St Joan of Arc, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Joan of Arc
Location: Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 11 August 2018, 5:00pm

The building

A moderately sized edifice located in a residential area. The parish dates to the earliest part of the 20th century but the current church was completed in 1962. It has a central aisle and central tabernacle as well as a pipe organ and four elevated statues on the rear wall: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, joined by St Anthony (whom I suspect was placed due to the large number of Italian factory workers who settled in the area). One particular item of note is that the church bell was donated by Milton S. Hershey, founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, in memory of his late wife, who was a devout Catholic.

The church

It is a very large parish and the only Catholic church in the town. The congregation is regularly augmented by tourists visiting the local theme park and museums. The parish has a large number of ministries, including a Legion of Mary, Boy Scouts, and Knights of Columbus. One thing of particular note is that the parish saw a parishioner ordained to the priesthood in 2016 and currently has another parishioner in formation for the priesthood and another who is a candidate for the permanent diaconate. To have so many vocations at once is very unusual for any Catholic parish.

The neighborhood

Located just east of Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg, the unincorporated community of Hershey calls itself “the sweetest place on earth.” Founded by candy magnate Milton S. Hershey in the early 1900s, it is of course the home of the Hershey Chocolate Company. There are only about 14,000 residents, but Hershey attracts hordes of tourists to a variety of entertainments built around the Hershey chocolate theme: an amusement park, museum, gardens, zoo, shopping and restaurants. The church is located on West Areba Avenue, a primarily residential district. The roller coasters at the amusement park are visible in the distance.

The cast

A young priest, two nuns in habits, a gentleman in a white robe, four altar servers, a cantor, and an organist.

What was the name of the service?

Vigil Mass for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

90 per cent, which came as a surprise for a vigil mass.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Some nice older gentlemen were greeting people as we entered.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very comfortable – surprisingly so. The pew was padded and the kneelers were in great condition.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Worship by GIA publications. It includes both hymns and the readings for each liturgical cycle.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a very nice one.

Did anything distract you?

I feel guilty saying it, but the priest was very young and shorter than I am. I was somewhat surprised by that.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Nice and formal. Four hymns, as if it were the main mass on Sunday. Assisting extraordinary ministers dressed in robes. Very nice, actually.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — The priest’s projection was very good, as was his articulation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by referencing Copernicus and how Copernicus had come to what was then considered a radical reorientation of the entire world. Copernicus argued that the earth was not the center of the universe, but merely a planet orbiting the sun. The priest then tied that example to the idea of the eucharist becoming the “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” of Jesus Christ and how radical that belief is. Both ideas are equally radical and hard for people to accept, but equally true.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon was wonderful. At one point I whispered to my wife, “This is good stuff!”

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Prior to the beginning of the mass, a few announcements were made. Unfortunately, among those announcements was one for a penitential service at the cathedral in Harrisburg for atonement for the sins of the past. The Diocese of Harrisburg at the time of our visit had just released the names of 300 plus clergy credibly accused of abuse of minors.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

It was a vigil mass so there was nothing after. We headed off to enjoy the wonderful town of Hershey. The next day would be spent in the park eating too much chocolate.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — We were in town for several days and attended the parish again on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th. This was my second time attending a Catholic church in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and both were very enjoyable, edifying and enriching experiences.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How lucky this parish is to see so many vocations.

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