St. Finbar Church pastor marks 10 years in priesthood
He tells parishioners ‘It has certainly been an interesting journey’
One of the youngest pastors in the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn marked the 10th anniversary of his ordination into the priesthood by celebrating a mass on Sunday and then serving as the guest of honor at a crowded reception that a group of parishioners had secretly planned as a surprise for him.
The Rev. Michael Louis Gelfant, 37, who has served at Saint Finbar Catholic Church in Bath Beach since 2010, told the congregation that he is grateful for his life as a priest. “The priesthood is an awesome gift,” he said.
His anniversary mass took place on Pentecost Sunday, the day that Catholics believe the Holy Spirit visited the Apostles of Jesus Christ. St. Finbar, located at 138 Bay 20th St., was packed for the mass with hundreds of parishioners eager to congratulate their young pastor on his personal milestone.
“I appreciate being able to celebrate 10 years as a priest. I don’t know how I got to 10 years!” he jokingly told the congregation. “It has certainly been an interesting journey.”
Gelfant, who enjoys a reputation as an outspoken young priest unafraid of sharing his opinions, is every bit the modern day clergyman. He frequently posts status updates on his Facebook page and also has a Twitter account.
He is credited by many parishioners with saving St. Finbar Church from closure. Prior to his arrival, attendance at masses had been declining, weekly collections were decreasing and the parish was rumored to have been targeted for closure by the diocese.
Working with parishioners, Gelfant developed a plan to put the church on better financial footing and worked hard to attract young families to the parish. Within months, the pews started to fill up, longtime parishioners said.
“If not for him, the diocese would have closed this church,” one parishioner told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Under Gelfant’s leadership, St. Finbar recently raised an impressive $1 million in pledges toward Generations of Faith, a new capital campaign of the diocese.
Gelfant was also instrumental in establishing a Knights of Columbus council at the parish.
In addition to his duties as a pastor, he is a chaplain for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Gelfant refused to take credit for the success of the parish. “It’s not I who saved this parish, it’s the people,” he said.
Gelfant joked that when he was first named pastor of St. Finbar, he was the youngest pastor in the diocese but that he has since lost those bragging rights because he has been usurped by two pastors, friends of his, who are younger than he is.
Gelfant, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, was ordained into the priesthood in May of 2005.
Before coming to St. Finbar, he served as a parish priest at St. Anselm Catholic Church in Bay Ridge. Several parishioners from St. Anselm attended the anniversary mass on Sunday.
Deacon Anthony Favale, who is a lifelong parishioner of St. Finbar, said Gelfant has brought a special feeling back to the church. “In 2010, something happened all of a sudden. We were going back to the parish of my youth. We were a parish family again. The pews were starting to fill again. The catalyst for this was a young priest,” he said.
Following the mass, a reception was held for Gelfant in the church’s confraternity center. To the pastor’s surprise and delight, hundreds of people turned up. “He didn’t expect that many people to come. We told him it was just going to be a few people coming for coffee and cake,” parishioner Eileen LaRuffa told the Eagle.
At the reception, many parishioners enjoyed looking at a picture board put together by the pastor’s secretary, Julie Ratka, featuring photos of Gelfant in his younger days. In one of the photos, he is seen meeting Pope John Paul II.
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