Bishop issues decree establishing Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood

Bishop Joseph Galante formally announced today that the parishes of St. Jude and St. Agnes, both in Blackwood, will unite and the new parish resulting from the consolidation, Our Lady of Hope Parish, will be established May 12, 2010.

The announcement establishing the new parish was made in a formal decree, which is published in the April 9 edition of the Catholic Star Herald, the diocesan newspaper.

It is the twelfth decree issued by Bishop Joseph Galante in diocesan-wide reconfiguration of parishes announced two years ago to strengthen parishes and improve pastoral care to the people of the diocese.

The decree states that consolidating the individual communities and uniting them as one new parish is necessary to provide more effectively for the pastoral needs of the faithful, to assure the vitality of parish life, to provide for a better stewardship of resources, and to provide for the optimum use of clergy, religious and lay personnel.

Father Mark R. Cavagnaro, who has overseen the consolidation as Priest Convener, has been named pastor of the new parish for a six year term.

Our Lady of Hope Parish, whose boundaries will be those of the existing parishes, will serve about 5,000 families. The seat of the parish will be Saint Agnes Church. The parish intends to use St. Jude Church for school liturgies and for baptisms, weddings and funerals based on the pastoral needs of the parish community.

Blackwood parishes evolve over time

The Blackwood parishes-which are about 2.6 miles apart-have had a long history of evolution and change. The first church built in Blackwood was St. Agnes at the corner of Sixth Street and Woodbury Road in 1921. First a mission of St. Patrick, Woodbury, St. Agnes became a mission of Saint Teresa, Runnemede in 1929 before becoming a parish in 1946.

With population rapidly expanding, land was purchased at the southern end of the parish for the construction of an all-purpose hall. Ground was broken in 1959 and the mission of St. Jude was established, which later became a parish in 1961.

A decade later, Bishop George Guilfoyle established Saint John Vianney Parish, carving it out the Deptford Township portion of St. Agnes Parish. The church and rectory of St. Agnes assumed the name of St. John Vianney.

In 1966-1967 a multi-purpose hall and rectory was constructed at the corner of Coles and Little Gloucester Roads. Construction on the St. Agnes parish center was begun in 1992 and by the end of the decade, a church renovation was undertaken. Most recently, St. Agnes and St. Jude schools consolidated as Our Lady of Hope Regional School on South Black Horse Pike beginning with the 2008-09 school year.

prayerPrayer for Unity and Renewal

The Core Team met for the first time on November 12, 2008 and over the next twelve months tended to the necessary administrative, pastoral, canonical and civil preparations for merger. Core Team members were Christopher Chiaro, Donna Hunt, Patricia Infanti, and Joseph Martorano (from Saint Agnes) and Joanne Bonafiglia, Kevin Gargin, Frances Lillo and Michael Yanachik (from Saint Jude).

The Core Team members also served as chairs of key subcommittees: liturgy, ministries, social organizations and parish life, facilities and inventory, finance, staffing, communications and mission statement. More than three dozen parishioners from both parishes served on the subcommittees and met numerous times over the last year to complete their preparations.

Core Team members spoke from the pulpit to share information about the work that would occur to create the new parish. Updates were published regularly in parish bulletins and a special website was created ( to post information on the Core Team’s progress.

A parish vision statement was developed which emphasized the wish “[t]o establish the foundation for a vibrant parish that will grow over the years and remain relevant to its members and the community at large. We will do this by building on the goodwill and the best practices of the merging parishes to create one unified parish that is stronger and more vibrant than either of the merging parishes alone.” A special “Prayer for Unity and Renewal” also was prepared and used at Masses at both parishes during preparations for the new parish (see left).

Patroness of Hope for the new parish

Last June letters were mailed to all registered parishioners of both parishes outlining the consolidation process and inviting parishioners to suggest names for the new parish. Almost 200 suggestions were returned. On July 9, parishioners attended a prayer service at St. Agnes Church at which time they voted for the name “Our Lady of Hope,” which also is the name of the regional elementary school on Black Horse Pike. The parish feast day is July 9, which is the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Hope.

By November, Father Cavagnaro provided final reports and documentation of the Core Team’s work to the diocese and requested an onsite evaluation by the Diocesan Merger Review Committee. An on-site visit on February 2, 2010 by six members of the Diocesan Merger Review Committee confirmed the parishes’ readiness to merge.

At the actual time of the consolidation, there will be a special rite at which time parishioners will walk together into the church carrying statues, icons, and articles representing the traditions and histories from both parishes. But also carried in the procession will be a new icon of Our Lady of Hope that has been commissioned for the occasion. The oil painting by Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS will picture Our Lady of Hope embracing St. Agnes and St. Jude, who are looking up to her, signifying both her intercession and the birth of the new parish.

Evangelization a key priority

“I feel that the Core Team really was called to serve and they did so beautifully. There sometimes were different opinions certainly, but consensus was reached on important questions because the Core Team members quickly blended together and worked together on a common mission to find ways to best serve our people. I strongly believe that once the consolidated parish is established with the title of Our Lady of Hope, we will have a hopeful, fruitful future,” said Sister Dorothy Aloisio, FMIHM, pastoral assistant at St. Agnes and also recording secretary for the Core Team.

Father Cavagnaro acknowledged the work involved in preparing the parishes to unite. “The last year of preparations involved a tremendous amount of work from so many dedicated people. But it was a wonderful opportunity to review the activities and workings of both parishes and to glean from both their strengths and positive attributes.”

“We are not asking one parish to join another,” Father Cavagnaro emphasized. “We’ve asked both parishes to unite resources, gifts, devotions and generous volunteerism to create a stronger, more active parish community that will provide parishioners with the opportunity not only to worship together, but also to be involved in and participate in the life and activities of the parish in a way that will more fully utilize their gifts and talents.”

He said the joining of the parish already has enabled the new parish to expand staff and to plan for expanded ministries. In addition to a focus on youth ministry, Father Cavagnaro said evangelization and outreach to inactive Catholics and others will be the primary thrust of the offices and ministries of the new parish that is being created.

“By uniting these parishes,” he said, “it is our heartfelt prayer that through the intercession of Our Lady of Hope we will better be able to implant and energize the Gospel message in the hearts and minds of the people so that we can together walk more closely in the footsteps of the Lord.”