GLENDALE — Members of St. James Parish gathered Sept. 8 for Mass followed by a festive dinner to celebrate their 30th anniversary as a parish.
The celebration was a vibrant, multicultural affair with both African and traditional Mexican dancers and music. Prayers of the faithful were offered in Swahili, Spanish, Samoan, Hindi, French, Italian and English.
Two priests who are both natives of Uganda staff the Glendale parish. There’s also a weekly Mass in Spanish.
Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, pastor of St. James since 2005, said that the anniversary celebration had a forward-looking focus.
“It was a moment of renewal for the next 30 or more years both spiritually as well as structurally,” Fr. Aliunzi said. “We are planning on remodeling the church and giving it the regular feeling of a church inside as well outside.”
Pam Hester, business manager of the parish since 1999, said Masses are held in what was originally designed as a multipurpose building.
“We are in the beginning stages right now, but we’re hoping to turn it into a real church — we don’t have kneelers or pews,” Hester said.
Fr. Greg Schlarb, Vicar of Stewardship for the Diocese of Phoenix, was raised in South Africa and was asked to be the homilist at the anniversary Mass.
“What we find here is the real presence of Christ,” Fr. Schlarb said of the parish. “There’s more to come. There’s more good presenting itself in this community. Let’s open ourselves up to prayer, to hear the Word of God, in prayer and in Scripture, bringing us together as community.”
Fr. David Sanfilippo, Vicar for Priests for the diocese, was also on hand to mark the anniversary. “You’re living witness of that the Word of God has no boundaries,” Fr. Sanfilippo said. “Until the Lord returns, may you continue to be signs of the Lord’s love.”
Ten of the original founding members of the parish were presented with a decorative St. James Cross in honor of their contributions to the community.
“From the very beginning of St. James, they were registered here and carried the cross in the positive way of the Lord, through their life, through the sacrifices they made which have made St. James what it is today,” Fr. Aliunzi said. “They have remained a constant.”
Barb Schoolcraft is one of those original members.
Schoolcraft recalled the parish’s first rummage sale being held out of the back of a pick-up truck. She was on hand for the first spaghetti dinner, and for nine years, managed the snack bar for Friday-night bingo. She’s also been involved in the seniors group and is a long-standing member of the collection-counting group.
“Fr. Robert [Aliunzi] said he thought I’d done every job in the parish except be a priest,” Schoolcraft quipped. “We are a family,” she said. “Everybody supports everybody else and when you need help, they’re always there for you.”
Five years ago, at age 82, Schoolcraft traveled to Uganda to witness first hand St. James Parish’s major outreach: Efforts to Educate the Needy Children of Uganda. Parishioners have been sponsoring the education of children, many of them orphans, in the African nation through the non-profit EENU for the last several years and plan to build a school there as well.
J.D. Long-García contributed to this story.