“I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, but I understand you’ve been waiting a lot longer,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted told parishioners of St. Gabriel the Archangel in Cave Creek at a Mass prior to a groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 17. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

CAVE CREEK — St. Gabriel the Archangel, a parish in the heart of a steadily growing area that includes a large percentage of young families, will open an expanded school in late 2020 and a new church about a year later.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and other Diocese of Phoenix representatives joined pastor Fr. John Slobig, parochial vicar Fr. David Kulandaisamy and other parish and school officials for a groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 17 at the site on North Cave Creek Road south of Carefree Highway.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, but I understand you’ve been waiting a lot longer,” Bishop Olmsted told parishioners as he celebrated Mass in the parish’s temporary church prior to the ceremony.

The $20 million project includes a new 12,900-square-church that will seat more than 900 people — a 33 percent increase in capacity from the current building. A separate chapel that will be part of the new structure will seat 90. The entire building will house more than 23,000 square feet, according to the parish’s campus project manager Amy Jo Hutchinson.

The adjoining Annunciation School will add new permanent classrooms totaling more than 20,000 square feet, replacing modular units that have served the 230-student facility since 2013. The units were installed four years after the school opened to first and second grades. It has served kindergarten through eighth grade since 2015.

“There are a lot of things we can’t do now because we don’t have the space or facilities,” explained principal Sharon Pristash. Technology will improve, she said, with the addition of a full STEM lab. “There are a lot of science projects and experiments we can’t do now, there is no sink or kiln for art. We will now be able to do all that. We’re very happy.”

Students from Annunciation Catholic School, which shares a campus with St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Cave Creek, are excited to see ground broken for their new school in a ceremony Nov. 17. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Seventh-grader Zariah Garcia noted how currently students travel between buildings and temporary trailers for morning prayer and classes.

“We have science and social studies in one meeting room, math in another and English and religion in another,” she explained. Though Zariah will have graduated before the permanent classrooms open, her sister Lucia, now a fourth-grader, will be there for the new buildings.

“I’m excited for it,” Zariah smiled.

Her sister and her classmates might still be waiting for larger, more modern facilities if not for the generosity of one parish donor.

Barb Rechterman, who has attended St. Gabriel since it opened and was strategic adviser for the Scottsdale-based web development and domain-registration company, donated a majority of the funds toward the project, according to Hutchinson, with fellow parishioners donating the remaining amount.

“The educational piece is critical. It was the very first ministry I became involved with here. Sharon [Pristash] does a phenomenal job forming our kids to be Christ-led. It’s critical, especially for the time we are living in now.”

Parishioner Austin Keane’s daughter, Emmie, 2, will attend class in the new facilities.

“It’s going to be so much better. She’s going to get a great education here,” he said.

Arthur Oldham, president of the project’s Mesa-based contracting firm Forefront Development, said the intent is to complete the church prior to the 2021-22 liturgical year.

“The design includes stained glass, highlighted Stations of the Cross; a lot of coffered — or pattern of sunken panels — ceiling,” he noted.

The present building will become the campus’ new community center, opening new opportunities for use for after-school activities, adult Catholic education and community groups, such as the Boy Scouts.

“What we see here is faith persevering in good times and bad, keeping their eye forward on what we need to do for the mission of Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said following the ceremony. Earlier, he had commended parishioners for staying focused.

“I praise God and thank you for not giving up. Perseverance does not happen without faith,” he said.