Fr. Aschenbrener new pastor at St. Mary of Perpetual Help
July 4, 2013
Fr. Thomas Aschenbrener is the new pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish. (Troy T Heinzeroth)

By Kathy Hills

The Rev. Thomas Aschenbrener, who celebrates the tenth anniversary of his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest this year, was installed June 16 as pastor of St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish, 1039 W. 32nd St. in Bridgeport, after having been appointed in January.

He succeeds the Rev. Donald R. Craig, who served as pastor from 1999 to 2012. Fr. Aschenbrener comes to St. Mary’s following assignments at St. Luke Church in River Forest, IL; St. Alphonsus Church in Chicago; and Holy Name Cathedral. Born in Wauwatosa, WI, he is the third eldest of six brothers.

While attending the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, he volunteered at juvenile runaway shelters and later worked as a youth and family specialist in crisis intervention with troubled families and juvenile delinquents.

After earning a degree in communication studies, speech communication, and rhetoric with a minor in art history, he entered the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL, where he received a BA in theology and a master’s in divinity.

Currently he is working on a sacred theological licentiate in systematics with an emphasis on marriage and family. He offers marriage preparation to engaged couples, renewal seminars to married couples, and counseling.

St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church offers a Saturday Mass at 4 p.m.; on Sunday it provides an 8:30 a.m. Mass in Latin and a 10:30 a.m. Mass in English. Fr. Aschenbrener explained that only a few parishes in the archdiocese offer Mass in Latin, and he believes this may draw new parishioners, many of them young adults looking for inspiration from the church’s old and traditional ways.

Fr. Aschenbrener and St. Mary’s also are looking toward the future as well.

“We are beginning a capital campaign in September,” he explained. “We need to finish our restoration project by painting the three interior domes that are left to be done and marbleize the columns. The church was built in 1888 and is always in need of repairs. “My plan is to reach out and evangelize the residents of the parish, the young and the old alike,” Fr. Aschenbrener continued. “I want to bring back those who have left us and show why we believe what we believe. That’s what I’m about.”

St. Mary’s is experiencing a growth spurt, with 80 new parishioners in the last year. “We are seeing singles and young families new to Bridgeport and from other parts of the city join us here,” said Fr. Aschenbrener. “Baptisms and weddings are up considerably.”

About six months ago the parish established a young adult group for those in their 20s and 30s. Activities center around social, spiritual, and service opportunities. “They are always looking for new members,” Fr. Aschenbrener said.

He added the parish holds a religion-based day camp for children from first through eighth grade, which runs Sunday through Friday, July 14 through 19. College students trained by the archdiocese as “missionaries for the week” staff the day camp. The cost is $25. About ten years ago, the church sold its former parish school to the Christian Brothers, who have reinvented it as the girls’ campus for De La Salle Institute. The parish sponsors youngsters at De LaSalle via scholarships, and De La Salle students from the parish help at the church with market day, religious education, and other activities.

For information on joining the parish or parish activities, call Fr. Aschenbrener at the parish office at (773) 927-6646. For information on the young adult group or the children’s day camp, call Rick Moreno at the same number. For other information, visit www.stmaryofperpetualhelp.com.