It may have been flames that consumed St. Joseph Church but it’s a fire of “love” from the community propelling them forward through tragedy.
By all accounts the 50th Anniversary celebration of the church, Aug. 18, was demonstrative of the Holy Spirit’s power living and moving among the staff and parish.
After losing their church to a May 1 fire, they rallied to convert their fellowship hall into a temporary church for their Golden Jubilee by removing interior walls, painting and installing new flooring and seating.
It was standing room only as Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares blessed Ascension Hall and presided at the morning Mass.
“The readings are very apropos for today,” Bishop Nevares said before making a facial expression and paraphrasing the Gospel reading from Luke.
“I have come to set the world on fire,” Bishop Nevares said looking up, then smiling added, “He must love you very much.”
The lesson, the bishop said, is that Jesus wants everyone to receive the “fire” of the Holy Spirit that He received upon Baptism.
The bishop explained it’s a fire of “peace, love and joy,” and receiving the sacraments gives us “food for the journey … to do the work of God and bring souls to His divine presence.”
The church was established Aug. 18, 1969, by Bishop Francis Green of what was then part of the Diocese of Tucson. Its first pastor Fr. John Cullinan first celebrated Sunday Masses with about 300 families in the cafeteria of Paradise Valley High School.
Bishop Nevares praised the founders of St. Joseph, and reminded the crowd, “Those that have gone before us the past 50 years are a communion of saints and now rejoicing in heaven. Let us find the fire to be ablaze for others … as we go forth and celebrate our future years.”
Following Mass, parishioners processed with a statue of St. Joseph around the campus, and past a dirt lot that once contained the footprint of the former church.
“This is home for us,” said Linda Yee, a parishioner since 1990. Along with her husband, Larry, they raised their son in the church; where he received all of his sacraments. Inspired, Larry entered RCIA and was baptized too.
“It’s very emotional for a lot of people, especially for those who started the church,” Linda said. “It’s a huge loss and we are all thankful no one was hurt.”
Bishop Edward J. McCarthy — the first bishop of Phoenix — broke ground Jan. 23, 1972 on the 10-acre site for a multi-purpose building.
Upon its completion nine months later, the facility included a church with seating for 500, a parish hall, meeting rooms and a library. An offsite rectory home was later purchased in 1993.
Several years later, the parish completed construction on a new classroom building for religious education classes and other ministry meetings.
In 2005 a portion of the church sacristy was converted into an Adoration chapel, followed by an expansion a year later. Additional updates included the restoration of the stained glass, pews and one final expansion of the chapel following storm damage in 2008.
Like the mythical Phoenix bird, parishioners anticipate the day when the parish will rise again from the ashes that leveled its church.
Fr. Regidor “Reggie” Carreon, the parochial administrator for the past six years, said he “hopes and prays” to build a new church as soon as January 2020. The church building will reflect a traditional, Southwest-mission style architecture — including bell towers — in a cruciform design.
Fr. Carreon also reported the parish office has received more than $166,000 in donations to go toward construction. In addition, others have offered to underwrite the cost of furnishings and other features.
Charlotte Painter, a parishioner for the past 48 years, was amazed at the hundreds of people who attended the jubilee celebration.
“This is a fabulous, fabulous day for us. It’s just beautiful, even though our church burned down,” she said. “We have a strong community here and everybody’s coming together. We are all anticipating breaking ground.”
To donate, call (602) 996-5120 or visit stjoephx.org.