LEWISTOWN - Two area churches will say goodbye to an active community leader this month.
The Rev. John Bateman, priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Churches, has been reassigned by Bishop Kevin Rhoades to serve at St. Andrew Parish in Waynesboro, according to a press release from the Lewistown parish.
Six years ago, Bateman came to the area with a charge from his bishop.
"'This place is ready to explode. All it needs is a spark,'" Bateman remembered his bishop telling him. "My goal was to provide the spark. Hopefully, I was able to find that spark."
No one can deny that Bateman has made an impact in the community as he not only served the two churches but also taught at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School and volunteered on local committees including Lewistown Hospital, Downtown Lewistown Inc., Mifflin County Regional Police Department and the Lewistown Ministerium.
"As pastor of a parish, I have a responsibility to the people of the parish - and that extends beyond the people's names on my books," Bateman said. "If it helps the community, it helps parishioners. That's why I got involved in lots of community things."
"It's been a great experience," Bateman said. "I've met so many wonderful people."
One of the memories Bateman said he will take away from the parish is the day when the frame of the new church sanctuary at St. Jude blew down in a strong storm.
When people called him, frantic about the structure, Bateman said he replied, "Was anyone hurt?"
After receiving a reply in the negative, Bateman responded, "What are we going to do? We're going to fix it."
He recalled another memory of burning palms for Ash Wednesday with some children from Sacred Heart school. Seeing the smoke, a local fire department arrived at the scene, thinking it was an emergency; with a smile, the pastor said he learned a lesson to notify the fire department before burning things in the future.
Other memories include the first Easter in Lewistown when he and several church members decorated the sanctuary with flowers.
To honor Bateman, the churches will hold celebrations of his service. St. Jude will hold a potluck supper at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the church social hall. On June 14, Sacred Heart will hold a potluck dinner at 2 p.m. at the Eagles Club in Burnham. Anyone from the parishes and local community is invited; however, the parish requests notification from those who plan to attend. Contact the Sacred Heart church office at 242-2781 or the St. Jude office at 436-6722.
To the people of the church and community, Bateman said: "Thank you for your support, for your welcoming acceptance of a priest who rides motorcycle, for allowing me to work in the community. I'm certainly sad to go, but God gives me a new challenge all the time."
As the church enters into the transition of a new priest, Bateman said he told people to keep doing what they are doing - "keep the fire burning."
The churches will welcome their new pastor, the Rev. William Weary, on June 18, according to the press release. Weary has been serving as the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Danville for the past 12 years.
Some may remember Weary, because he served in the Lewistown area briefly as parochial vicar from 1989 to 1990, according to the press release. Weary recently celebrated the 25th jubilee of his priesthood, the release states.