Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses the new confessionals — built according to Canon Law — at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert Oct. 3. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

GILBERT — More than 200 St. Anne parishioners were on hand Oct. 3 to witness Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted bless their newly constructed confessionals.

When Fr. Sergio Fita became pastor at St. Anne back in January, he wanted to make the sacrament of penance more available to the faithful. The first step, he decided, was to construct a permanent place inside the church that would catechize without words and invite people to experience the mercy of God.

While in Rome, Fr. Fita had the opportunity to hear confessions inside the more traditional, closed booth with a fixed, movable grate that affords penitents anonymity. His desire was to have a similar set-up at St. Anne.

Steve Greene, director of parish administration, said the project had its challenges. He searched for two months and found plenty of companies in North America that could build ambos and altars, but none that could erect a traditional confessional.

Components for the new confessionals at St. Anne were handmade in Italy by Genuflex, the company that built confessionals in famous churches such as St. John Lateran and St. Giovanni Rotondo. The various parts of the confessionals were then assembled in the United States.

The new confessionals, Greene told attendees at the dinner fundraiser dubbed “Confession Is Beautiful,” are “a legacy for parishioners’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

The light-wood confessionals were constructed under an arch that bears a verse from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “With eternal love I have loved you, with mercy I have drawn you to myself.” The parish will set a mosaic portraying Christ the Good Shepherd above the confessionals at the end of the month.

Before sprinkling holy water on the new confessionals and blessing them, Bishop Olmsted spoke to the crowd about the importance of the sacrament of penance, which he said has a close connection to holiness.

“Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II both confessed frequently to advance in their love for God and to advance in humility and love,” he said.

After the blessing, attendees enjoyed an Italian dinner at nearby Villa Sienna. Catholic composer and musician Michael John Poirier provided the musical entertainment prior to a presentation by Catholic lay evangelist and EWTN radio personality Jesse Romero, who spoke on conversion and confession.

The sacrament of penance is now available at St. Anne Parish 22 hours each week: On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 5-7 p.m.; on Saturdays, 4-8 p.m.; and on Sundays, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.