Mother of Good Counsel celebrates 100 years in Hazard

August 6, 2013

by Amelia Holliday — Staff Reporter
No matter how it's said — 876,000 hours, 52,560,000 minutes, 3,153,600,000 seconds — 100 years is an impressive amount of time, especially when nearly every second of this time has been spent being involved in and improving a community.
Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church's platinum anniversary was this year, having been established in Hazard in 1913, and the church celebrated this milestone over the weekend. Mike Chowning, pastor at the church, said this celebration was not only one for the parish, but for the community as a whole.
“Someone on the Community Ministry board told me once that for such a small little church you've had a huge impact in our community, and I believe we have,” Chowning said.
The church, located on the corner of Poplar and Cedar streets in the heart of Hazard, started from very humble beginnings, Chowning explained. In 1913, James Massa was brought from Italy to Letcher County to serve a priest for those Catholic families in the coal camp in Jenkins who had immigrated to the U.S. When word came to Massa that a handful of families in Hazard were in need of a priest, Massa began travelling to the county seat once a month to conduct mass.
“They didn't even have a church for the first 26 years. They had mass in … people's homes and if not in people's homes, eventually they got a house here where the priest lived, it would be in the house where the priest lived,” he said.
Although it took nearly 30 years to establish a concrete home for the parish, it has not taken long for the church community to make its presence known in the area.
Pat Riestenberg, pastoral associate for Mother of Good Counsel, said many firsts in the community came as a result of the church being there, including the first 12-step program offered in the region, Hospice, the area's first kindergarten, and a state-of-the-art hospital, Mt. Mary Hospital.
“There are people today who swear they're alive because of that hospital,” Riestenberg said.
At the anniversary celebration at Mother of Good Counsel on Sunday, parishioners did not forget to pay tribute to those founding members of the church, since that is where the community involvement really started, and remembered that though the church has seen much renovation structurally it is still the same parish at its heart.
“We just celebrate the fact that it's because of those Catholic families that we have a church here,” Chowning said. “Their commitment to the Catholic community to be a presence in the wider community, as sharing ministry or social justice, outreach to the poor and the involvement in the life of the community.”
Speaking at the centennial celebration, Riestenberg talked about the luck a normally unlucky number seems to have brought to not only church members, but to Perry County and the surrounding community, too.
“You wouldn't think that the number 13 or multiples of would bring good things, but obviously they have,” she said.