Looking out at the hundreds of people who for 30 years have been his family, the Rev. Jerry Hanley ended his last sermon saying, "My heart will always remember you and will always be there for you."
During his final Mass, Hanley reflected on his time at St. Teresa's and all that the parishioners have taught him.
"As I look back over all these years, I'm surprised at how little I know and how I discovered the great truths I do know," Hanley said. "Sometimes we realize the great truths in the moments of great sadness."
Hanley also talked about the relationships he had with everyone in attendance on Sunday.
"We have walked by you in terrible times, but we have celebrated with you in joyous times, and I think we have grown up together. Because of that we have allowed God to grow up with us," Hanley said.
For three decades, Hanley has presided over hundreds of weddings, funerals and baptisms. He has had 1,400 parishioners die during his tenure. He has seen the church he presided over grow from 500 families to more than 2,700.
It was his vision that saw the church move from its historic location at 449 W. King St. to the new, sprawling site on Lompa Lane.
During the Mass, several of his staff and closest friends offered tributes.
"You have built me up to something even I could not dream of," said Mary Ann Randall, director of religious education.
After the Mass, Hanley individually greeted every parishioner who wanted an audience, spending more than two hours talking with them.
"It's an experience everyone should go through, to know that you touched that many people," Hanley said.
Several just wanted to tell him the personal impact he had had on their lives.
"I had been raised Catholic and been away for many years, and Father Jerry brought me back. I feel like his sermons are talking just to me," said Victoria Williams. "He has an amazing gift that way."
Deacon Bob Evans agreed.
"He just has prolific words; that's his greatest gift to us. He preaches in a way that people can hear it," Evans said.
Randall said, "He has a vision of what a faith community is about. He's empowered the people that this is our church. He's built up the community to carry on, to do God's work."
Hanley will officially retire July 1. He said he will spend time with his family in Michigan and finish moving into his new house.
He also wants to begin doing volunteer work. He has said he will volunteer at the Community Counseling Center and offer to celebrate Mass for some of the military units in the area.
After the long line of parishioners disappeared and the picnic in his honor was breaking up, Hanley took a moment to sit down and let his retirement sink in.
"Our faith has saved us in the worst of times and helped us in the best of times," he said.
"It's been a wonderful ride."
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.1/2