SCOTTSDALE — With three symbolic knocks on the front door, St. Bernadette Parish in Scottsdale officially opened its church building after decades in the making. Several hundred parishioners and guests attended the three-hour dedication Mass with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and more than a dozen priests May 25.
The rite began with a silent procession from the gym of St. John XXIII School located adjacent to the church, a building designed to reflect classic French-style architecture in recognition of its patroness, St. Bernadette.
“I can’t believe it’s finally here,” said Michaela Wuycheck, 19, a student at Northern Arizona University who traveled home every few months to check on the progress. “I have waited my whole life for this.”
St. Bernadette was established 22 years ago and the new church is its first permanent worship space. The $7 million, 22,000-square-foot church features a bell tower soaring more than 100 feet into the sky, walls stretching 65 feet high and padded seating for 900 people.
“We notice beauty more when we’re aware everything is a gift from God,” Bishop Olmsted said in his opening remarks, later likening the bell tower to a sentinel “calling people to pray.”
Wuycheck, who grew up in the parish attending the school and Mass in the multi-use hall along with her two sisters, was awed by the individuals gathered to dedicate, bless and worship in the new church.
“This is a beautiful example of the strength and generosity of our community. I have been anticipating it for so long, it’s just beautiful,” she said, adding, “I’ll be married here.”
The church is built in traditional cruciform architecture, the shape of a cross. The style is designed specifically for the Eucharistic celebration — its shape brings into focus the Mass — the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ.
“Church architecture impacts the way that we worship and the way that we worship impacts what we believe,” Bishop Olmsted said in his homily. “What we believe shapes our personal relationship with the Lord. Therefore, what the pastor and people of the parish of St. Bernadette have done by constructing this magnificent church is far more than many imagine.”
The Rite of Dedication involves all the senses in a beautiful and sacred ceremony where God is invited to be part of and forever present in the space.
The entrance into the church led by Fr. Pete Rossa, pastor, and Bishop Olmsted symbolizes the gathering of God’s people in His house and where He meets them.
The sprinkling rite followed with Bishop Olmsted blessing the water as a sign of repentance, a reminder of baptism and a symbol of purification for the people, the altar and the building — all of which were blessed.
Following the readings, the actual dedication rite begins with the Litany of the Saints, the depositing of the relics in the altar and a prayer of dedication.
The bishop then anointed the altar with sacred chrism oil making it a symbol of Christ and the anointing of the walls permanently marked the building as a house of worship.
The incensing rite was followed by the covering and lighting of the altar; calling on the light of Christ to shine in the church.
“From this building members of Christ’s Body, the Church, will be sent forth to bear witness to the kingdom of God,” the bishop said. “He will fill their hearts with love so that they can give it away with joy.”
In the weeks leading up to the dedication, the parish hosted special events from a donor reception to burying the parish’s first time capsule under a huge boulder unearthed in 1998 while building the hall.
The rock, affectionately known as “Peter” in reference to Matthew 16:18, “… upon this rock I will build my church …” is an item most associated with the early days of community.
Patrick Hoernig and his family have been members of the parish since its founding in 1995, when Mass was celebrated in a cafeteria at a local elementary school.
As a member of the building committee and finance council chair for six years, Hoernig said it was important for the church to be a place of welcome and worship and “not just a building.”
“We wanted to put together a place that would be comfortable in its surroundings and a place where people could truly pray,” Hoernig said. “We knew by waiting and working very hard we would get a gift we wouldn’t get anywhere else.”
Fr. Rossa received a standing ovation during his emotional greeting, recalling how sales from a children’s lemonade stand were the first donation for the new church.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Everyone made a difference and left their mark,” he said. “I’m humbled how we all came together and for tonight — where the church was given to God.”