A beacon for immigrants, turns 100 years old

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First and second generation immigrants founded St. Brendan’s. So it was fitting October 26 when Spanish, Tagalog and Albanian hymns carried the Norwood church into its 101st year.

Predominantly Irish-American until ten years ago, St. Brendan’s now ministers to Roman Catholic parishioners from 46 different countries. As the neighborhood has changed, its largest place of worship has also changed.

“To see a new group of parishioners praying together is very gratifying,” Father George Stewart said. “Many of today’s names and faces would be foreign to those who founded the parish, but our mission remains the same. St. Brendan’s has always reached out to immigrants.”

St. Brendan’s held a centennial dinner dance Friday, October 24 at Maestro’s restaurant.

Over 600 parishioners, alumni and students from St. Brendan’s K-8 school attended.

Founded in October 1908 to meet the needs of Irish, German and Italian immigrants – back when Norwood was a rural neighborhood – St. Brendan’s has swelled to 1,700 parishioners.

Many are recent arrivals to the United States, from Latin America and far-away countries like the Philippines and Albania.

St. Brendan’s has benefitted from the surge; the parish is more diverse and energetic than ever. Meanwhile, there are new challenges – single parent families and hungry parishioners. St. Brendan’s runs an ecumenical food pantry. Fr. Stewart recently asked a Westchester County synagogue to help as demand quadrupled.

“We’re learning how to deal with multiple faiths here,” Fr. Stewart said. “Muslims, Hindus, all sorts of Christians. It’s a beautiful thing.”

St. Brendan’s offers seven weekend masses, two in Spanish.

More than 300 children attend the parish school, founded in 1912 by the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, who the church honored this year.

Sister Catherine Naughton runs St. Brendan’s senior outreach group, one of 29 parish programs. She joined the church six years ago.

“I like supporting the elders,” she said. “I like getting to know them. So many senior couples met at St. Brendan’s dances.

“Certainly this was an extraordinary anniversary. Students came back. Teachers came back. People who’ve moved away came back, because St. Brendan’s holds a special place in their hearts.”

Multicultural gatherings punctuated St. Brendan’s 100th year. Parishioners enjoyed a colorful procession of folk dances and dishes – unifying, if not in form, then in spirit.

For Stewart it’s been a year of reflection. Sorting through St. Brendan’s old photos, the he felt humbled.

“Humbled to imagine the enormous work accomplished before,” he said. “Humbled to see how a century later, the human heart remains the same.”

According to Fr. Stewart, the Eucharist will define St. Brendan’s next hundred years. So will a commitment to family.

“It’s in the family that faith is taught, learned and lived,” he said. “It’s hard to define what a family is today, but all families hunger for god.”

St. Brendan’s is open all day, every day.

“A Muslim woman recently asked me if it was okay for her to go into the church to pray,” Sister Naughton said. “She needed a quiet space. Of course it was okay. St. Brendan’s needs to be active in bringing people together – a light in the neighborho­od.”

Updated 5:30 pm, October 21, 2011
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