They came from far and wide, former and present parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Greensburg, all welcomed as family on Christmas Eve to the newly constructed church’s first Mass.
It was an appropriate occasion for the first Mass, considering it was a celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus and of a new chapter in the Catholic community of Greensburg.
“It was wonderful,” said Ellen Peters, parish life coordinator. “We had a full church and everybody was just very happy to be in that church. The ceremony was beautiful. Father Bob [Schremmer] gave a top-notch homily as he always does.”
The first St. Joseph Church, which was dedicated Jan. 11, 1953 by Bishop John B. Franz, was destroyed at approximately 9:45 p.m., May 4, 2007, during a tornado that took with it most the town. Winds were reported to have been 205 mph. The storm damaged several regions outside of Greensburg, cutting a swath 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long.
Less than two months after the tornado, parishioners gathered amid the ruins of Greensburg to celebrate Mass in a new, modular building placed on the site to temporarily act as St. Joseph Church.
While impossible to understand the emotions of those gathered that day so soon after the tornado, Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore said it best when he noted, “I’ll have to confess, this is a sad and a happy day.” Sad, he said, because of what they had lost, and happy “because we’ve returned to … this sacred place.”
About a year later, on June 8, 2008, ground was broken for the new St. Joseph Parish.
“This land was sacred to Bishop Franz,” Bishop Gilmore said at the ground-breaking. “This land is sacred to the Lord. Even in the midst of that incredible destruction, this land endured. This sacred land -- your sacred land -- endured.”
As construction commenced, the notion of having it ready for Christmas was always in question. Although the worship area was the only part of the new church ready, that was enough. On Christmas Eve, they came en masse to attend the celebration of the Christ-child, and the new life for the parish.
“We were just delighted to be there,” Peters said. “You could see the joy in people’s hearts.”