By Judy Stallone

As the parishioners of St. William of Vercelli Catholic Church in Carthage considered how to celebrate their 75th Jubilee Year on June 25, 2023, they knew that renewing dedication to the parish’s patron saint would be important. St. William’s pastor, Fr. Steve Paradis, and Jubilee organizer, Judy Stallone, joined forces to focus the celebration on their church’s namesake, St. William of Vercelli. In the early discussions of their plans, Father Paradis and Stallone found a shared dream for the church to have a statue of St. William of Vercelli.  

Father Paradis reached out to an Italian artist who he had previously commissioned for his ordination chalice, back in 2010. The day after their discussion, the statue was officially commissioned with a down payment. And about a week later, the artist sent a picture of the statue in its early stage – already a “work in progress!” But Father Paradis and Stallone had to contain their excitement until the unveiling.

Ten days later, another picture arrived. The statue now had basic details, including a large wolf at the saint’s side, a reference to a St. William of Vercelli legend. The two were happy to know that the statue would likely arrive in time (from Italy!) for the church’s celebration in June, exceeding their previous expectations.

For the Jubilee, Stallone drew up plans for a three-day celebration to present to the pastor. For the Friday evening kick-off, there would be a disc jockey, Mexican Taco Bar, Mardi Gras float, and dancing. Saturday would have a Color Guard to lead the dedication of a new flagpole memorial in honor of the parish’s Sgt. Bradley Beste, who died in Afghanistan in 2006. This would be followed by an outdoor barbecue picnic, music, lotería, bingo, and children’s games. The day promised to be a perfect family outing.  Sunday would conclude the anniversary year with a bilingual English/Spanish Mass concelebrated by Bishop Joseph Strickland, and Father Paradis. The grand finale would be the unveiling and consecration of the new statue of St. William of Vercelli in the church entry, proudly displayed on a stand crafted by parishioner, David Barcenas. This would be followed by a large breakfast brunch.  

Over a week, Stallone presented these ideas (except for the ‘secret statue’) to key parish organizations for review and input. The enthused response to the three-day celebration fueled the next steps (such as pledges for assistance). Alongside all the preparations for the Jubilee Celebration, the parish prayed a novena prayer to St. William after each mass for 75 days beginning on April 11th and ending on St. William’s June 25th feast day.  

A parish family tree was also built for the Jubilee Celebration from parish record and archive information. 961 families were identified, and their names placed on a large tree decal in the parish’s family center. In addition, there was a display that highlighted 75 ministries (or parishioners with stories of their contributions).

The 75th Jubilee Celebration was attended by many parishioners, community members, and special guests. With great food, joyful music, decorations, and activities to delight both young and old, the celebration was a success. Friday evening was even capped off with a fun activity that resulted in Father Paradis ‘catching’ a surprise present from his parishioners. An avid sportsman, he was gifted three guided fishing trips on Toledo Bend to use at his choosing. A well-earned gift for his efforts to help the parish celebrate and share their jubilee. And on Saturday, the parish honored and remembered, with pride and emotion, Sgt. Bradley Beste and his wonderful Gold Star Family. Finally, on Sunday, the parishioners gathered in Mass to pray, sing, and worship in joyous thanksgiving. And, of course, a great highlight of the events was the newly consecrated St. William of Vercelli statue. 

The parish extends its thanks to Bishop Strickland for attending the celebration. And special thanks and gratitude to Father Steve Paradis for leading the church through a celebration to remember.The parish of St. William of Vercelli is proud of what has been achieved over 75 years. But their work is not finished yet. As the parish recalls the events of the year, each member is invited to go forward with the prayer, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

Originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of the Catholic East Texas.