Faith, prayer and work lead the parishioners of Saint Benedict on their last journey to the new church
By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX – Construction is expected to begin in a few weeks on a new church for St. Benedict Parish in the far southeast corner of Phoenix, a project that will give the parish a permanent church home seventeen years after moving into a converted gymnasium on parish property.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Pastor James Aboyi, VC, led an inauguration attended by over 100 lay people and church staff at the construction site on 48e Street between E. Frye Road and Woodland Drive on November 6th.
âAlmighty and all-merciful Father, you created everything through your Son and you made him the unshakeable foundation of your Kingdom,â the bishop prayed. âBy the gift of your eternal wisdom, let the business that we begin today for your glory and our own well-being may progress day by day until its culmination, through Christ our Lord. “
The $ 6.3 million project will add more than 11,000 square feet to the existing 14,247 square foot structure, including a new chapel, chancel, mourning room, bell tower and storage areas. It will also create a permanent and modern worship space, including benches, a modernized altar, an enlarged sanctuary and an embellished nave. The capacity will increase from 600 to 812, according to Bob Prezkop, chairman of the parish building committee and co-leader of the design and construction team.
Saint Benedict hopes to finish by Christmas 2022.
Sunday Mass will be celebrated temporarily in the multipurpose hall of the adjacent St. John Bosco Elementary School. Mass during the week will be celebrated in Annex 2.
The renovation and expansion replace an earlier, more expensive plan for a brand new building that would have required the relocation of the construction site. This restriction, coupled with the increased costs of labor and materials related to the COVID 19 pandemic, led the parish, under p. Aboyi’s leadership, to opt for the cheapest route.
âOur core team were challenged to take our existing building and make it look like a church. By working with the Deputy Director of Construction, Buildings and Assets of the Diocese of Phoenix, Patrick Hintz, and our architect, HDA, Bruce Scott, we have been successful, âsaid Prezkop.
âIt’s a great moment for us; a great journey that began so many years ago, âsaid Fr. Aboyi told the sun-drenched audience, many standing, during the ceremony. âIt is not just the pastor’s effort, but the collective effort and teamwork of so many of us. I want to thank all of you for your support and prayers as we come to this historic moment in our church history. “
Founded in 1985 in the nearby town of Chandler, St. Benedict was moved by the diocese to its present site just beyond the border with Phoenix in 2004. The building currently housing the Mass was originally designed as a gymnasium for the school. He served the parish for 17 years. Along the way, pastors drew up a plan for a permanent church, with the project gaining momentum under Rev. Bob Binta. When Fr. Binta passed away in 2018, Fr. Aboyi took over the ball, still pursuing a permanent church until conditions made the plan more feasible.
âWhen I cameâ, Fr. Aboyi recalled, â[there were] very painful moments. I remember telling him [Fr. Binta] that he’s like Moses, and I’m more like Joshua. Moses saw the Promised Land from afar, but he never got there.
Bishop Olmsted praised the collaboration.
âIt is a true homage to priestly fraternity and to love for one another as brothers in Christ.
The move from the plan of a brand new building to one using an existing structure has just as much, if not more, excited parishioners.
âI can’t wait to see this happenâ¦ this beautiful space, the weddings here now, and this new parish life of Saint Benedict,â smiled Lani Gore, parishioner since 2004 and head of the ministry for planning Saint’s events. – Benedict.
âIt will solidify the practice of our faith and our spiritual home. Hopefully we will continue to grow and build on the goodness we have here, âsaid Eamonn Aherne, original chair of the Live Our Faith, Build Our Church fundraising campaign.
âWhen I walk in, it will remind me that this is a church built by this loving community. It is not a building; it’s a community, âsaid Marianne Biegler, who along with her husband, Jerry, saw their children and grandchildren attend St. John Bosco School and become active in parish life.
âThey are people of real faith. Their faith is important to them, âsaid Bishop Olmsted. âThey are happy about it. You can see it today. It’s nice. It’s a faith that’s alive.
Located in a predominantly residential neighborhood with nearby commercial areas, St. Benedict has both an established and growing population from which to attract potential new members.
âI think we will see new parishioners. The numbers back it up. When you build a new church, you attract people from across borders, âAherne said. “There are a lot of people who really love the culture of St. Benedict and the parish, but found praying in a gymnasium a bit disrespectful.”
The project is part of a larger trend that has seen the diocese build or expand several new churches in recent years.
Since 2016, five new churches have been built, according to figures provided by the office of director of real estate and facilities John Minieri. Three churches, including Saint-BenoÃ®t, are being enlarged.
The expansion contrasts with trends in many other parts of the United States, including the Northeast and Midwest, according to Rev. Thomas P. Gaunt, SJ, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. CARA is a social science research entity serving the Catholic Church since 1964.
âThe Diocese of Phoenix has increased the number of new Catholics year after year. The bulk of that is the migration patterns. These are not people who abandon churches elsewhere but move to different regions. You have a great contrast in the massive migration of Catholic movements from the northeast to the southwest, âsaid Fr. Gaunt explained.
Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek, all south and east of Phoenix, have experienced robust growth. When Saint-BenoÃ®t was created, it served 24 registered families. Today that number is 1,184. Between 400 and 500 people attend mass every Sunday, according to church stewardship and development coordinator Jennifer Sentz.
What makes the Saint-BenoÃ®t project different is that it starts in a period characterized by a lagging supply chain and labor market linked to the COVID 19 pandemic. But after nearly two decades, these obstacles are only the last stage in the journey of the faithful of Saint Benedict.
âRealizing the vision shows you how strong and willful the community is and how great our faith is,â Jerry Biegler said.
The bishop accepted and prayed that the community of Saint-Benedict would be further strengthened for this project.
âIt has been 36 years since the parish of Saint-BenoÃ®t was founded. And all the ups and downs of the ward since its inception remind us of the prayer of Psalm 90. âOh, Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation. Give us the joy of balancing our affliction for the years in which we have known misfortune. May the favor of the Lord be upon us, and may the work of our hands be successful. ‘
âWe are building a beautiful church so that God receives the glory, not ourselves. Our own hearts and minds will be prompted to want to praise him even more and to live a life of holiness that shows the beauty and goodness of God. These principles, already alive here, should develop in the months to come.
“I was thrilled,” said Karen Aherne, Eamonn’s wife. âI barely slept last night, thinking ‘I can’t believe this is actually here.’ We’re on our way. “