St. Thomas Aquinas celebrates 75 years

<a href=””>St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish</a> in Hyde Park will host several events on April 28-29 in celebration of its 75<sup>th</sup> Anniversary. On Friday, April 28, a 75<sup>th</sup> Anniversary Mass will be celebrated at the parish headquarters, located at 725 S. 250 E. in in Hyde Park.  The service begins at 5:30 p.m. and will be officiated by Bishop Oscar Solis, head of the <a href=””>Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City</a>, whose leadership extends statewide. Former clergy who have served the St. Thomas community since it was established in 1941 will likewise participate.

Following the mass, a community reception will take place between 7:30 p.m. and approximately 9 p.m. in the Taggart Student Center Ballroom at Utah State University. As guests leave the mass en route to the reception on campus, they are invited to visit the <a href=””>Newman Center</a> (795 N. 800 E.) from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for a small open house. Both activities are free of charge and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Continuing the anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 29, a “Newman Reunion” will be held for parishioners, clergy, Newman Clubbers and friends of the parish, both past and present. Participants will meet at the Newman Center at 10 a.m. to carpool to a hiking location (still to be determined). Following the hike, a barbecue will take place at the Newman Center from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. The afternoon’s entertainment will feature USU Professor Dan Watson and his sons, who provide music during the parish’s weekly Sunday masses. 

“I think there will be lots of conversation, live music and just a chance for people to come together,” said Nora Zambreno, a member of the St. Thomas Aquinas parish council. “We’ll have Aggie ice cream, and we’re working on getting together lots of old photographs to help jar memories and recall good times.”

Zambreno said the gatherings on both days will also provide members and friends of the parish and of the Newman Club to reengage and enjoy onsite displays, photographs and recordings.

“There’s a real rich history there for anyone who has a connection,” Zambreno said.

“Whenever you can do something like celebrate 75 years of anything, it’s a pretty special occasion,” echoed Randy Jensen, president of the parish council. “A Catholic presence has been in Cache Valley much longer than 75 years, but this celebration really established an actual parish of a church here, and that really has some important significance to us.”

With between 1,700 and 2,000 households actively involved, Jensen said the parish has grown to become a strong presence in the valley, contributing richly to its social landscape and adding an important element of diversity.

“We serve a huge Spanish-speaking population as part of our parish,” he said, “and with students and faculty on campus that are from other countries and other places, we have a really strong international flavor, too. We’re just really excited to be part of the entire community.”

St. Thomas Aquinas’ first mass was held on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Conducted by Father Joseph Valine, a Dominican priest, the service took place in a nearly complete new chapel located at 51 E. 500 N. in Logan, behind the Alta Motel.  Soon after the parish was organized, a local chapter of the Newman Club was established to allow, as Zambreno explained, “for students and faculty at non-Catholic schools to have a place to go to and develop their spirituality and have a way to engage with the faith.”

During the 1970s in particular, she said, the Newman Center was a popular destination for spiritual retreats, folk music and dance and coffee houses, providing regular opportunities for interaction between Newman Club members throughout the state of Utah and also the intermountain region. Today, the facility is operated by Sister Marilyn Mark, a Benedictine nun, who houses several students in the facility and coordinates activities and special events. Mass is held every Sunday evening during the school year at 6 p.m. in the building’s St. Jerome Chapel. The chapel is also open around-the-clock for personal worship.

Organizers of St. Thomas Aquinas’ 75<sup>th</sup> Anniversary hope the celebration will extend beyond the parish and the Newman Center to include and fellowship anyone with interest in becoming better acquainted with the church’s ongoing outreach efforts. The theme for associated activities is “Building God’s house, building our community, building the future. His faithfulness continues to all generations.”

“All of this is very open to our whole Cache Valley community because we want it to be a part of building our wider community,” Zambreno said.  “I would love for our different faith traditions to feel very welcome and come in and get to know us a little bit.”

While activities have been informally wrapped around the 75<sup>th</sup> Anniversary celebration since late 2016, organizers coordinated the official recognition of the anniversary this spring to give clergy members and former parishioners who live out of town the opportunity to visit Cache Valley without a worry of severe winter weather. Having invited guests from across the country, the parish likewise hoped to give participants sufficient time to make travel arrangements. St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish is currently under the leadership of Rev. Fernando Velasco. More information about upcoming celebratory activities is available at <a href=””></a>.

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