FLANDERS The symbolism of fire has been a common theme lately at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish here as the parish celebrated a “Mortgage Burning” ceremony this past Sunday and has been spiritually connecting with parishioners through its Ignite Ministry since September.
This is just a small part of St. Elizabeth’s yearlong 30th anniversary celebration, which kicked off last fall. The mortgage burning took place following the noon Mass on Jan. 31 marking this significant debt the community has paid and honoring the parish’s patron saint, whose feast day was marked Jan. 4.
Father Stan Barron, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish since 2005, said, “This was made possible because of the generosity of the people over the years. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to say after 30 years the parish has completed this and that we continue to move on and look toward the future.”
Through fund-raisers and capital campaigns, the parish successfully raised the money to pay off its mortgage and concluded the moment by hosting the mortgage burning ceremony, a common ritual for church communities to celebrate.
The mortgage loan was for St. Elizabeth’s church building, which broke ground in 1990 and first opened its doors to celebrate Mass for 300 families in 1991 on Easter Sunday. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish was established on June 24, 1985 by Bishop Emeritus Rodimer to respond to the growing need of a faith community in the Flanders area in western Morris County. The first Mass was held at Mountain View School, Flanders.
Joy Rastiello, a parishioner for 29 years, recalled one of her children receiving her First Communion in the school cafeteria of the local elementary school. About the parish paying off its mortgage, she said, “This is a proud moment for the community and it’s just a relief off our shoulders to have this debt paid. It’s an appropriate way to celebrate the parish’s 30th anniversary.”
Rastiello has memories dating back to when the church construction began almost 25 years ago and the building was in its planning stages. “Parishioners could be found at the empty lot clearing the land where the church was to be built,” she said. “It was not a rare scene to see families with yard equipment. When the building was complete, we were in there washing the windows and getting it ready for worship. During these times, the community truly bonded.”
Today 1,600 families attend Mass at St. Elizabeth’s and the community is active within the life of the parish with many young families involved., “There’s always something going on.” Rastiello said. “Whether it’s in our community room or the religious education programs, there’s always a meeting happening.”
With the 30th anniversary celebration under way, parishioners have been revitalized with St. Elizabeth’s Ignite program firing up everyone’s faith and inspiring spiritual renewal. Father Barron said, “We have invited our parishioners to participate in Ignite as we look to continue to be a welcoming parish, grow in knowledge and invite back people who may have been absent from the community.”
In addition to the Ignite program, the parish, which is one of the youngest in the diocese, has been hosting anniversary events each month. They will culminate with a closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Serratelli in September. Last fall, the parish hosted a 30th anniversary Mass celebrated by its founding pastor, Father John Wehrlen. They also welcomed Msgr. Raymond Kupke, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Hawthorne and diocesan archivist, who gave a talk on the history of the Diocese in western Morris County. Future events planned include a Lenten retreat, a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Maryland, and several family gatherings.
“This is a special year of renewal and revitalization for the St. Elizabeth’s community,” Father Barron said. “The parishioners have had the foresight to continue to grow our community. With our mortgage paid off, we can continue to build our people.”