Sun Lakes parish isn’t just for the ‘birds’ anymore

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares blesses a statue of St. Stephen at St. Steven Parish in Sun Lakes. The bishop celebrated a Mass commemorating the parish’s 25th anniversary Oct. 27. (Kevin Theriault/CATHOLIC SUN)
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares blesses a statue of St. Stephen at St. Steven Parish in Sun Lakes. The bishop celebrated a Mass commemorating the parish’s 25th anniversary Oct. 27. (Kevin Theriault/CATHOLIC SUN)

SUN LAKES — St. Steven Parish celebrated its 25th anniversary not by looking back at the past, but by looking forward and paving the way for the next 25 years.

Fr. Pierre Hissey, St. Steven’s pastor since 2005, recalled how the parish has changed over the years from a mostly elderly Anglo population, to a more diverse parish with an influx of young families. “Fulton Ranch is right in the middle of this parish, and it brings in a lot of young people that we were not serving when I first came here.”

That influx of youth has kept St. Steven a vibrant and active community. The increase in young parishioners led to St. Steven’s starting its first religious education program in 2005.

“It’s our responsibility,” Fr. Hissey said. “The youth are our treasure for the future, so we were looking for the opportunity to really get something going.”

An increase in ethnic diversity has also taken place among the 1,600 families in the parish. “I like a multi-ethnic parish,” Fr. Hissey said. “All shades and accents — that is a true reflection of the Church.”

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St. Steven Parish
24827 S Dobson Road
Sun Lakes Arizona 85248
Phone: (480) 895-9266

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The parish mission statement defines them as an open, welcoming and reverent community. “That’s what feeds us,” said Veronica Beamer, president of the parish council. “So we thought instead of having an anniversary event, we’d have a year-long celebration.”

The celebration began in October of 2012 and culminated this Oct.  27 in an anniversary Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares. In his homily, the bishop reflected on all of the sacraments received and participated in over the past 25 years at the parish. “Grace upon grace; blessing upon blessing. Truly a day to be joyful and thankful!,” he said.

The bishop was also on hand to dedicate a new statue of St. Stephen, the deacon and martyr, which will greet those who arrive at the parish. To help raise funds for the statue, the parish decided on stones, a fitting way to pay tribute to Stephen.

Going back to the early days, parishioners were encouraged to bring stones from their homes or from their vacation travels. They still bring these stones today. They are now placed at the feet of St. Stephen.

“We got the idea of ‘living stones,’ little granite brick, to remember who we have been and those that have been here,” Fr. Pierre said.

Each ministry created a stone to demonstrate its essence. There were fundraiser events and some ministries donated funds, but most of the funding for the statue came from the stones. “We wanted the ministries to say what paved the way for us, and what will pave the way for the next 25 years,” Veronica Beamer said.

Longtime parishioner Chela Graf marveled at the evolution of the parish from a place where she knew everyone, to one where she feels lucky to know three out of 10. “I’m so glad to see the young people moving in; it just gives life to the parish,” Graf said.

The active, vibrant life of this parish community was  evident at the anniversary celebration, which included a catered luncheon.

“Of all the parishes I have been involved in, this parish has such a wealth of information, gifts and talents from people from all different parts of the country,” said parochial vicar Fr. Eric Housenect. “They come here and they really form their own family, working for the good of the Church and the community.”

At St. Steven’s the old and the young come together to help pave the way for the future. “We want to be a church that finds new roads and is able to step outside of itself, and that takes audacity and courage,” Veronica Beamer said. “It is awesome to see what we have become, and what we can become.”

As he blessed the new statue, Bishop Nevares prayed, “May we follow in the footsteps of the Lord, keeping before us the example of St. Stephen, and grow to a maturity measured not by nature, but by the fullness of Christ.”