St. Francis Xavier parishioners see ‘Master’s Plan’ come to life

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The new exterior of St. Francis Xavier Parish now includes a parish hall plus education and outreach center. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
The new exterior of St. Francis Xavier Parish now includes a parish hall plus education and outreach center. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

It is finished. Three words sum up a decade of planning, fundraising and building at St. Francis Xavier Parish. The result is an almost wholly new parish — and most certainly school — campus that held its fourth and final dedication Jan. 24.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed the new parish center between the final English Mass of the morning and the parish’s only Spanish liturgy. Parishioners from both Masses joined him.

So did roughly a dozen clergy, largely current leadership and other Jesuit priests who served at St. Francis Xavier over the years. All were eager to see “The Master’s Plan” fully realized. Fruits of the final $9 million capital campaign resulted in St. Francis Xavier’s first parish hall in the current church’s more than 55-year history.

CHannel 12's James Quiñones emceed the formal program Jan. 24. It included a blessing of the space, historic video presentation and short remarks. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
CHannel 12’s James Quiñones emceed the formal program Jan. 24. It included a blessing of the space, historic video presentation and short remarks. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Project completion opened a new chapter of parish life. Up to 600 people comfortably gathered in the mission-style hall. Sets of pocket sliding doors allowed a small crowd gathered in the courtyard to also remain a part of festivities.

Parish leaders said the new covered walkway and open gathering space at St. Francis Xavier expands its hospitality options for formal and informal gatherings. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Parish leaders said the new covered walkway and open gathering space at St. Francis Xavier expands its hospitality options for formal and informal gatherings. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Parish leaders envision the space to become a natural option for on-site wedding receptions, family funeral visitations and other life celebrations. One woman’s husband was looking forward to using a new 50-seat chapel east of the hall for his funeral. They were long-time parishioners, but he passed away three months before its completion.

Jesuit Father Dan Sullivan, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish and School, greets students from his office balcony Jan. 21 while holding birthday balloons. (photo from school Facebook page)
Jesuit Father Dan Sullivan, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish and School, greets students from his office balcony Jan. 21 while holding birthday balloons. (photo from school Facebook page)

St. Francis Xavier’s expanded parish grounds also includes an outdoor prayer garden, administrative offices and meeting space on the upper level — with Jesuit Father Dan Sullivan having a private balcony that overlooks the parking lot and school — plus a lower level maintenance shop underground and three classrooms ready to welcome Catechesis of the Good Shepherd students in August. Parish leadership decided to let students finish out the spring semester at the school.

Kim Cavnar, principal of St. Francis Xavier, looks forward to using the hall for student retreats. She once had to borrow space at neighboring Brophy College Preparatory and had to schedule them during one of Brophy’s school holidays.

The 34,000-square-foot parish center also greatly expanded St. Francis Xavier’s pantry and storage space for St. Vincent de Paul outreach. Conference activity that serves an average of 70-80 clients each week — some 6,000 food boxes last year — now operates beside the hall’s full-service kitchen with an overflow storage space on the lower level. Vincentians have turned away pallets of food in the past due to lack of available space.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses the expanded food pantry for St. Vincent de Paul outreach at St. Francis Xavier Jan. 24. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses the expanded food pantry for St. Vincent de Paul outreach at St. Francis Xavier Jan. 24. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The parish center finally centralized program activity that once shared space with the school. St. Francis Xavier offers more than 170 religious and educational programs to parishioners, students, area residents and the community at large. Architects somehow found room to add another 70 parking spaces to allow for increased interest in Ignatian and Jesuit spirituality programs, spiritual director training and Kino Border Initiative efforts.

“We are committing to have this facility be the focus and beginning of an Ignatian/Jesuit resource center that will realize an expansion of Jesuit influence in the center of the city of Phoenix and across Arizona,” Fr. Sullivan said.

Bishop Olmsted acknowledged the work, sacrifice and prayer that parishioners poured into parish expansion.

“It will be a center for parish activities. A place where we will come to know one another and give our witness to our faith in Christ,” the bishop said.

Jesuit Father Michael Weiler, Jesuit provincial for California, agreed.

“This hall and building are tools and instruments to be used to introduce the love of the Lord as you know it,” Fr. Weiler said. He also noted Fr. Sullivan’s leadership throughout the campaign.

The crowd applauds the financial support of the Anderson Family Foundation during the blessing of St. Francis Xavier Parish hall Jan. 24. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
The crowd applauds the financial support of the Anderson Family Foundation during the blessing of St. Francis Xavier Parish hall Jan. 24. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Fr. Sullivan credited the moral support of various committees including the building, finance and vision and development committees. It was a long process, but their efforts made it far less burdensome, he said.

The pastor also acknowledged Joe Anderson and the Anderson Family Foundation for keeping the project on schedule. Time again, the family with four generations connected to St. Francis Xavier Parish and School offered donations and matching grants. Joe’s dad, Novian, was once an usher. Martha, his mom was a daily Massgoer. He roughly calculated the thousands of Masses they attended.

“This building was named after my mom and dad because this was their second home,” Anderson said, fighting back tears. Now it can be for generations of Catholics to come, too.

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