the Jenkins family who have joined us today. Your forebears left behind an immense and beautiful imprint in the Archdiocese – Jenkins Hall at Loyola University of Baltimore, Our Lady of the Angels Church, Corpus Christi Church, Bon Secours Hospital, and Jenkins Senior Living and more. To you and to those who came before you, we remain deeply indebted. But the land on which this parish has flourished for some 200 years is closer to home. For, I am told that, the members of the Jenkins family here present are the direct descendants of the donors of this land, and that the Jenkins homestead is just across the road on Long Green Pike. United with my predecessors, going back as far as Archbp. Martin John Spalding and certainly the great James Cardinal Gibbons (who died 100 years ago on March 21st), I wish to join the parishioners of St. John the Evangelist in thanking you for all your family has done and continues to do in sustaining the Church’s mission.
This is a good moment for me to thank the priests and deacons who served here, beginning with your first resident pastor, Father Jacob Walter, but why stop there? Let us not fail to mention Father Jacob’s 19 successors, as also 10 associate pastors, 3 administrators and 3 permanent deacons – may God bless them for their service. I am especially happy that priests who formerly served here have returned home, especially your most recent former pastor, Monsignor Rick Cramblitt, as well as Fr. Franken, Fr. Foley, Fr. Jojo, and our Eastern Vicar, Msgr. Jay O’Connor. In a very special way, I want to thank your current pastor, Fr. Pete Literal, for the zeal, joy, and pastoral love you have brought to St. John the Evangelist Parish. With your parishioners, I would like to express my warmest thanks!
This short narration of your history would be incomplete if I failed to mention St. John the Evangelist School. First begun in 1858, it had its share of ups and downs, including closures, but the present school was re-opened in 1947 under the direction of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and it continues to flourish. Here I would like to pay tribute to Mrs. Christine Blake, the principal, and to the staff and teachers of the school . . . as one satisfied parent posted, “It’s the best school with the best teachers!” . . . and your inquiries and applications for next year are through the roof! Warmest thanks to you, Christine, for your service and best wishes for the future!
Last, but surely not least, let us remember generations of parishioners – founding families such as the Kelly’s, the Lynch’s, and the Shanahan’s, but indeed all the hard-working families, moms and dads, children and young people who built up this parish, who worshipped here and who nurtured the faith at home, families that encouraged vocations to the priesthood and religious life, families who bore witness to the Gospel by living their faith day in and day out. I want to thank you, the present-day parishioners of St. John the Evangelist for your faithful witness to the Gospel, for your perseverance in difficult times, for your patience in following the guidance offered during this pandemic, and your readiness to continue the mission of this parish into a third century. For all of this and more, I offer you my heartfelt thanks and my daily prayers.
The Mission Continues
In celebrating the anniversary of this parish, we rejoice most of all that its mission has continued, unabated, for two centuries. Indeed, this parish a continuation of that mission which the Risen Lord entrusted to the Apostles some two millennia ago, a mission which the readings for this 3rd Sunday of Easter beautifully describe, beginning with the excerpt from the Gospel of St. Luke, just proclaimed.
In that Gospel, we meet the Eleven Apostles huddled in the Upper Room. They were still grappling with the report of two disciples who had encountered the Risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus when Jesus stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you!” – Shalom! The disciples were anything but peaceful for they thought they were seeing a ghost. So the Risen Lord addressed their fears directly and in the process got them ready to go on mission, the mission of proclaiming his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.
How did the Risen Lord further prepare his disciples to go on mission? First, by demonstrating that he was neither a phantom nor a ghost, but that in his resurrected glory he was the same Lord and Master they knew before. And second, he opened their minds to the understand of Scripture and finally, he told them he was sending them to proclaim the Gospel. Let’s take a quick look at these three points because they are as valid for your mission today as they were for the Apostles.
So, first the Lord establishes that he is not a ghost and does so in several ways. First, he speaks to them audibly. Second, he shows them the wounds on his body. Third, he invites them to touch him to see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones. Fourth, he asks for something to eat and consumes a piece of fish in front of them. By now, the Apostles’ fear turned to amazement – they were ‘incredulous for joy’ – but their amazement was not yet a full-fledged Easter faith. So the Lord did something else: he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He showed them how the law and prophets pointed to his life, death, and resurrection, and more than that, he set their hearts on fire with love and zeal. Then, he commissioned them to go out and to preach the Gospel. That’s where we find Peter in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles – he is in Jerusalem, preaching the essential good news of salvation and he is doing so fearlessly, lovingly, and persistently, along with all the Apostles. In a word, he is bearing witness to the Risen Lord and the forgiveness he won for us.
That remains the essential mission of St. John the Evangelist Parish here in Hydes. It is a continual journey from fear and doubt to amazement to a full-fledged faith, that blossoms into missionary discipleship, loving zeal for sharing the Good News with Catholics who no longer practice their faith, or who have never really heard or accepted the message of the Gospel. In my recent pastoral letter, A Light Brightly Visible 2.0, I outline how it is that we can and must continue in our day and in our Archdiocese the mission that Jesus first entrusted to the Apostles so long ago, and to continue it with a vigor and a joy that does not diminish with the passage of time.
To all who planned this beautiful celebration of your 200th anniversary – Calvin Jenkins, James Taneyhill, Ray Dietz and many others, my warmest thanks. To all those who support the mission of this parish, including our County Executive, John Oleszweski – our collective thanks. With confidence in the goodness of God and the power of the Resurrection, let us not merely celebrate the past but rather look to a future full of hope, a future in which the light of the Gospel will shine brightly here in Long Green Valley, ad multos annos!