Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Cynthia Thuma - Florida Catholic
Photography: TOM TRACY | FC
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POMPANO BEACH | Catholic churches are often named in memory of saints, popes, bishops and other religious who have played special roles in Church history.
In those parishes named for saints, rarely is the tie between the saint and the parish named for him or her quite as profound as in the case of a German-Hungarian noblewoman named Elisabeth von Thuringen, better known as St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
St. Elizabeth gave up the good life as a noble to feed and care for the poor. She died at age 24 in 1231 and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX four years later.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish, which celebrated its 60th anniversary the weekend of Nov. 16-17, equally embraces as its mission ministering to the spiritual and corporal needs of a diverse community, and does so with an uncommon amount of purpose and joy.
“We’re a community of many cultures here,” said Alicia McDermott, the parish manager and a longtime parishioner.
Take Thanksgiving, for example. For that day, parishioners at St. Elizabeth’s, as well as the Creole-speakers who attend St. Joseph’s Mission, and senior citizens living at St. Elizabeth Gardens, come together to celebrate with about 600 members of the homeless community.
“Everything for the day is donated,” McDermott said. “We have a very generous donor from Boca Raton who donates the turkeys every year.”
For St. Elizabeth’s pastor, Father Harry Loubriel, it’s all a numbers game. To properly address the needs of his multicultural, multigenerational parish, he plays that game daily.
“We are not three communities,” he said. “We are one community with three different cultures making it up.”
Some of the things that keep people apart are just words, he said. “If you change the language, it changes the mentality, and if you think that, how do you build bridges?”
To help build those bridges, Father Lubriel treats each of his three communities as one, yet allows for the differences in language. The members of each parish community are kept informed about all the activities within the church, not just the ones affecting their particular community.
“I want everybody to know what’s happening,” he said. “Every year I see more and more people crossing over and going to events outside their own group.”
Father Loubriel’s enthusiasm and infectious friendliness make him a highly effective agent of change. He was No. 15 in a family of 17 children growing up in Ciales, Puerto Rico.
After growing up in a huge family and wearing hand-me-down clothes, Father Loubriel could barely wait to graduate from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico and enter a lucrative profession to buy new clothes, a car and more. He chose civil engineering and after graduating looked forward to living the good life. But once he entered the workforce and spread some of his newfound wealth around, he found it didn’t bring him the satisfaction he had hoped for.
Instinctively, he turned back to the Church, where he had found purpose, joy and solace in his younger days.
“I was always involved with the Church,” he said. “Part of your journey in life is to find your place, find your passion.” It was only after he tried to find a new life that he realized how fulfilling the old one had been.
As a result, he entered St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in 1998, then went on to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained in 2005.
As pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Father Loubriel’s youth and enthusiasm are helping nurture and encourage a parish that has gone through more challenges than many. Breaking down walls and building bridges has helped transform a one-time civil engineer into a social one. It’s the challenge he always wanted.