APPLETON — To the strains of “All are Welcome” and “Companions on the Journey,” members of St. Thomas More Parish welcomed back their retired pastor to rededicate a fellowship hall in his honor.
Fr. Gerald Falk served the Appleton parish as pastor from 1970 to 2010 and continued to serve in care ministry at the parish until late 2017, when he suffered a stroke. Sunday, Jan. 6, was the first time he had returned to the parish, where he concelebrated the 10 a.m. Mass with current pastor, Fr. Jim Lucas.
During the Mass, Fr. Lucas noted how the Magi were great gift givers and that “God has given us a gift this morning, the presence of Fr. Falk.”
At the Mass, Fr. Falk, who uses a wheelchair, distributed Communion. At the end of Mass, the 89-year-old priest spoke to the assembly.
“The first reading said, ‘May you reveal the glory of God,’” he told them. “All of you here, since your baptism, have revealed the glory of God to so many people. … To myself, to Fr. Jim, to Deacon Ray (Dubois) and Deacon Tim (Downey). You’re just like the three kings. The three kings revealed the glory of God, … you spread the glory of God to your families and to one another, like the three kings. It’s a joy to be back with you.”
He received a standing ovation.
After the Mass, the renovated fellowship hall was rededicated. It had been named in Fr. Falk’s honor in 2010. However, because of its frequent use, the parish needed to replace some items and decided to add upgrades at the same time, Fr. Lucas explained.
“Our fellowship hall is a hub of community and education activities,” he said.
The renovation cost $99,105, almost all of which has already been raised by donations. Upgrades included new flooring and carpeting (with asbestos removal), paint, stone along the ceiling and one wall, LED lighting, ceiling tiles, new doors and a closet area.
“This moment that we celebrate,” Fr. Lucas said at the rededication prayer service, “is the fruit of our Vision 2020 Summit that we held a few years ago, that emphasized fellowship. … This hall is a very important part of our community’s life for education events, social events, our parish library, funeral luncheons, just to name a few.”
He concluded by thanking all the parish members “who helped make this moment happen through your prayers, service and financial contributions.”
Fr. Lucas later told The Compass that he credits “the generosity of the Falk family and St. Thomas More community” for the renovation project and for the “truly joyful occasion” on Jan. 6. “They should be proud of their efforts,” he said.
About 200 people joined that service and social gathering that followed with Fr. Falk and his brothers and sisters-in-law, Dr. Jim (Gwen) Falk and Dick (Marlene) Falk. (Another brother, Salesian Fr. Bob Falk is a missionary in Korea.) The parish Christmas Choir led the singing, as they had at the Mass.
“There were so many big smiles on everyone’s faces as they went up to receive Communion from Fr. Falk,” said pastoral associate, Irene Skarban, as she watched people lining up to shake the priest’s hand. “That had to be a real blessing for him.”