Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares installed Claretian Father Fred LeClaire as the pastor of the newly elevated parish, St. Catherine Laboure. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The community of St. Catherine Laboure, located near Prescott in Chino Valley, has tripled in size over the last dozen years. Along with that growth came the recent designation of the community as a parish within the Diocese of Phoenix.

Fr. Fred Adamson, moderator of the Curia, said that the new designation for St. Catherine Laboure establishes it with separate identity under canon law.

“There’s a stability that happens when a community becomes a parish,” Fr. Adamson said. “They’ve been functioning essentially as a parish for some time.” St. Catherine’s already has a pastoral council, finance council and religious education program, characteristics of a parish, he said.

Claretian Father Fred LeClaire, administrator of St. Catherine since 2004, was installed as pastor of the newly designated parish by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares at a Sept. 2 Mass.

“The parishioners are very excited and very happy,” Fr. LeClaire said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve just gone from being one the largest missions to one of the smallest parishes overnight, so our work is really cut out for us.”

St. Catherine’s was established as a mission of Sacred Heart Parish in 1980 and held its first Mass in what is now the church hall on March 23 of that year. A new sanctuary was erected in 1990.  Members of the parish, Fr. LeClaire said, are a mix of senior citizens as well as some younger families. About 15 percent are Hispanic and a Spanish Mass is celebrated on Sunday evenings.

The day-to-day operations at St. Catherine Laboure will remain essentially the same, Fr. LeClaire said, but the designation as a parish is more than simply a change in name.

“I think there’s a greater responsibility to carry on the work of the Lord because you don’t have another parish overseeing your operations,” Fr. LeClaire said.

As a mission, St. Catherine’s needed approval from Sacred Heart Parish in order to begin any new ministries, build new structures or make financial decisions. “Now the responsibility is ours,” Fr. LeClaire said. “Basically, the decisions made here will stay here now.”

Linda Marschner has belonged to St. Catherine’s since 2006 and helps fold the newsletter and count the collection. She said everyone she’s talked to is comfortable with the change is designation

“It shouldn’t be a big change,” Marschner said. “The people make the church, whether it’s a mission or a parish. The fact that Fr. Fred is going to remain, people are happy.”