Home Diocesan News Rootstown St. Peter of the Fields to mark 150th jubilee
Rootstown St. Peter of the Fields to mark 150th jubilee Print E-mail
Written by Louise McNulty Special to the Exponent   
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 11:45

ROOTSTOWN – One might describe 150-year-old St. Peter of the Fields here as a 19th century parish serving a 21st century congregation.

It is, however, much more than that.

Four hundred families strong, St. Peter of the Fields has been pastored for the past 10 years by Father David Misbrener, who offers his parish community more than inspiring homilies and sound spiritual counseling. He enthusiastically leads them in fellowship with events like summer picnics and Polka Masses, which he describes as being “just like they sound – very upbeat [liturgies] with polka music.”

Assisting Father Misbrener are Deacon Ted Suzelis; secretary Mary Postlethwait; Jerry and Alice Biltz, who handle maintenance and cleaning; and a mix of young families and long-time parishioners, who are active in parish ministries.

On April 23 at the 11:30 a.m. Mass, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., will be the main celebrant at the parish’s sesquicentennial celebration. The event will begin a year-long celebration.

For its first 30 years, St. Peter was a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Randolph-Suffield, so St. Peter families used their school and never established one of their own, Father Misbrener noted.

The parish name was changed from St. Peter to St. Peter of the Fields by Father Robert Delmege – pastor from 1941 to l954 – to reflect its picturesque rural setting. Although formal records date the parish to 1868, Father Misbrener said its founding is commonly fixed as 1867, when the first person was buried in the parish cemetery.

That cemetery, with its impressive tall iron gates, statue of Christ with outstretched arms and shrine, is the final resting place of parishioners, including some who served in the Civil War and World Wars I and II, and is still actively used. An outside altar at the back of the cemetery is used for special occasions such as Memorial Day.

A unique feature of the parish is the surprise of driving down a lovely country road and coming upon the contemporary brick church built in 2006, and, separated from it by the cemetery, a picturesque wooden church dating back to about 1905. The wooden church – worthy of a New England postcard – has been refitted, restored and added onto. It is still used for retreats, missions and an occasional Latin Mass and is open for quiet individual prayer.

The people of St. Peter of the Fields are loyal and vocal. Several were interviewed recently by the Exponent.

Father Misbrener said he is proud of the parish’s many ministries and outreaches. The parish high school youth group is known for tackling projects such as leading the Stations of the Cross and holding fund-raisers for Freedom House in Kent, a center for homeless veterans. The pastor also praised St. Peter’s social justice ministry, which he described as “a small group that packs a powerful punch.”

“They are boots on the ground people who help food banks, shelters and Catholic Charities,” Father Misbrener said. “And when they appeal to their fellow [parishioners] they find them very generous and supportive.”

Many parishioners are active as Eucharistic ministers, lectors, greeters, prayer service leaders and choir members. Others help with the parish and finance councils, the Altar and Rosary Society and the historical preservation committee. The church boasts its own branches of both the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus and the Catholic War Veterans.

Judy Hendershot, music director and organist, has been a member of St. Peter of the Fields for more than 50 years, raised her three children there, and taught music.

Then “because I loved the liturgy and was in the right place at the right time, I guess,” she said, she began leading the parish music ministry. She called her fellow parishioners “family. [They are] generous, loyal, supportive … and they love their parish.”

Diane Michalec, her husband Chris and three sons joined St. Peter of the Fields 10 years ago. She said she instantly “fell in love with the parish,” and regards Father Misbrener as “an amazing pastor who truly cares about the parish and its people.”

She cited as evidence the fact that the oldest of her three sons committed suicide six years ago and believes her family would “not have been able to get through the tragedy without Father Dave. His compassion and understanding were just unbelievable.” She is now willing to share the family’s experience, hoping it may help others.

Michalec’s brother, David Kulasa, who attended the soup supper with her, has been a parishioner for seven years. Among the things he loves about the parish are Father Misbrener’s homilies, which he said often inspire a laugh but “help you to live life better and keep you motivated for the week.”

He also appreciates his fellow parishioners and even finds some inspiration in the presence of the old wooden church on the property, which reminds him “how [many years] people have worshipped in this place.”

An avid volunteer, quick to provide materials on the parish’s history including a timeline she compiled, Marge Conroy has been a parishioner “all my life.” She and her husband, Bill, raised four children there, two of whom now attend the parish with their own families.

About 11 years ago the parish needed someone to run its CCD program. Marge, as a retired teacher, “missed the kids, so I quickly volunteered. I had the experience, knew I could do it and I wanted to help the parish.”

Happy in the CCD principal’s chair and the church pews, she hopes both will thrive for many years to come: “I hope the Holy Spirit continues to inspire our young people to realize how important their faith is, so that they may continue to attend and support this [wonderful] parish.”

Bill Conroy is also a supportive parishioner in word as well as deed. The volunteer contributions of the retired accountant include serving as financial secretary for the parish for the last 13 years – a task that requires about 20 hours a week.

He also was involved in the process of building the new church a decade ago and is active in caring for the parish grounds in the summer.

Bill’s hope for the parish is that “it keeps growing and that we get it paid off and can keep a priest here – we have such a good one, now.”

He echoes the most frequently-voiced future hope of his fellow parishioners.


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