With his sunny disposition, engaging presence and sense of humor, the Rev. John K. Manno has been known to lift sagging spirits.
On Sunday, he offered up hope for those who filled the pews at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church for the final Mass held there.
The church at 634 Hepburn St., long a presence in the city and a bedrock for much of the Italian-American community, has closed its doors.
Margie Bumgartner, above, prays during the final Mass at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church on Sunday.
JOHN NEVILL JR./Sun-Gazette
Manno, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Montoursville, told parishioners that the church always will be sacred ground.
"Our challenge today is we have to stand our sacred ground," he said.
He reminded everyone of the strong Italian community that long comprised the church and of the many people who used the foundation of their faith to make their mark in the world.
Two of those people, he said, included Frank Girardi, a successful Lycoming College football coach who had the school's sports complex named after him, and Anthony Cimini, who served as a state assemblyman from this area.
"Today, the gathering is rather somber and rather heart-wrenching," he said.
But as he quickly reminded everyone, "A little bread, a little wine and we're fine."
Of the many people sitting in on the final Mass were Brent Jenkins and his wife, Mary, who made a special trip to Williamsport from their Washington, D.C., home.
"My wife and me were married here. That's why we came here," he said.
"It's very sad," said his wife, the former Mary Waldman, who said she grew up in the church and was baptized there.
For Tony DiSalvo, of Williamsport, the church holds many fond memories.
A lifelong member, he was baptized at Mater Dolorosa and, for a number of years, led a Boy Scout troop that met at the church.
He attended many services in the church and even got to watch his sons serve as altar boys there.
"I'm going to miss the place," he said.
DiSalvo said he understands the reasons for the closing, but it's still hard for him to accept.
The pews of Catholic churches in much of America are becoming emptier as parishioners age and die off and fail to get replaced by younger people, he noted.
On Saturday, Ascension Church, 2100 Linn St., held its final Mass.
The closings are the result of the Diocese of Scranton's consolidation efforts.
DiSalvo is among many parishioners who now will attend services at Annunciation Church, 702 W. Fourth St.
Warren McKamey, of Williamsport, said he figures to do the same now that Mater Dolorosa is closing.
"It's a sad, sad day," he said. "It's just losing the Italian heritage."
Like others, McKamey was a member of the church for many years and had children who were baptized there.
"They said it (closing) is in the name of progress," he said.
Ascension Church member Joan Nevill, who was on hand for the service, said she could feel for the parishioners losing the church they've known for so long.
"You lose a sense of family," she said. "They are going to scatter."