On Sunday, September 25, 2016, Bishop Edward K. Braxton was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass of Thanksgiving marking the centenary of St. John the Baptist Parish in West Frankfort. Father Eusebius Mbidoaka, a fidei donum missionary from the Diocese of Orlu, Nigeria, the Administrator of the parish and the Administrator of St. Aloysius/Sacred Heart Parish in Royalton and Zeigler concelebrated. He was joined by Fr. Peter Hsu, Pastor Emeritus of St. Aloysius /Sacred Heart Parish. The church was filled to capacity. During the Mass, after incensing the altar, the Bishop walked through the entire church incensing all of the Christian faithful as a sign of their rededication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and their commitment to building up His Body, the Church in West Frankfort.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, the parishioners all gathered in the parish hall to view photographs and memorabilia reminding them of their history of faith. Bishop Braxton visited with each of the parishioners individually as they enjoyed refreshments prepared by the parishioners. During those conversations he learned of a parishioner who could not be present because of serious illness. Since it was not possible for him to visit the parishioner in person, he called and visited with her and her husband as he was returning to Belleville offering his prayers and support.
Below are excerpts from the homily delivered by Bishop Braxton.
“Dear People of God:
Jesus of Nazareth came to West Frankfort 100 years ago, in 1916 and asked, “Who do you say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, like Simon Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” For a century the people of God of St. John the Baptist Parish echoed their response, “Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“Jesus of Nazareth is the reason why your parish exists. He is the reason why so many generous people have contributed for so long and so unselfishly to building up this parish community. His life giving-sin shattering life, death, and His sending of the Holy Spirit from His Father to give Abundant Life to the Church, is the reason for our rejoicing this morning, the reason for our great gratitude, our Eucharist! For ten decades you have been living your answer to His question. Catholic education has been a central part of that answer since your school was opened in 1921 by the Franciscan Sisters of our Lady of Perpetual Help, who served faithfully from 1921 until 2000. You were blessed to have ninety sisters teaching in your parish school for 79 years!
“To the extent that any activity at St. John the Baptist Parish and school during the past century has not in some way brought you and those who have gone before you closer to Jesus Christ, then you may well ask why those events took place at all. Any activities of your Parish that have even indirectly separated you from Christ should not be a part of your Parish life.
“It is a very great joy for me, as your Bishop, to be with you today to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving as you mark your centennial. I happily congratulate each of you on this great Day of Jubilee. I give thanks to God for each of you, all of the Christian Faithful of St. John the Baptist Parish, for Father Eusebius Mbidoaka, the devoted Administrator of this parish and St. Aloysius /Sacred Heart Parish in Royalton and Zeigler. We also give thanks for his twelve predecessors all the way back to your founding Pastor, the Reverend Joseph Tragessor who was appointed as first resident priest by my predecessor, The Most Rev. Henry J. Althoff on July 5, 1916.
“One hundred years ago the world was very different indeed! Your ancestors could buy a quart of milk for 9 cents, a first class stamp for 2 cents, and a new car for $400. Charlie Chaplin was the world’s most popular actor; Cecil B. DeMille’s, ‘Joan the Woman’ was a box office hit; the Cubs played their first game in Wrigley Field; Coca-Cola brought its now famous soft drink to the market; John D. Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire; the world’s tallest structure was in Paris, Gustav Eiffel’s magnificent Eiffel Tower; and the Saturday Evening Post published its first Norman Rockwell cover.
“His Holiness, Pope Benedict XV, known as the Pope of Peace, was the Roman Pontiff; Woodrow Wilson, was President, who has been severely criticized by historians for his blatant racial prejudice; and the First World War was raging resulting in more than 38 million casualties, including more than seventeen million deaths!
What will the world and the Church be like at the time of the two hundredth anniversary of this parish in 2116? We do not know. What will West Frankfort be like? We do not know. Will this parish still be here? We do not know. We do know this. Your parish might not be here if you, your children and your children’s children do not live lives centered on Jesus Christ. If you do not work and pray for vocations to the priesthood from your parish, if you do not continue to generously give of your time, talent, and treasure, if you do not persevere in this “secular age” continuing to learn your faith, love your faith, and live your faith, your parish may well not be here.
“Your parish is named for one of the great saints, John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, a possible kinsman of Jesus, the one who proclaimed Christ’s coming, “Prepare, the way of the Lord!” John lived in the desert eating wild honey and locust, wearing only camel hair garments. Many of us might not have liked him or wanted to associate with him. He was a challenger of the status quo, a confronter of conscience, a prophet, beheaded for speaking the truth to power.
“Do you ever meditate on your patron, discuss what he did and said? At parish meetings have you ever asked each other how his life should influence your parish life? Or is he just a statue on a pedestal? Listen to what he said: ‘I am a voice crying in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.’ Pointing to Jesus: ‘Behold! The Lamb of God! Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ When people asked him, what must we do? He answered, ‘If you have two tunics, you must share with the person who has none, and if you have something to eat, you must give some of it to the person who is starving.’
“Heed the words of Saint Paul: ‘You are God’s building. I laid a foundation, but no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.’
“Jesus of Nazareth is here in West Frankfort this morning. He is asking each one of you: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ What is your response? It must be the same as St. Peter’s, the same as Fr. Tragesser, the same as Fr. Mbidoaka, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Otherwise, this Day of Jubilee is in vain.
“Jesus Christ needs each one of you.
“He needs your eyes to continue to see;
“your ears to continue to hear;
“your mouths to continue to speak;
“your feet to continue to walk;
“your hands to continue to serve;
“your hearts to continue to love!
“St. John the Baptist: Pray for us!
“Praise be Jesus Christ! Both now and forever!
For more photos, please click on this link: west-frankfrt