Rockford’s St. Patrick Celebrates Centennial
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 5, 2019
ROCKFORD—“Every time I come through the door into St. Patrick Church, I feel like I am being hugged,” long-time parishioner Rotha Waldsmith says.
 
Waldsmith was among many parishioners — old and new — taking part in the parish’s centennial Mass and celebration, Aug. 31. 
 
She came to St. Patrick’s as an eighth grade student at the parish school shortly after she, her parents and sisters converted to the Catholic faith. They had watched the current church being built from their home a block or so away. 
 
It was completed in 1952, and Waldsmith says she never set foot in the old church.
 
She graduated from St. Patrick School in 1955, then attended Muldoon High School. She and her husband, Carl, were married for 50 years, faithful St. Patrick parishioners together before he died nine years ago. Their great-granddaughter, Taylor, 8, recently received her first Communion at St. Patrick’s.
 
“This is my family,” Waldsmith says of the parish. “This is my home, where I feel most comfortable.”
 
Bishop David Malloy celebrated Mass for St. Patrick Parish’s 100th anniversary, joined by a couple of priests who have pastored the parish, current parochial administrator, Father Jhakson Garcia, and a few other priests from the area.
 
The bishop said, “It was precisely on this date 100 years ago, that the first Mass for this parish was celebrated. ... There’s something about joining our minds, and our hearts and our faith to a moment 100 years ago, that was beginning the most central element of the parish — the celebration of the Mass.
 
“Christ has made Himself present here for 100 years (and) faith (has been) received, lived, struggled with, transmitted to our younger people ... That faith of which we are a part continues until the Lord returns to find us ...
 
“What a privilege it is to be in a (parish) at 100 years of its existence.”
 
Bishop Malloy encouraged the people of many cultures who packed  the pews to pray to the Irish St. Patrick. 
 
As patron, he said the saint “has in a sense an obligation ... to be watching over you, over us.”
A smattering of people raised their hands when Bishop Malloy asked, “How many of you were baptized here?” He noted “more than a few hands,” when he asked, “How many of you were married here?” and then “How many graduated from the school? ... Do we recognize ... the gifts of grace?”
 
The bishop mentioned the challenges this parish on the far west side of Rockford has faced from changing demographics and economics. 
 
Waldsmith recognizes the challenges and changes and welcomes the “huge” influx of Hispanic parishioners, recalling years when the number of parishioners had greatly dwindled. 
 
The new parishioners “do a lot for the Church,” she says, calling them “warm and wonderful people ... we’re blessed.”
 
Waldsmith rejoices also in the number of children at Masses now and the participation of teens and young adults at St. Patrick’s. 
 
“For a long time it was just middle age and older” people at Mass, she says. 
 
Much newer to St. Patrick Parish, Norma Magana has begun her second year as director of religious education. She had volunteered at St. Patrick’s as a catechist for a year before being hired.
 
The California native spent her teen years at St. James in Belvidere, coming to Rockford in 2005 when she married. She says she appreciates that her newest parish has “a lot of family, a lot of culture (and) a lot of history. That’s what I love.”
 
Magana and Waldsmith chat about how Church celebrations are “done differently” by those of Irish, Filipino, Hispanic and other heritages.
 
“We learn from each other,” Waldsmith says. “There’s an acceptance (of the variations) you might not find somewhere else.”
 
“I feel that all the cultures come together,” Magana says, adding that it is “one faith and one Church” with people of “different backgrounds.” 
 
She expresses her hope that future generations will gather at the parish when it is time to celebrate another 100 years, saying, “Tonight is for people to appreciate all the people who have been here, who are here, and who will be here.”