There was a memorial mass for the Rev. David Delzell at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Highlands last week, and it brought together families, teachers, and a couple of generations of students who all have their own special memory of the priest who served as pastor there longer than any other priest in the church’s 133 year history.
Father Delzell died in Pennsylvania Aug. 7 at 93 years of age, and though it’s been 22 years since his pastorate ended, the folks at Tuesday evening’s mass enjoyed reminiscing over their many memories of his 26 years here and certainly let those in attendance who didn’t know the priest realize he was a force to be reckoned with, a memorable friend, and a devoted leader.
The ‘60s through 80’s of the 20th century aren’t exactly history, but there are many who do not know the leadership qualities of Father Dave, as he was affectionately known, so for newcomers, even recent history is interesting.
The welcoming mass when Father Dave first came to Highlands was proof he was a beloved priest; the church was filled with not only the Highlands folks wondering what their new pastor would be like, but busloads of parishioners from St. Cecelia’s in Iselin, who were sorry to see him go and wanted to wish him well in his new pastorate.
And Father got right to work building and improving the parish. The school building was only about five years old when Father Dave came, but he immediately enmeshed himself in the lives of the youngsters, and did a lot of work himself to save the parish money…things like mowing the lawn, fixing plumbing,…he even was a caller at BINGO! He brought in the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus to teach, and three of them who were here in the 70s and 80s, Sisters Gloria Louise, Angela Pia and Jerrilynn were here for the mass last week and to share their own memories of teaching in Highlands.
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That shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help along the back wall inside church was also Father Dave’s idea, and to the delight of all, he even installed air-conditioning in the school and in the basement of the church, where he has started a kindergarten.
It was in the early 1980s that the pastor began planning for the parish’s centennial in 1983, and decided some major renovations were in order. In addition a good scrubbing, painting, and new carpeting, Father also moved the pews around, allowing for the wider space that is at the front of the nave now. Those beautifully etched glass doors going into church were also Father’s idea, and new lighting and sound completed renovations that are still in use today.
These were some of the material things Father Dave accomplished. But people who knew him loved his piety, loved his spectacular tenor voice…nobody could sing O Holy Night or Ave Maria like Father Dave…. People complained about his conservative ways, but they did come dressed up for mass because he insisted on it. People complained about his not liking women wearing slacks to mass, or not allowing shorts or bathing suits for mass….but all felt a little better for looking better.
The folks there Tuesday night remember all the fine things about Father Dave…the teachers, from Joan Wicklund in the ‘70s to Barbara Hardeman in the ‘90s,the former students, like Mari Campanella Kovich, the families, like the Pentas, the Dziedziecs, the Davis’, the newly ordained priest from St. Agnes, Father Quinn and the nun, Sister Diana Higgins, who felt mentored by Father and were in the OLPH Youth Group in the ;80s..all have their own memories. Marie Veling, a long time teacher at the school, sent special wishes for the ceremony from her home in St. Augustine, Fla. There is no doubt Father Delzell had an impact, a positive impact, on them all.
Today, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church and St. Agnes Church, are joined as one parish…Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes, and there’s another strong, enthusiastic, vibrant priest pouring new life and faith into this new community. Father Fernando Lopez was named pastor a year ago and together with associate pastor, Father Carlo Calisin, has made more friends and filled the pews with more people through his own piety and love for the people.
It’s true, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is very much a part of the history of Highlands. And Father Delzell is very much a leading player in that history. But with Father Fernando at the helm, Father Carlo assisting, and Msgr. Cajetan Salemi a weekend associate, the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – St. Agnes is also very much a part of the future of the Bayshore.