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CAREFREE — Our Lady of Joy is even more of a place of joy now that a comprehensive church renovation is complete. Alongside that joy, came the Advent air of peace and a renewed sense of purpose that the quality and appearance of the changes have brought.

“One of the things you see so beautifully here, and in our other churches as well, is that the whole focus is on the altar, so it’s on the place where we encounter the living Christ and where we receive from Him participation in His Cross and Resurrection,” remarked Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted a few minutes before dedicating the new altar Dec. 10, the Second Sunday of Advent.

The Mass marked the formal culmination of a project envisioned more than a half dozen years ago, when one of the parishioners passed away, leaving a large donation to be used for a new organ and whatever other purposes the parish needed, according to Director of Parish Operations Laura Hicks. A portion of the overall $4.2 million gift paid for a wave of improvements, including a new, unified tile floor to replace one containing 11 different types of tile and two major cracks, replacement of an antiquated 15-year-old sound system, new pews throughout the entire nave and new Stations of the Cross.

Overall the changes were an expanded, renovated sanctuary allowing the addition of the church’s first permanent Altar Table Ambo and Altar of Repose.

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“Our main thing was we wanted to return focus to the Eucharist on the altar. There were a ton of distractions. We have had five different priests in the past 15 years and everyone’s added a little. Although it was beautiful it started to become very distracting,” said Hicks.

The choir sings during the dedication Mass for the new sanctuary for Our Lady of Joy Parish in Carefree Dec. 10. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

With the sanctuary doubled in size, the parish also moved the choir from a spot in front of the congregation to the rear of the nave, right behind the last row of pews on one side, which Hicks noted is the liturgically correct position.

“We wanted to return the music to the parishioners,” she explained. “I know now I can concentrate more on the Mass because sometimes I would look at them while they are singing.”

“It’s more focused on the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus. I’m very glad it turned out this way. I think it helps them more to focus on God,” added Fr. Jess Ty, pastor.

“Putting the choir where they are is a nice move. You just aren’t watching the members any more. You’re listing to the music. I think the choir members like that, too,” said parishioner Ken Rogers of Scottsdale, who has attended Our Lady of Joy since 2009.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted delivers his homily during the dedication Mass for the new sanctuary and for Our Lady of Joy Parish in Carefree Dec. 10, the second Sunday of Advent. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Olmsted in his homily touched on Christ’s sacrifice, saying that our need for comfort is accomplished through Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross, and that the altar is the focal point of celebrating that Pascal mystery.

“It is fitting today we consecrate this new altar,” he told the congregation.

Parish leaders see the changes creating a welcoming atmosphere for anyone — new or old — to join them at Mass. During the height of winter visiting, Hicks said almost 2,400 people attend the five services throughout Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon.

“Because we couldn’t add more seating, what we are hoping happens is we have created such a welcoming, Christ-centered sanctuary that Fr. [Ty] is hoping to add more Masses,” Hicks said. “I think when people walk in they can see Our Lady is very present and important in this church, and that gives people a big sense of peace. When people come here it is because this is what feeds them.”

Prior to Mass, Bishop Olmsted echoed those thoughts.

“A church like this, with its beauty, will draw people and it will inspire people.”