After reviving a ‘dying parish,’ Assumption’s Father Fred retires

After 17 years at the helm of Assumption Catholic Church and School, Rev. Frederick R. Parke – lovingly known to parishioners as “Father Fred” – is ready to retire.

Rev. Frederick R. Parke
Rev. Frederick R. Parke

            As of July 1, the longtime parish priest handed over Assumption’s reins to Father Jason Trull, former pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Palm Coast, Florida.

            “I feel that we have been greatly blessed, and I have been greatly blessed in these 17 years here at Assumption,” said Parke in an email. “I would have liked to stay longer, but my health simply would not permit that. I leave here with mixed feelings: sadness in parting with a great gathering of people and joy as I look forward to some rest and unstructured time ahead. I will make myself available to other parishes as my health allows in the fall for weekend help, but I intend to keep my distance from Assumption so as to allow my successor to become established as the new pastor.”

            During Parke’s tenure as priest, Assumption Parish has grown both in its physical plant and spiritually. When he arrived at the St. Nicholas church in 2002, he discovered an uninspired congregation and a church campus in disrepair. “The rectory was in very bad condition and the church was in poor condition. The school had around 325 students and people told me that the word was that Assumption was a ‘dying parish’ because everyone had moved to the suburbs,” he said, noting the 5:30 p.m. Mass was attended by less than 200 parishioners and collections ranged between $8,000 and $11,000 weekly.

            Parke went to work, first moving Mass to 4 p.m., which immediately quadrupled attendance. He also began “listening sessions” around the parish, allowing any organization or neighborhood group to host one. “I attended 14 sessions. The rule was I did not want to hear about what happened before me, but rather their hopes for the parish going forward. I also said I would not comment on what I heard. The only talking I did was to tell them about myself to let them get to know me,” he said.

            Through the listening sessions, Parke learned there was a need for a gym/family center and church members were worried about school registration, poor liturgies and a general lack of enthusiasm. He made the school, gym/family center his first priority and soon sought to engage an architect, who donated his services, to design a courtyard with a statue of Christ in the quadrangle between the main building, hall and middle school and convent area. Paving, planting and lighting came to the quadrangle in his second year.

            To help resolve the spiritual issues and get things on track he brought Perpetual Adoration ministry to Assumption. “As soon as that ministry got going, the parish began to blossom as well as the school,” he said. “I account all improvements to Adoration.”

            Within a few years the income and size of the parish doubled, and the school began to grow along with activities and ministries. Also, during his tenure, the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother took residence in Assumption’s upper convent, a gym/parish family center was built, and 23 more classrooms were added. In the church, additional restrooms were built, air-conditioning equipment and the roof was replaced, the interior was decorated, including a redo of the altar area and a new baptismal font. “Today, the church, which was built in 1950, is essentially a new building,” he said, noting the work came from three large donors who gifted $1 million.  

            Parke’s last “brick and mortar” project was the construction of a new Adoration Chapel, which was donated by a single parishioner. The cost was $400,000, and it was completed in one year. The former chapel space was transformed into an “Apparitions Memorial Hall” with four statues of apparitions of the Blessed Mother and 800 engravable marble panels for memorialization.

            He also brought in professional cantors to bring dignity to the liturgy “in keeping with the traditional norms of celebration,” and insists on holding an annual Fall Festival to make money and bring the parish together on the church campus.

            In addition to reaching members by greeting them after most services, during coffee hour, and through a full breakfast put on by the Men’s Club once a month, Parke started a welcome reception in the rectory twice a year to greet new members.

            “On average we register 20 to 30 new members each month. I sign a welcome packet that is mailed to them. A printed invitation is sent separately followed by a personal call. Sadly, only a small percentage attends the receptions. I think some Catholics feel they might be asked for a donation or something if they attend. People who do attend are pleasantly surprised,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson, Resident Community News

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