By Celine Klosterman
PELLA — Some 140 years ago, 40 Catholics gathered in a Pella church the size of a one-bedroom apartment.
Just a few days ago, roughly 600 Catholics gathered in Pella in a brand-new, 18,800-square-foot building. Many of them had worked 10 years to give their growing, 330-family parish that larger home, but Bishop Martin Amos noted their work isn’t done yet.
Catholics must keep building on the work of the Apostles, he said in his homily July 19 for the dedication of St. Mary Parish’s church. Current and former parishioners, about a dozen visiting priests and deacons, Knights of Columbus, 10 altar servers and others filled pews and folding chairs as the bishop spoke.
Those believers are “living stones” who “continue to shout to the entire world by words, actions and deep faith in Jesus that Christ is the Son of God,” he said.
Standing at the ambo with floor-to-ceiling windows behind him, Bishop Amos acknowledged believers’ joy in dedicating their new worship space. Although the church was sprinkled with holy water, anointed with oil and filled with incense, the celebration ultimately wasn’t about a building, he said. “It is about a vibrant Catholic community preparing a place to gather.”
He noted that in the gathering place infants and the elect will come to the baptismal font to be adopted by their heavenly father and join parishioners as brothers and sisters. Catholics will receive second baptism in the sacrament of reconciliation, he continued. And hopefully, a newly ordained priest will offer his first Mass in the church, he said.
“But most of all, it is here amid these bricks and stones and concrete that you as living stones will gather to be nourished by Word and sacrament,” Bishop Amos said.
He voiced hope that believers would answer God’s call that day and in years ahead.
Later, Father Dennis Hoffman, pastor, thanked those who’d contributed to building the church and invited building committee members to stand for applause. “It’s been a long 10 years,” he said.
He told The Catholic Messenger St. Mary’s still has about 20 years before it will see the final phase of its building project. Then the current 450-seat worship space, built for about $4.3 million, will be converted into a parish hall, and a larger worship space will be added to the building.
Now, the overall design of the worship space is simple, which Fr. Hoffman wrote in St. Mary’s dedication booklet will help Catholics focus on the Eucharist and prayer.
“It’s beautiful,” said Msgr. Robert Gruss, who served as pastor at St. Mary’s when plans began forming for a new church. Now, he’s on summer break from his role as vice rector for seminary life and director of human formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. “It’s a great blessing to see years of parishioners’ hard work come to fruition.”
Parishioner Nancy Meck voiced similar appreciation for their work. “I had favored the more ornate style, but after seeing our beautiful new parish, I love it,” she said. “…I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit here.”
She envisions the new church further bringing the parish together, which she hopes will ease some small conflicts in the community. “It gives me a lot of hope.”
Now the church can accommodate bigger crowds, parishioner Beth Holcomb noted; St. Mary’s former, 30-year-old church seats 200. She lamented that she’s run into parishioners she didn’t know, but hopes she’ll get to know more Catholics since they’ll now gather at two weekend Masses instead of three.
“We’ve worked for, thought about and prayed for this so long, and to walk in on this beautiful day and see all this, what can you say but ‘Oh my goodness?’” she said. “It’s a gift.”
St. Mary’s hopes to keep ministering to Central College students
St. Mary Parish and Central College in Pella hope to continue their relationship now that the church has moved about 2 miles north of its former site a block from campus, said parish and college representatives.
Deacon Don Efinger, whose position as the college’s Catholic minister was downsized in January, is looking into arranging transportation for students who want to attend Mass in St. Mary’s new church. Central College has twice weekly ecumenical services, but the roughly 18 percent of students who identify as Catholic depend on the parish for Mass.
During the academic year, about 150 Central students attend weekend Mass at St. Mary’s, Deacon Efinger said. Some also attend a college Mass every other Tuesday night, a Mass that he said will continue to be celebrated at St. Mary’s former church until the building is sold. And he has continued Bible studies, small discussion groups and retreats for students that began when he was still serving on campus.
At St. Mary Parish, several college students help teach religious education, participate in the parish’s annual WATCH (We Are The Church) retreat, and help with music ministry.
Parishioners may “adopt” a student – as about a dozen people did last year – and St. Mary’s welcomes new Catholic students with cookies each year.
“Students say they feel like St. Mary’s is their second parish,” Deacon Efinger said.
Central College has about 1,700 students. More of them report being Catholic than being members of any other denomination, said Connie Cross, the college’s marketing and media relations director.
Architecture for St. Mary Catholic Church
“Presenting strength and a permanence inherent in the architecture of this central Iowa community, St. Mary’s architecture is a simple contemporary interpretation of the traditional ancient images of ‘church.’ Located on the edge of Pella by the rolling woods of Big Rock Park, the building site makes the most of scenery and open space. The pastoral setting cannot but help acknowledge God’s presence everywhere, while the church building itself encloses a place to gather, a sign and reminder of the immanence of the transcendence of God – whose presence cannot be contained or limited to any single place but who dwelt among us in Christ and in His invitation to call Him “Father” as His people.
“The reddish brown brick and gables on the outside tie this church into the greater community of Pella without mimicking details that are not a part of this parish’s history. The cast stone lintel at the entry serves as a ‘sheep-gate’ into the building. Cast stone lintels inside continue this theme around the perimeter of the worship space to support the walls and remind of God’s care and enfolding of His people.
“From the beginning, the building committee and members of St. Mary’s expressed a desire that the new church should be warm and welcoming, looking to the future while conveying the sense of ‘being in the presence of God.’ The space, designed to serve as the place of worship for today, is also a sign of the pilgrimage of God’s people.
“It is the first phase at this new site and is also designed to one day convert into a fellowship hall as the parish community expands through the years necessitating a larger worship space. Use of common materials such as wood, block and concrete on the interior of the worship space and an abundance of windows for natural light reinforces a simple nobility, enhancing the centrality of worship in this place. Color added throughout the building in the offices and classrooms is both of the earth and exuberant, like its people. The spaces balance community with a sense of reverence and awe.”
— RDG Planning & Design, Omaha