by Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — St. John Neumann Church in Columbia celebrated its 25th anniversary as a parish and the 25th anniversary of the canonization of the church’s patron, St. John Neumann, Nov. 23. For this joyous occasion, the parish put together a grand celebration expressing their thanksgiving for a dynamic and culturally diverse church community.
For Dora and Clarence Jamerson the day brought back memories of the first days when the parish, which now has 1,200 parishioners, had only 50 people. They can remember celebrating Mass in the E.L. Right School library when Dora was the school’s bookkeeper. Because Dora was the first person to be a lector for the parish, it was fitting that she read the first reading at the anniversary Mass.
“I cannot put into words all the emotions I felt during the celebration. I remember the struggles and I remember those who had the foresight to build the church and how our dreams have come to pass,” said Jamerson who was on the planning committee led by Cherie Smith, celebration coordinator.
Many of the parish’s cultural communities contributed to the Mass in prayer and music. The intercessions were read in languages including: Korean, Malayalam, Thai, German, Spanish, Italian, Talagog and African. Hymns were also sung in the represented languages by the St. John Neumann Choir, the Filipino Choir and the Hispanic Choir. Some prayers were sung in Latin.
Bishop Robert J. Baker was the celebrant of the Mass and was joined by the pastor, Father Frederick Masad; Msgr. Joseph Roth, vicar general; Father Robert Fix, one of the first priests to minister to the parish; along with other priests from the diocese.
During his homily the bishop congratulated the church community for “carrying out the mandate of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: To go and teach all nations, teaching them everything Jesus has commanded.”
“You have done that well at St. John Neumann Parish for the past quarter century, God’s grace working in you faithfully and you responding to that grace faithfully those 25 years,” said Bishop Baker, who challenged everyone to continue to remain “faithful each and every day of our lives until he calls us to be one with him in eternity.”
The church presented Bishop Baker and Father Masad with a firsthand relic of the church’s patron. Father Masad, with words of gratitude, said that the relic would be placed within the church in a place of honor for all to see.
Following the Mass was an international luncheon with entertainment provided by several of the cultural groups that make up the church’s colorful mosaic of people. Twelve countries provided various dishes common in their culture ranging from an Indian chicken curry dish to the Korean beef dish, Bulgogi.
“When I heard that the anniversary celebration was going to have an international theme I really wanted to go,” said longtime parishioner Diana Pelchat, who said that she didn’t want to miss the occasion once she found out the bishop was going to be there.
The entertainment began with the “Rum Puuthai” performed by the elegant dance group, “Thai Ladies of Sumter,” whose oldest performer is 65 years old.
The Indian community performed the cultural dance of the children, a long-standing tradition where children and young people learn confidence and how to uniquely express their personalities through dance.
The costumes were exquisite and the children were poised and graceful throughout the musical score.
The Filipino youth performed the Tini-kling, an athletic performance that involved jumping quickly over bamboo sticks in sync with one another to a lively beat.
The program closed with the Korean cultural dance that involved young girls dressed in brilliantly colored costumes with elaborate fans which they used as part of their dance.
“It was interesting to get a taste of everything and see the differences between the cultures express themselves,” said Alyssa Rosario, a high school student.
Rosario along with the other parishioners and students experienced a tour around the world and the universality of the Catholic Church without leaving Columbia.