Growth in the region’s population as well as in the parish steadily progressed, and Msgr. Kaschenbach and the leadership of the parish community of Saint Mary of the Mount understood that a self study was imperative. The parish population had nearly doubled in less than ten years, and this sizeable expansion was fashioning a markedly different Catholic community in Mount Pocono. How to strengthen the bonds of the growing faith community was an urgent matter.
In the late 1980s the Diocese of Scranton had initiated the Renew Process in every parish. The grass roots response at Saint Mary of the Mount was instrumental in the formation of a solid base of parishioners who did in fact strengthen the parish community, while developing into a solid core of committed parishioners who would invest considerable time and energy in the 1991 Self Study. A strong sense of parish identity emerged out of this study, and under the direction of Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and Msgr. Kaschenback a Five Year Plan was proposed and embraced by the parish. The leadership prioritized the development of the parish’s physical facilities, a comprehensive ministry to young people, and effective evangelization.
The active parishioners were in agreement regarding the direction that was needed to accomplish the stated goals of the 1991 Self Study. The parish properties sit on one acre of land in Mount Pocono and the church, hall, and parking lot were barely adequate to meet the needs of the developing parish. In order to effectively minister to the growing population the parish desired to purchase land which could support their vision and goals. Initially, there was an effort to buy properties in Pocono Summit surrounding Saint Joan of Arc Church, the former mission Church of Saint Mary of the Mount. When these efforts ran aground, the parish set its sights on an extensive track of land on the Knob Hill section of Mount Pocono which was eventually purchased for $280,000. In a letter to Bishop James Timlin in March, 2001, Msgr. Kaschenbach recapped the resolve of the parish to accomplish its goals during the 1990s. “Within the five years following the (1991) study, a very capable parish planning committee worked tirelessly to meet the stated goals, and in December of 1995 recommended the purchase of the Knob property which consisted of 24 acres and an apartment building with 10,000 square feet of usable space. At that time we borrowed $145,000 from the Diocese, obtained the property and by July, 1999 paid off our debt in full.”
Meanwhile, the Renew Process continued to bear fruit throughout the 1990s with the infusion of new life into the liturgical and catechetical ministries. There was solid administrative leadership and the parish was on firm financial footing. The Planning Committee and Advisory Board were developing into a Parish Pastoral Council and the publication of a parish quarterly newsletter had a positive impact on the ever expanding faith community. Toward the end of the 1990s the parish was nearly 2 ½ times the size of its population of the mid 1980s, and a second self study materialized in order to provide a firmer grasp on the ever changing profile of the parish population.
An obvious change in the parish demographics was in the number of full time residents. The visitors, once the bread and butter of the Pocono Catholic Missions, were no longer relied upon to support and sustain parish operations and ministries. Saint Mary of the Mount Parish had come of age, and understood more than ever that it sorely needed expanded facilities to serve the growing community of faith with its pressing needs and accompanying opportunities. However, forces beyond the parish’s control intervened to forestall the development of the Knob Hill property as envisioned.
In1999-2000 the Diocese of Scranton launched an effort to seriously pursue the development of a large scale church and parish center that would include the existing parishes of Saint Ann in Tobyhanna, Saint Mary of the Mount in Mount Pocono, and Our Lady of Victory in Tannersville. The proposed location for this complex undertaking was to be the Knob Hill property of Saint Mary of the Mount parish. This process spanned nearly two years, and ultimately, the plan did not materialize because it lacked the grass roots support of the three parish communities. In the interim, Saint Mary of the Mount had not lost sight of its decade long goal to develop its facilities, and in March, 2001, in the previously cited letter, Msgr. Kaschenbach requested permission to renew the parish efforts to develop the Knob Hill property by converting the former apartment complex into an administrative and classroom facility. In Bishop Timlin’s response to this request it is clear that regional development had permeated diocesan planning for the Pocono plateau. “It seems that it would be better to postpone the beginning of this project until it becomes more clear just what is going to happen with regard to a new church or new churches in the Tobyhanna/Mount Pocono area.”
Although the parish leadership and many in the parish at the time were chagrined by this decision, the gospel continued to be proclaimed, the sacraments were celebrated, and the parish census held at the watermark of 1100 households. In 2003 Msgr. Kaschenbach introduced the Stewardship process that called upon the parishioners to grow in their commitment to the Lord and to Saint Mary of the Mount. This continues to be an invaluable process in the face of the consistent turnover of parish households each year. Annually between 1999 and 2009, 60 to 70 households joined the parish, and 60 to 70 households departed. Stewardship has become the path to integrate new members into the life of such a dynamic parish community.
In the final years of his long and renowned pastorate Msgr Kaschenbach and the leadership of the parish community were faced with the decision to restore or to close Saint Joan of Arc Church, a mission of Saint Mary of the Mount since 1921. In the end it was decided to close the mission Church, and to arrange for the sale of the property. It was a painful decision, especially for the Pocono Summit residents, but in the interest of future development it was a prudent and forward looking choice.
On July 6, 2006 Msgr. Arthur J. Kaschenbach, after 29 years of dedicated service as the pastor of Saint Mary of the Mount parish, became the pastor emeritus, and continued to heartily and happily serve in retirement in the Hazleton area. Most recently, his priesthood came full circle as he took up residence at Saint Patrick’s in Scranton across down from his early roots of priesthood at Saint Peter’s Cathedral in downtown Scranton. Father Joseph R. Kopacz was appointed the sixth pastor of Saint Mary of the Mount on July 6, 2009 in the face of a new era dawning in Mount Pocono and in the Diocese of Scranton.
Like Msgr. Kaschenbach before him, Father Kopacz and the parish leadership explored the potential for development on the Knob Hill property. With Bishop Martino’s approval in January, 2007 the parish invited regional architects to propose a site plan for an 800 seat church and a parish center that would serve the administrative, catechetical and social needs of the regional Catholic community. This process was suspended when the Diocese of Scranton launched Called to Holiness and Mission in late 2007 that has required every parish to participate in local clusters with neighboring parishes in service of diocesan wide pastoral planning. The new era had begun. Saint Mary of the Mount, Saint Ann in Tobyhanna, and Saint Bernadette in Canadensis have been planning together for the past 1 ½ years to enter into a linkage relationship no later than July, 2010 in which each parish will remain independent, but will develop an interdependent relationship with one pastor and an assistant pastor serving the three parishes.
At the same time that the planning for linkage earnestly moves forward, the parishioners of Saint Mary’s have relished the opportunity to celebrate the100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of its beloved church. There have been a series of special monthly events, such as a parish mission, a covered dish supper, a Tricky Tray fund raiser, a Ladies’ High Tea, a Men’s luncheon, a golf tournament, a family picnic, and the anniversary mass and dinner on September 27, 2009. It has been a year of favor from the Lord.
Although the development of the parish facilities did not materialize as envisioned, the efforts of so many have not been in vain. Saint Mary of the Mount parish is truly blessed, and well poised to embrace the future. There are many active parishioners, financial stability, and an outstanding piece of property that patiently sits and waits. From this vantage point it appears that the 2nd century is going to be just as amazing in the service of the Lord Jesus and the new evangelization, as was the first 100 years in the Pocono Catholic Missions.