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July 23, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 19


photo: Father Paraiso with parishioners on the altar after a recent week-day Mass.
Father Paraiso with parishioners on the altar after a recent week-day Mass.

Smithfield parish has first resident pastor

Parishioners of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithfield are rejoicing now that they have a full-time resident pastor for the first time.

Father Oscar Paraiso arrived at the parish July 1 and immediately made arrangements for a more inclusive Mass schedule which will have weekday Mass on four of the five days. Beginning in October, there will be a regular Saturday vigil Mass in addition to Sunday Mass at 9 a.m.

“I’m so used to it (daily Mass),” Father Paraiso told The Catholic Virginian. “It’s part of my life as a priest to have daily Mass.”

A native of the Philippines, Father Paraiso (pronounced “Para-i-sso”) was ordained a priest Aug. 16, 1981 for the Diocese of Libmanan in his native country. He came to the Diocese of Richmond in October 2011 from Canada where he had spent the past 10 and a half years on loan to the Diocese of Victoria in British Columbia. During that time he was assigned to several parishes which were clustered.

“At one time I took care of four parishes all by myself,” Father Paraiso said. “One of the four was an island parish and it took an hour to get there by ferry boat.”

His last assignment in Canada was at St. Mary’s in Ladysmith, B.C. It was here that Bishop Jose Rojas of Libmanan came to visit him for four days and during that time asked him to consider taking an assignment in the Diocese of Richmond.

“He told me ‘I don’t want to force you, but would you think about it?’” Father Paraiso told The Catholic Virginian. “It took me about one month to decide to say yes.

“I reported directly to Msgr. (Walter) Barrett (pastor of the Peninsula Cluster) who met me at the airport in Norfolk and we went to St. Joseph’s in Hampton,” he said.

Father Paraiso is the 9th of 10 children — seven boys, three girls. He has always wanted to be a priest.

“If I were to live my life over again, I would still choose the priesthood,” he said. “I am happy with my life.”

Apparently many at Good Shepherd are happy as well.

“They have told me ‘Father, our prayers have been answered. We have our own pastor,’” he said.

Previously one priest served both Good Shepherd in Smithfield, a parish of approximately 300 families, and the larger St. Mary of the Presentation Parish in Suffolk. The pastor of both communities lived in Suffolk.

The Smithfield parish has purchased a house in a residential neighborhood a mile and a half from the church as the future rectory. Father Oscar is currently living in a one-bedroom guest house and will move to the new residence in late August.

At one period, Good Shepherd Parish was administered by a lay pastoral coordinator who handles administrative matters and coordinated all ministries and activities. A priest came only to preside at Mass on Sunday under the director of the lay administrator.

A few parishioners helped stabilize the situation after Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo abolished the position of pastoral coordinator in parishes and appointed priests as canonical pastors. Some parishioners who did not like the earlier arrangement with a pastoral coordinator and others who did not like its dismissal left.

“I can’t tell you how many priests we’ve had come in and out over the years,” Nancy Alberghine, a parishioner for 10 years, told The Catholic Virginian. “We never had the same priest for any length of time and he was never a pastor.

“Getting Father Oscar has been truly a blessing,” she continued. “From what I see and hear, the parishioners are very pleased that we finally have a pastor. I’m sure things will progress very positively.”

Parishioners saw that the parish was running smoothly without a resident priest, Father Paraiso said of the lay faithful. But he says that any final decisions will now have to be made after consultation with the pastor.

Among the active organizations at Good Shepherd is the men’s club, a group composed of Catholic men and non-Catholic men whose wives are Catholic; a ladies group, parish pastoral council, parish finance council, and different committees for various ministries.

Weekday Mass is celebrated Tuesday and Thursday at 12 noon and Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. Sunday Mass is now at 9 a.m., rather than the previous 8:30.

“For the meantime in August and September we will have first Saturday Mass at 5 p.m. and in October we will begin having Mass every Saturday at 5,” Father Paraiso said.

“I hope to unify the parish,” the new pastor said. “Our primary goal is to be one community and to invite former parishioners to come back.”

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