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Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

St. Peter of Alcantara Parish in Stanley, Ky., is seen in this undated photo. FILE PHOTO

Family reunion: St. Peter of Alcantara celebrates 150 years


As I get ready for Mass on Jan. 20, 2024, something feels different. No, it’s not the fact that it is nine degrees outside. It’s not that the house that is unusually quiet for a group of seven getting ready for church at the same time. Finally, I put my finger on it. It is a Saturday morning, and today is a special Mass celebrating St. Peter of Alcantara’s 150 years of being a parish.

As we pull into the parking lot and make our way inside, the atmosphere resembles a family reunion.  It’s warm, maybe because of the three layers of clothes I have on, or maybe because there is a buzz in the air. People greet others with smiles and warm welcomes. Hugs are given left and right. The Mass doesn’t start for 35 minutes and, already, it is almost full.

I lead my family through the crowd and recognize someone I have not seen in years. It’s Fr. Suresh Bakka!  He was our pastor from 2009-2012. It’s been so long since we have seen him. Fr. Bruce Fogle was to the right. This was his parish growing up. He has come to celebrate with us as well.

We weave our way toward the front where we sit, with echoes of laughter and greetings behind us. It feels good to hear the joy in people’s voices. To my left, the choir assembles. It looks like about 20 people. Men, women, and children signed up weeks ago to sing during this celebration. The servers exit the sacristy, one at a time, adjusting their albs.

As the Mass begins, I can sense how full the church is. The singing is loud as everyone is participating.  Fr. Will Thompson’s homily is about the church and how it withstands the tests of time. He touches on how even the architecture was built large and heavy. Not only the materials used, but the style suggests it will be here forever. I take great comfort in knowing and feeling that.

A reception follows Mass in the parish hall. A meal is catered so everyone can join in the celebration instead of having to work to prepare it. Beautifully decorated tables, great food, and several stories about the past 150 years are shared. A photo booth is set up; this is a big hit. All ages filter in to get a picture taken with their families, friends, and their former elementary school classmates. (There used to be an elementary school on these grounds.) No one is in a rush to leave. It is wonderful to witness. 

As the celebration comes to an end, and my family and I are gathering our coats, one thing comes to mind: “Family reunion.” Just like family, the Church will always be there for us. It is ever-present and waiting for us to return home.

Mark Pollard belongs to St. Peter of Alcantara Parish in Stanley.

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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