Couple credits God and parish merger for their surprise meeting

Monday, May 07, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Jim Bauer didn’t expect to remarry after losing his beloved wife of 48 years. Then, through the merger of four struggling parishes, he met Linda McNally.

When Linda was widowed following 45 years of marriage, she became a member of the choir at St. Albert the Great Parish in Baldwin. Later, Jim began to sing in the choir at St. Wendelin Parish in Pittsburgh’s Carrick neighborhood. The parishes merged with St. Basil in Carrick and St. Norbert in Overbrook to become Holy Apostles Parish in September 2016.

Over time, the choirs merged. That’s how Jim and Linda met. They fell in love, and were married last December.

“I prayed about whether I would ever meet someone again,” Jim said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for what happened. I said, ‘Lord, lead me wherever you want.’ Then this lovely woman walked into my life.”

“I also didn’t know if I would marry again or even date,” Linda said. “But I wanted to sing for God. Then, all of a sudden, Jim came along and things started to happen!”

“If our choirs hadn’t merged, we might never have met,” Jim said.

Holy Apostles Parish is experiencing a spiritual rebirth, a journey that began prior to the On Mission for The Church Alive! process, but has proved to be a model for the new parish groupings. Parishioners like the Bauers are embracing change as they merge ministries, form friendships and welcome back inactive Catholics.

Father Steve Kresak, pastor of Holy Apostles Parish, sees the Spirit at work.

“Out of our parish family, God created this new family,” he said. “Other parishioners are making friends as well. It makes me feel good. They really get it.”

Religious education has been consolidated to Sunday mornings. Previously there was also a session Tuesday evenings, but Sunday mornings were clearly more attractive.

“The change was hard at first, but now we’re seeing more families at Mass,” Father Kresak said.

Lori Mandela, religious education administrator at Holy Apostles, said weekday evenings proved difficult.

“Many students were tired from school and sports,” Mandela said. “Some would act up and other kids were so worn out that they were falling asleep in class.

“Now we ask families to attend Mass before or after religious education,” she said. “The students’ attitude is different — more of them want to be here. And parents say they like the change.”

Other groups in the new parish continue to come together. Lenten fish fries at St. Norbert and St. Albert the Great combined this year.

“We received many good comments about how well organized it was, with tasty food and friendly volunteers,” Father Kresak said.

“The niece of one of the leaders was having problems with a pregnancy, and many people reached out to both of them,” he said. “It brought me to tears. They are caring for one another.”

Holy Apostles now has one parish picnic and one parish festival. The joyous Festival of Praise, held on the second Saturday of the month at the St. Albert the Great site, is often filled with families and young adults, with older Catholics attending as well.

The newlywed Bauers are enjoying all of it, recalling the days when Mass and church activities overflowed with young families.

“We’re seeing things happening,” Jim said. “This is like it used to be when we had more people.”

“I’m liking it,” Linda said. “I’m meeting people I haven’t seen in years.”

Still ahead after the parish grouping announcement are decisions about which church buildings will remain after an eventual merger with neighboring St. Sylvester and Holy Angels parishes. Holy Apostles parishioners are approaching it from a missionary viewpoint.

“I opened my will to God, and he surprised me,” Jim said.

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