PHOENIX – When the leaders of St. Benedict Parish in the Ahwatukee area of southeastern Phoenix began planning more than two decades ago for what would become the parish’s permanent church, they scarcely could have envisioned the hurdles and setbacks that lie ahead.
“There were so many setbacks,” recalled Marilyn Johnston, the parish’s pastoral council secretary and one of many who helped with the original capital campaign
“Everything about this seemed to fall by the wayside,” said Dcn. Ed Winkelbauer as he prepared for the finished church’s dedication Saturday night. “But this community is finally getting what it deserves for the last 25 years,” he smiled. “We have a church.”
In an evening of ceremony steeped in centuries of Church tradition and following the codes set forth in Canon law, Bishop John P. Dolan led nearly 1,000 worshippers —with assistance from Pastor James Aboyi, V.C., Parochial Vicar Fr. Manasseh Iorchir, V.C., and parish staff, with help from students at St. John Bosco, the parish grade school —- in the dedication rites and first Mass at the brand-new St. Benedict Church.
“We’re just so happy to be at this point,” Johnston said. “The faith of our parishioners is what got us here today.”
The $9.1 million project added 11,000 new square feet to a structure previously intended as a gym for the parish’s elementary school. St. Benedict repurposed that space by enlarging the sanctuary, with modern pews, boosting capacity by 300, and installing an 88-seat chapel, choir loft, dedicated sacristy and vesting rooms, and an expanded St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, as well as other features.
ENTER WITH THANKSGIVING
Canon Law 1217 directs that “After construction has been completed properly, a new church is to be dedicated or at least blessed as soon as possible; the laws of the sacred liturgy are to be observed. Churches, especially cathedrals and parish churches, are to be dedicated by the solemn rite.”
The bishop and congregation gathered at the multiuse area within neighboring St. John Bosco multi-use area that was their home during the project. After a short prayer, Bishop Dolan led a procession to the closed front doors of the new church, where he stopped to accept the completed building plan from its architect, an act formally turning the church back over to its bishop.
Jon Anderson, principal of Cole Architects in Gilbert, presented the document to Bishop Dolan, who then called on Fr. Aboyi to open the doors.
“Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving, enter His courts with songs of praise,” the bishop declared, reciting from Psalm 100.
He later marveled at what was inside.
“Father James, you should be very proud. What a beautiful church!” the bishop said, opening his Homily.
“Today is a day of rejoicing,” he said, referencing the First Reading from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, a layman who led Israel’s rebuilding after its return from Babylonian exile.
The bishop cited the Second Reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, to remind the parish faithful they were no longer sojourners but part of a Church built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. He used the Gospel reading from St. Matthew, to note Jesus’ declaration to Peter and the rock upon which He would build His Church.
A SAINT FOR THE MASSES
Canon Law 1237 also directs the altar dedication of a new church as well as the placement of a saintly relic within that altar.
Known as the Father of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict wrote the “Rule of Saint Benedict. It became the norm for all Western Monasticism and is still practiced today by Benedictines the world over, according to the Saint Benedictine Center monastery in Harvard, Mass. The Benedictine Order has given the Church over 57,000 known saints and 35 popes, of whom 17 are Saints or Blesseds.
Unable to obtain a relic of St. Benedict, the Diocese provided one of St. George.
The patron of knights, soldiers, scouts, fencers, archers, farmers and shepherds, Born to noble Christian parents in Cappadocia, or modern-day Turkey, George eventually joined the Roman army, where advanced to the rank of colonel. He was martyred in 303 A.D. after Emperor Diocletian learned of His Christian faith and had George executed for refusing to renounce that faith and offer sacrifices to the Roman gods.
The bishop placed the relic into an aperture at the base of the altar, followed by the congregation’s prayer for intercession from the saint.
Then, removing his chasable and donning the linen gremial — or apron — the bishop anointed the altar with Holy Chrism. Ministers joined in, applying Chrism to points on the church walls, The congregation and church were then incensed, followed by the lighting of the altar candle.
It was a momentous day of joy.
‘WE HAD TO WANDER’
Founded in 1985 in neighboring Chandler, St. Benedict was moved by the Diocese to its present site just over the edge of Phoenix in 2004 in a mostly residential neighborhood complimented by commercial and some light industry.
Around 1,400 families call the parish home. Yet the parish never had a permanent church.
Staff and lay leaders had envisioned one, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s under the leadership of Fr. Bob Binta, the pastor, that the project started gaining traction.
The parish formed a building committee in 2013, led by Bob Prezkop, a retired business executive and strategic planner who would also co-lead the design and construction team. Three years later, then-Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted directed St. Benedict to come up with a design plan. The parish also launched its “Living Our Faith, Building Our Church” capital campaign.
St. Benedict appeared on its way.
But, like Israel’s sojourn from Mt. Sinai through the desert guided by God’s cloud, there would be places where the journey would pause, or at least slow down.
“We had to wander around the desert for 40 years,” said Maryola Sanchez-Fabilena, the parish’s Coordinator of Stewardship and Engagement.
On Aug. 20, 2018, after a 20-month battle with lung cancer, Fr. Binta passed away. He was less than two weeks from marking 28 years in the priesthood. Fr. Aboyi, who was parochial vicar at the time, recalled the sadness during remarks at the 2021 groundbreaking.
“(There were) a lot of painful moments,” he said.
‘HE LOVED THE CHURCH’
Meanwhile, material and labor costs rose, prompting Fr. Aboyi to rethink the project’s scope. After conferring with parish leaders, the plans were scaled down.
Then, in early 2020, the global COVID pandemic shut down supply chains. As work slowed, costs shot up.
The parish persevered, and on Nov. 6, 2021, St. Benedict finally broke ground.
There were more tests of faith.
An architect company employee’s error required correction that delayed work for a time last year, but by the fall of 2023, the project was in its home stretch.
Then, on Nov. 13, Prezkop, who had been diagnosed sometime earlier with a pulmonary condition, passed away.
Some of his final acts embodied the parish’s faith and resolve.
“He knew his time was coming. Two days before he passed, he was still calling the pew (manufacturing) company.” Sanchez-Fabilena recalled, her voice cracking.
“He was very committed,” recalled Prezkop’s widow, Carol, just before the dedication.
“He wanted to see it through. He had spent so much time involved in it. He was their go-to guy,” she said.
“He loved the Church.”
Frank Polimene, a retired custom cabinet maker, recalled how Prezkop got him to donate his time and talent to fashion not only the altar, but the cross and ambo as well.
“I wanted it (simple); a pillar of strength,” he said of the altar, a fixture made of alder — a wood similar to birch that holds staining well — and a 3-inch thick quartz top. “The Catholic Church always has been a pillar of strength for me, somewhere I went when I was feeling down,” he explained.
Like so many others, Polimene said his faith never wavered during the project’s ups and downs.
“God does these things for a reason. There’s a purpose and a reason for everything. We’re going to find (that) out someday. You just have faith this is God’s plan,” he said.
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2024-01-23 16:04:38 , LOCAL NEWS Archives – The Catholic Sun