BUCKEYE — It was a homecoming three times over and eight years in the making.
St. Henry parishioners moved onto the new property Feb. 1, seven hours before a midnight Mass would be offered celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The Blessed Sacrament had a new, permanent home in a 150-seat chapel.
The parish’s nearly 700 registered families once again had their own place for worship — the fourth since 1906. More importantly to Catholics across the diocese, the move meant no one has to transform an elementary school multi-purpose room into a space suitable for Mass anymore.
St. Henry parishioners spent eight years doing just that at Sundance Elementary School, which is more than two-and-a-half miles northeast of the parish’s new property. Five years ago, at least three other parishes faced the same situation.
“Buckeye outgrew its britches. The church was only a 300-seater,” Fr. Billy Kosco, pastor, told The Catholic Sun after leading a eucharistic procession into the new chapel.
More than 1,000 families show up for the two Sunday Masses. That wasn’t the only challenge.
The town, the nation’s second-fastest growing suburb in 2006, has ballooned eight-fold since 2000 and acquired a larger planning area to go with it. So the “old church,” which will house parish administration and meetings until the next phase is complete, was no longer widely accessible. Largely rural areas and general commerce lie south of it.
Future communities are planned as far north as Happy Valley Road and the Carefree Highway. The new parish property is about four miles north of the old one, on Lower Buckeye Road just south of Interstate 10 and Miller Road.
A couple of hundred parishioners joined in the eucharistic procession from a neighboring high school to the new church. They sang, “Bendito, bendito, bendito sea Dios” as they walked, the sun setting around them.
Parishioners with a collection of camera phones, stand-alone cameras and iPads awaited the procession in the courtyard. Six Knights of Columbus in regalia and another six men supporting a tent for the Blessed Sacrament led the way into the chapel.
“Blessed be God. Blessed be His holy name,” Fr. Kosco began, the first words uttered to a group of Catholics gathered in the chapel.
He went on to lead the “Prayer for a new parish home,” which many St. Henry churchgoers had memorized in at least one language. The parish has a fair mix of English- and Spanish-speaking Catholics.
After benediction, Fr. Kosco encouraged others to explore the new 150-seat chapel with a high ceiling and a tile floor.
The chapel also features Stations of the Cross, tastefully hung lights and rafters for aesthetics. Ecce Agnus Dei, or Latin for “Behold the Lamb of God,” is engraved in front of the wooden altar.
“The new space is beautiful. It’s very modern, but still very peaceful and reverence-based,” said Elisia Gaiza, who has been a St. Henry parishioner for 30-some years.
The hall, which also features a large kitchen, is a replica of what St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish in Anthem opened as its temporary church nearly three-and-a-half years ago. The hall will seat 600 for Mass and any missions or catechesis talks on the horizon.
Some ministries and groups might meet at the new property on a trial basis. Parish ambassadors will “staff” the new location during the day and offer tours and parish information.
Gaiza is excited to see the parish grow and welcome new faces. Deacon Victor Leon is also eager to embrace growth. The parish already offers religious education in Tonopah. Fr. Kosco hopes to ultimately build the church followed by a school or adult education center.
“The whole concept is, this isn’t complete,” Fr. Kosco said.
Liturgical decorations will be minimal until the permanent church is built in the project’s third phase. A campaign to get Phase II underway kicks off this fall.
Donations to the “Friends and Family Fund” to complete Phase I came from across Arizona, 42 other states and five countries. St. Henry parishioners raised $60,000 alone just by each of them asking one person to pitch in $10 for the project.
St. Henry Catholic Church
24750 W. Lower Buckeye Road