By Tony DeGol
Standing on a picturesque Somerset County mountain on a sun-drenched afternoon, Brother Mike Herlihey reflected on an equally beautiful reality.
“The diocese is not meant to be just some pockets of parishes, but one large community that’s really meant to come together as Catholics as part of the universal Church,” the Capuchin Franciscan stressed. “So it’s this idea that you have the importance of a small parish community, but then you’re part of a larger community – the diocese, and also part of the Catholic Church in the entire world.”
In that spirit, Brother Herlihey and his fellow Capuchins collaborated with the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for the Padre Pio Family Festival at Saint John the Baptist Parish and Retreat Center in New Baltimore on September 8.
The Capuchin community is a welcome and growing presence in the diocese. Several friars serve Altoona-Johnstown parishes – including Father Mark Pattock, OFM Cap., Pastor of the New Baltimore parish.
Recognizing the jewel that is Saint John the Baptist Parish and Retreat Center, the Capuchins wanted to utilize the prime location to host the festival and ultimately unite the various faith communities of the diocese.
“I just looked at these grounds and saw they were just magnificent, and the Turnpike being there is so iconic,” commented Father Tom Betz, OFM Cap., Provincial Minister. “I just thought it would be nice to do something that would be youth-focused, family-focused, high energy, and spiritual.”
When he relayed his vision to some of the younger friars in formation, Father Betz says the idea caught fire among them.
“What a beautiful place here at Saint John the Baptist,” observed Brother Herlihey, who currently resides in Washington, D.C. “It is a gorgeous atmosphere. The people of New Baltimore have really been very welcoming.”
The festivities began with an outdoor Mass celebrated by Father Betz. Uplifting music from many of the young Capuchins enhanced the worship, along with the sunshine and a light breeze – all examples of God’s glory.
Various musicians – including a Capuchin band – graced the stage throughout the afternoon. There were various games for young people, and guests lined up for irresistible eats from various food vendors. The wood fired pizza and smokehouse barbeque were particular hits.
Later in the day, the pews inside the church were packed for a holy hour in celebration of Padre Pio. Relics of Padre Pio and Saint Francis were present.
Michael and Alison Amato, members of Saint Joseph Parish in Bellwood, were among the many faithful from throughout Altoona-Johnstown who visited the festival.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Alison “It’s peaceful. You can feel the Holy Spirit present here.”
The Very Reverend Alan Thomas, Vicar General of the diocese, was thrilled to see the impressive turnout. He expressed his enthusiasm for the Capuchin presence in Altoona-Johnstown.
“They are a welcome addition,” he noted. “They’re young, they’re full of life, they bring diversity of culture. We’re really glad to have them.”
The feeling was clearly mutual.
“We’re happy to be here,” assured Father Betz. “This is a lovely community, New Baltimore. A lot of Catholic people, a lot of history, a lot of tradition.”
Added Brother Herlihey: “Thank you so much, Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, for collaborating with us!”
[Top photo: Brother David Domanski, OFM Cap., chats with festival-goers Tony and Angie Ferguson and their sons Augustine and Felix (standing). The Fergusons, who are from Pittsburgh, were among the many who turned out for the Padre Pio Family Festival.]
[Second photo: Father Tom Betz, OFM, Cap., celebrates an outdoor Mass during the Padre Pio Family Festival at Saint John the Baptist Parish and Retreat Center.]
[Third photo: Singer-songwriter Marie Miller (right) performs on stage at the festival. Miller is perhaps best recognized for her song “6’2.”]
[Bottom photo: Relics of Padre Pio (left) were displayed in Saint John the Baptist Church throughout the day and during a holy hour.]