Livingston County church promotes food, fellowship - Catholic Courier
People eat as they sit at a table.

Rich and Ginny NiCastle speak with fellow parishioner Nancy Lissow during breakfast following the March 16 Mass at Holy Angels Church in Nunda. (Courier photo by Mike Latona)

Livingston County church promotes food, fellowship

NUNDA — With traffic sparse and few pedestrians in sight, much of this southwest Livingston County village seemed to still be waking up as mid-morning approached March 16.

Not so at Holy Angels Church. Upon the conclusion of 9 a.m. Mass, a number of worshipers lingered to chat before relocating to the rectory/parish center a block away for breakfast. Also joining in the meal was the liturgy’s celebrant, Father Sylvester Bioh, parochial administrator of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, to which Holy Angels belongs.

This ritual is repeated every year on Saturdays throughout Lent. Holy Angels’ liturgies and breakfasts represent a simple yet meaningful custom, said parishioner Mary Spateholts.

“I think we’re kind of just a humble, quaint country church, and we enjoy each other’s company,” she remarked.

Saturday Lenten Masses at Livingston County church are ‘something special’

The Saturday Lenten Masses began more than a decade ago at Holy Angels, taking place annually except for a couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the final such Mass will take place March 23.

Spateholts noted that she and her husband, Jim, originally requested the Saturday liturgies since Holy Angels does not have regularly scheduled weekday Masses.

“It gave us something special at Holy Angels, and gave an opportunity for people to get to another Mass during Lent,” explained Spateholts, whose diminutive church hosts one Sunday Mass each week at 8:15 a.m.

As the tradition took hold, Saturday Lenten get-togethers were expanded to include breakfast after Mass. This addition was introduced by the late Father Edward J. Dillon, a senior priest for many years at St. Luke the Evangelist.

Meals have become an integral part of other gatherings at Holy Angels as well. For instance, Father Hoan Dinh, St. Luke’s parochial vicar, has instituted a monthly First Friday gathering — the next one will be April 5 — consisting of adoration from 4 to 5:30 p.m. followed by Mass and dinner. In addition, occasional breakfasts and coffee hours are offered during the year following Sunday Mass.

All food for these events is provided by parishioners, Spateholts noted.

“I never know what people are bringing, but the table is loaded with food,” she said, adding that the meals also are noted for fellowship: “People stay around for one-and-a-half or two hours visiting.”

Parish community members in Nunda are tightly knit

Father Bioh said the Saturday liturgies during Lent are attended mostly by Holy Angels worshipers and also include representation from elsewhere in St. Luke the Evangelist. The parish’s other churches are St. Patrick, Mount Morris; St. Lucy, Retsof; and St. Mary, Geneseo.

Holy Angels is St. Luke’s southernmost worship site. Its founding members were chiefly Irish immigrant laborers, with the first Masses in Nunda taking place in the 1840s. Holy Angels’ first church opened in 1854 at 45 N. Church St. The first Mass in the current church — located on the same site — took place in November 1873, just over 150 years ago. In 2006, Holy Angels combined with St. Patrick, St. Lucy, St. Mary and the former St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Leicester to form St. Luke the Evangelist Parish.

Parishioner Maya Welzmueller observed that attendance at Holy Angels becomes more diverse during touring and camping season due to the presence of nearby Letchworth State Park. But by and large, she said, the community is tightly knit.

“It’s a blessing that we have this cute little church,” she said, explaining that its modest size promotes intimacy among its faithful. Along those lines, Spateholts noted that Holy Angels’ congregations are so distinct that if a parishioner is missing from Mass, others will inquire about his or her well-being.

Father Bioh, for one, is impressed by the close ties of Holy Angels’ flock.

”The community spirit — they’re always together; the way they share together is so great,” he said, adding, “They do everything by themselves, clean the church and everything.”

“Everybody pitches in,” Spateholts agreed. “There isn’t anything that doesn’t get done.”

Tags: Livingston County News, Priests
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