PARKERSBURG - When the Rev. Neil Buchlein left as associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in 2001, he never thought he'd be coming back to the area so soon.
After serving as pastor at The Catholic Church of the Ascension in Hurricane, W.Va., for the past 11 years, Buchlein is back in Parkersburg. This time around he is serving as pastor at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
"It's exciting to be back," he said.
Photo by Emily Balser
The Rev. Neil Buchlein stands in the sanctuary at St. Francis Xavier Church, 532 Market St. Buchlein took over as pastor at the church in June.
Buchlein is replacing the Rev. Eric Hall who was pastor at St. Francis Xavier for about four years and was reassigned to St. Joseph Parish in Martinsburg, W.Va. In the Catholic diocese, pastors are assigned to churches by the bishop and personnel board and they don't know or have any control over their assignments. Buchlein said he got the call in March telling him he would be reassigned.
"I knew that one day I was going to have to move," he said. "We don't pick and choose where we want to go"
Although it was a shock to find out he was leaving Hurricane, he was happy to be coming back to a familiar place and a place he enjoyed as an associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary. After being in a more contemporary church in Hurricane, Buchlein said one thing he was surprised by was the beauty of St. Francis Xavier. With its cathedral ceilings and detailed paintings, he compared it to being in Rome.
"This is certainly a beautiful, beautiful structure," he said. "You can just kind of sit here all day and look at the painting and the architecture."
Buchlein said he has been busy since he arrived in Parkersburg. He said there are a lot of things to be done and didn't want to put anything on the back burner. He said everyone at the church has been great during his transition.
"The response from the congregation has been very positive and very welcoming," he said.
He has also been impressed with the outreach and sense of community by St. Francis Xavier and other churches in the community.
He said he's really impressed with the free dinner the church holds, in conjunction with other churches, on Wednesday nights.
"I think it's great when you can cross your denominational borders," he said.
On top of the stress of moving to a new town and church, soon after Buchlein arrived at St. Francis Xavier, the church's associate pastor, the Rev. Anthony Dcruze was assigned to a St. John University Parish in Morgantown, W.Va. So, Buchlein is basically doing everything on his own. He said it has been a challenge, but that the congregation has been willing to step up and help him.
The response from the congregation has been good, he said.
Buchlein has been a priest for 14 years. He was born and raised in New Jersey and first spent some time with a church in North Carolina and eventually came to West Virginia. While he won't ever know exactly how long he will be in Parkersburg or where he will go next, Buchlein hopes to stay a while.
"I started my priesthood in Parkersburg and I hope I end it in Parkersburg," he said. "I think longevity certainly has its benefits for the pastor as well as the congregation