Catholic Strong will preserve past and plan for future in Berlin

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By the early 20th century, the small chapel on Bethel Avenue, the first church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in what is now Berlin Township, had become too small for its Catholic population, which had grown to around 200 area families. Thus, a larger church was built on the White Horse Pike and dedicated on Oct. 4, 1931.
In 1993, the 1931-built church was replaced by the current church on the same property. And 16 years from that, Our Lady of Mount Carmel merged with Pine Hill’s Saint Edward Church to become Saint Simon Stock Parish.
Changes then, and changes now, as the Catholic community of Berlin, along with that of South Jersey, adapts to different needs and continues its diocesan-wide Catholic Strong campaign to ensure future generations the gift of the faith.
“Today, our parish stands at a crossroads not unlike the crossroads faced by our predecessors in 1902,” the parish pastor, Father James Dabrowski, wrote to his parishioners in a letter earlier this year, explaining the urgency of the five-year campaign, which promises that parishes will receive 70 percent of their specific goal toward their individual needs. The rest of the funds, 30 percent, will go to help the Diocese of Camden’s support of new initiatives and ministries.
At press time, the parish has raised almost 86 percent of its goal. This money raised, and what funds are to come, will go toward renovating the 1931 church into a Parish Life Center, “to preserve the architectural asset that is so significant to our faith community, and … provide spaces that will accommodate the needs of our many ministries,” Father Dabrowski explained in the letter.
“Our seniors, especially, those very people whose parents and grandparents sacrificed to build the church … will have a dedicated and accessible space for their fellowship,” he wrote.
Expressing his “heartfelt appreciation” for his parishioners’ support, Father Dabrowski acknowledged that the 2009 merger “still has an effect on the psyche” of some of his more than 2,000 parish families, but he is confident that the parish will reach goal.
The Parish Life Center, which will be wheelchair-accessible, and include a reception hall, coffee station, bar, and other amenities for not only seniors, but for youth and other parish organizations, is “returning the favor” to parishioners, for their faithfulness and generosity over the years, the pastor said.

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