The Church of Nativity Becomes a Parish
In 1930, Father Tuelings, who had been so instrumental in the building and design of The Nativity’s mission-style church, was appointed chaplain and professor of philosophy at St. Joseph's College in West Hartford. Father Myles P. Galvin succeeded him. Father Galvin guided St. John the Evangelist in Watertown, and the mission Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, for three decades during a turbulent period of change. People had passed through the havoc and tragedy of a brutal world war to seek peace and prosperity in the postwar years. A vibrant spiritual renewal and new hopes encouraged them.
The Church of the Nativity witnessed many welcome improvements during this period. Assisted by many able priests, particularly Father Theodore Beauchamp and Father Richard Guerette, Father Galvin supervised the introduction of electricity and a new oil furnace, new pews and carpeting, and space for an organ to accompany church services. Joseph Shupenis generously made and donated a new altar (and matching priest’s chair), handcrafted of burnished cherry, enabling the celebrant to face the congregation as Vatican II had decreed.
Father Galvin's business acumen was also notable. His annual reports were masterpieces of detail. The church treasury prospered, and in 1959 Father Galvin purchased two acres of land on the south side of East Street from Waiter Bless. (In 1972, when the present rectory was constructed on this site, no borrowed funds were necessary for the project.)
Ill health forced Father Galvin to retire from his parish duties in 1965, but he remained pastor emeritus until his death in 1974. Father Marshall Filip became the new administrator of the parish in his place.
Father Filip will always be remembered as a saintly, much loved pastor. On his daily visits to the sick in hospitals and homes, he shared his prayers and good will. Meanwhile, his faithful dog, Duchess, waited patiently in the car as the pastor made his rounds. Father Filip considered religious instruction for the children of the parish most important, often taking over classes himself when the regular teacher was not available. On his visits to these classrooms, bags of candy in hand, he delighted the children, and at times could dismay teachers trying to maintain order.
In 1970, a parish census indicated solid growth in the Nativity parish. A second mass was added, often celebrated by a member of the St. Louis de Montfort community in Litchfield, or by a priest from the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Since the parish now included 163 families numbering 600 individuals, Archbishop John F. Whealon sought to determine whether Bethlehem could sustain an independent parish. Father Carl Sherer was appointed to conduct the survey, assisted by a newly formed parish council headed by Nicholas Brennan. The results of the survey were positive, and Father Sherer became the first pastor of the new parish of the Church of the Nativity in 1972.
Father Filip, no longer directly responsible for Bethlehem, remained very visible, attending funerals, and offering consolation and friendship as he visited many of his former parishioners. Father Filip remained in Watertown until his death in 1990.
Under Father Sherer, the new parish erected a parish hall and rectory on the site purchased by Father Galvin in 1959. With impressive foresight, the parish council purchased an additional four acres behind the rectory from Marge Bennett and obtained a right-of-way from Eleanor Mayer. This land is part of our new church grounds today. The basement of this new rectory became the home for parish meetings and socials, as well as the classrooms for the religious education programs.
In 1974, Father Sherer suffered a heart attack, and his subsequent ill health forced him to resign his pastorate. Father William Thuer was appointed the administrator, and later, the pastor of the Church of the Nativity.
Father Thuer's years as pastor in Bethlehem were distinguished by fruitful growth and guidance. He was sensitive and attentive to the needs of his parish, most especially at times of crisis, illness, death, and family difficulties. Nick, Father Thuer's spirited and friendly dog, also welcomed visitors to the rectory as their numbers continued to increase. Pastor Thuer supported and implemented changes in the Church at large, encouraging increased lay participation in the liturgy. Ministerial service was open to all who were prepared to accept responsibility according to their gifts. Women especially appreciated a more active role in church services.
During Father Thuer's tenure, service to the Church and religious vocations were nurtured. The Nativity parish was justifiably proud of the ordination of Father Edward Kacerguis, the eldest son of a distinguished Bethlehem family. He became Chaplain to the students of Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Albany diocese, counseling, inspiring, and helping countless students in their quest for religious truth. He has kept in close touch with his roots, assisting in the parish ministry during his home visits.