Altar servers lead the closing procession of a Nov. 4 Mass celebrating 40 years of parish life at Our Lady of Joy. The Carefree parish started as a mission.
(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

CAREFREE  — Our Lady of Joy parishioners have been finding countless ways to express the love of Christ since the community was established 40 years ago.

Back then an ecumenical spirit echoed throughout the foothills. Today, their joy for the faith also shines through stewardship efforts that spill over into the diocesan and greater communities.

“The strength of the parish is the focus on the liturgy, which then inspires us to do a great number of charitable works around the community,” Fr. Patrick Farley, pastor, told The Catholic Sun during a 40th anniversary reception Nov. 4, 10 days prior to the actual anniversary.

At Mass minutes earlier, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares pointed out how the church’s artwork captures many joyous moments of Mary’s motherhood. A new mural in the back depicts the first three joyful mysteries. What joy must have filled her soul knowing that she was chosen among all women, the bishop said.

“I especially think about the joy of Mary in the Holy Family,” he continued. “The Holy Family is our model and our example of how all of us are called to live in our individual family.”

He reminded a nearly full 900-seat church that Catholics also function as a parish family. There’s joy that fills hearts every time they gather to hear the Liturgy of the Word and celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Bishop Nevares described the joy in celebrating the other sacraments too.

Christ also calls Catholics to humility and Fr. Farley said a new archway into the church grounds sets that tone.

“It reminds us that we must be small and humble as we enter the courts of the Lord,” Fr. Farley said.

The bell is a reminder to pray and the cross a symbol of the capstone of the faith. The minor facelift is the latest in a series of parish upgrades.

Our Lady of Joy started by celebrating Masses at a nearby inn with the first all-purpose building constructed in 1974. By 1980, a trailer was added to the 10-acre property to offer religious education. What started as a largely retirement parish became and remains a mix of retirees, year-round families and some snowbirds. The original church opened in 1987 with rapid growth forcing the parish to double the church size eight years later.

That was one of four major building projects Msgr. Richard Moyer, who was the longest serving pastor (1993-2002), oversaw. He also spearheaded the remodeling of the original building to create a preschool and the creation of an administration building and atrium/teen center.

“We never went in debt. They were a great group of people,” Msgr. Moyer said. “Those were fun years.”

The parish reached nearly 3,000 families by the close of the century —1,000 more than anticipated. The opening of St. Gabriel the Archangel, which celebrated its 10th anniversary Nov. 10, relieved overcrowding.

Maureen Perfect, who was one of three original parish council members at Our Lady of Joy, attended the anniversary celebration. She said it was fun helping establish parish life because everyone pitched in and traditions and standards could be created.

She remembers holding the Stations of the Cross in the desert without reservations about rattlesnakes and scorpions. Perfect, who moved elsewhere in the Valley in 1986, found today’s church to be a beautiful edifice.

“It was a real big dream that came true,” Perfect said.

Parishioners are also proud of their ability to help others in need. The parish’s 1,800 families routinely give away 10 percent of its collection.

“We try to help other parishes when their needs are greater than their means,” Fr. Farley said.

It’s something Fr. Greg Menegay started when he was pastor in 2002. He was on hand for the celebration.

Organizers hoped that the final anniversary event — minor celebrations were held throughout the year — brought parishioners and previous pastors together as a way of bridging the past and future. The reception sparked memories across the decades. A video room and memory room complete with old bulletins archived parish highlights and people traded stories over hors d’oeuvres and a ceremonial toast.