SCOTTSDALE — Even Google knew a fresh, permanent worship space was coming.
A photo façade of the long-awaited church appeared on Google maps at least a day ahead of the inaugural Mass inside St. Bernadette’s first real church Aug. 13. Only a select few children, specifically the top finishers in widely-entered coloring and essay contests that pointed toward the new church, earned a sneak peek inside.
The remainder waited. Many didn’t want to wait a minute beyond the 20-month stretch since the groundbreaking. No one could blame them. Many watched the neighboring St. John XXIII School get built in just nine months back in 1998, thanks in large part to funding from a diocesan-wide campaign.
Building St. Bernadette was a local effort and a multi-year endeavor. Despite a celebration after every Mass that weekend in honor of the new worship space, seating and parking at the first Mass came at a premium. All 75 or so pews and most of the cry room were filled. Catholics of all ages stood along pristine walls throughout the 90-minute liturgy.
“The good news is you’ve built the new ‘St. Peter’s Basilica of the West.’ I don’t think St. Peter’s Basilica has anything more beautiful than this,” Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares told Fr. Peter Rossa, pastor, during opening remarks. “The bad news is you’ve built it too small.”
His comment echoed that of a couple heading into Mass. The husband, after noticing the full parking lot and surrounding neighborhood streets, told his wife, “Wouldn’t it be nice if church were this crowded every weekend?”
Logistics like adding more weekend Masses can be worked out in the future as constant need arises. For now, the church is a vast improvement over the multi-use facility — a parish hall, really — that St. Bernadette had used since shortly after the parish was established in 1995.
Massgoers now have padded pews instead of interlocking chairs, a shiny tile floor instead of a dim hall floor plus ample room on the walls and windows for religious art. They are finally spoiled with kneelers too.
The altar area rivals that of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, St. Francis Xavier and St. Thomas the Apostle, to name a few. The overall design hearkens that of St. Margaret Mary in Bullhead City, a church built five years ago to look “Catholic inside and out.”
There are two small sets of stairs ascending to the altar table and a domed baldachino that covers it. Atop of that stands the Blessed Mother as she is traditionally depicted appearing to St. Bernadette.
Bishop Nevares opened his homily by taking a long look around the deep, French-style walls, up toward the high arched ceilings and yonder where the choir loft rested in the back. He offered an array of adjectives to describe the new worship space. Among them: beautiful, magnificent, eloquent and awesome.
“But more, it’s a testament and testimony of you: the holy people of God here at St. Bernadette’s Parish,” the bishop said. “Living stones which worked together, cooperated, pulled together to build this beautiful church for a living God.”
He noted that the church wasn’t just for them, but would serve generations to come. There’s no telling whose soul will be saved and drawn closer to Jesus and the “holy Catholic faith simply by walking into the beautiful church and being in awe by the glory of God,” the bishop said.
Fr. Rossa looks forward to holding weddings, confirmations, reconciliation services and God-willing ordinations, at the parish. Large medallions depict such sacraments via tile work throughout the main aisles.
More than that, St. Bernadette’s pastor said he looked forward to growing with his flock as a disciple of Christ. Fr. Rossa addressed the crowd in closing comments at Mass.
“It’s my great prayer that we continue to grow in the grace of God and to proclaim his kingdom everywhere we go, every minute of the day because you, my brothers and sisters, are not just simply called to come to Mass on Sunday. You and I are called to be saints,“ Fr. Rossa said.
“God wants that more than anything else and He is going to pour out the Holy Spirit upon you in your lives for just that purpose. If I were to die tomorrow, it would be my sincerest hope not that I be remembered for this church, but that I would be remembered for bringing you closer to Jesus Christ because that is our mission, that is our hope, that is our longing at the core of our faith.”