By Tim Harfmann
Parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Church love summertime Masses — especially when the celebration is conducted on the sands at Rockaway Beach.
“Saint Francis is truly the center of Rockaway, especially here for the parish,” said Father Bill Sweeney, pastor of the Belle Harbor, Queens church.
He believes the beach Masses are great for connecting with parishioners.
“It’s a wonderful way of bringing people together, celebrating in a special way on a Sunday. The crowds love it.”
At a time when summer vacations cut into attendance and donations at other parishes, St. Francis de Sales is thriving on the shore and in the church.
“If it’s a beautiful Sunday, the 7:30am and the 9am Masses are packed,” said Father Sweeney. “If it’s raining, we’ll get more at the 5:30pm or noon Masses. So, people work out their schedule depending on whether they’re going to the beach or not.”
With the Church bringing the liturgy to the water’s edge, the Sunday collections at St. Francis de Sales have remained steady throughout the summer, averaging $10,000.
Another big help with contributions, according to Father Sweeney, is online donations so parishioners, who are on vacation, can keep giving.
“We have a lot of people using that. You know, try to keep up with the times.”
As for worshipping God on the beach, parishioner Lorraine Agoglia explained on Sunday, August 18 what she appreciated most.
“My [15-year-old] daughter was even saying, ‘wow, how cool is it that in our whole neighborhood knows where everybody is going right now with their beach chairs as they’re walking down the street? Where are they going? They’re all coming here to gather,” said Agoglia.
There’s something else the St. Francis de Sales community is doing to keep the summer hot. Over 1,000 kids are playing hoops in the Church’s annual Summer Classic Basketball Tournament.
“I can go to the church. I can play basketball, my favorite sport; and I get to go to the beach,” said Joseph O’Grady, a tournament participant.
“Having the Summer Classic keeps everybody connected to the Church during the summer,” said Keith Goldberg. He is the organizer of a tournament that’s making a difference. “Because on Sunday they go to Mass, Monday through Friday they’re here in the schoolyard watching the games.”
“All I have to do is walk over to the schoolyard on a Monday or Tuesday night, and I run into three quarters of the parish,” said Father Sweeney.
Combining the blacktop, the sun, and the surf is proving to be a perfect way for evangelizing and growing the Catholic faith.
“It’s the generations that have lived in this community who know how special it is,” said Agoglia. “I’m hoping my kids know and realize, and that they’re going to take it over one day. Because that’s the only way.”
And it’s a way that is very successful.