By Tony Gutiérrez, The Catholic Sun
CAVE CREEK — After nearly 20 years and four temporary worship spaces, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted led parishioners of what was once known as the “Trailer Park Parish” from their fourth and final temporary worship space — a white square building — to their permanent home.
In a Solemn Pontifical Mass, the bishop formally dedicated the 23,000-square-foot church and consecrated the altar Nov. 3 at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish. Outside the new church building, the architects presented the building plans to Bishop Olmsted, formally turning it over to him.
“So many of the longtime parishioners have been waiting for a permanent church for over 15 years,” pastor Fr. Chad King told the Sun.
Fr. King then opened the doors to the church as he, the bishop, other parish and visiting clergy and the faithful passed under a stained-glass window of St. Gabriel holding a trumpet, with his words taken from Luke’s Gospel underneath him, welcoming all who enter: “Do not be afraid. The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Inside the church, Bishop Olmsted and Fr. King blessed the walls of the church with holy water.
“Church architecture impacts the way we worship, and the way we worship affects what we believe. And what we believe decides what we’re ready to die for, and how we will treat our wife and children and whether we will take time to care for the vulnerable and the poor,” noted the bishop in his homily.
“The years of praying and hoping and planning, the multitude of sacrifices and gifts, the contributions of skilled architects, engineers and craftsmen, all this and more, have created here a glimpse of heaven that gives praise and glory to God, and it inspires us along the pilgrim way.”
In his homily, the bishop noted that the footprint of the church was in the shape of a cross, or a cruciform, with the altar at the center. This layout points to the mysteries celebrated at the altar, he said, noting that in addition to the Eucharist, it is in front of that altar where the faithful will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, couples will exchange marriage vows and the dead will be commended to God.
“From this building, members of Christ’s mystical Body, the Church, will be sent forth to bear witness to the living Jesus Christ, now in our times, and to His Kingdom that lasts forever,” said Bishop Olmsted. “What happens in this building will not make Jesus’ disciples less concerned about their brothers and sisters, or forgetful of the poor and needy. On the contrary, the Holy One, Whom they will encounter here in the sacred mysteries, will be their strength, their inspiration, their courage and their song.”
Following the Litany of Saints, the altar was formally dedicated with relics placed at the base of the altar, following the ancient tradition of placing relics of martyrs or other saints under a fixed altar, per Canon 1237 in the Code of Canon Law. The parish is unique in that its patron — St. Gabriel the Archangel — doesn’t have relics to be placed in the altar. A priest-friend of Fr. King’s offered to donate a relic to the church, and after much prayer and discernment, he selected St. Francis Xavier.
“If we as a parish are called to evangelize — which we all are from our Baptism — how good it is to have a missionary evangelist like Francis Xavier who went out and converted thousands to Christianity, to the Catholic faith, because he was sent out, and he knew he was sent out.”
The bishop then consecrated the altar with oil, and Fr. King and parochial vicar Fr. David Kulandaisamy anointed the walls of the church. The bishop then incensed the altar, symbolic of prayers rising to God and providing a sweet fragrance to represent the sweet aroma of Christ. After the two priests incensed the church, two parishioners wiped the oil from the altar and covered it with altar cloths.
“I was truly humbled to be able to pat the oil after Bishop Olmsted blessed the altar with the oils,” said Gae Carpenter, one of the parishioners who laid the cloth and who is also a member of the parish’s Arts and Environment Committee. “It’s a little bit overwhelming to see it, even though we were a part of the process. It’s like a puzzle, and you weren’t sure if it was all going to go together, but to see the final product was amazing.”
A long journey
St. Gabriel the Archangel was established in 2002, when the faithful gathered in a small shack that would later serve as a temporary Adoration chapel for the parish. When it would overflow, parishioners sat on hay bales outside of the church.
“It’s thrilling to see how this evening we’re able to almost fill that new church. It was great to see that many people come together all at one time,” said Terry Colosimo, one of the early “hay bale” parishioners who, along with her husband Joe, served as an usher for the liturgy.
After the chapel and hay bales, parishioners started worshipping in a nearby middle school. Following this was a building that would eventually become a sixth-through-eighth-grade classroom building for the adjoining Annunciation Catholic School. In 2008, parishioners moved into their most recent space, which is intended to be a multi-purpose building and parish hall.
“At that time, it was unimaginable that we would get to this point. So, there’s been just thousands, literally thousands of people sacrificing, donating, working to make it come true,” said Dcn. Bill Clower, who has officially served at St. Gabriel since 2014, but was previously connected to the parish because his wife was the director of religious education. “But yet, here it is, and it’s beautiful, and it’s even kind of hard to understand all the changes this will make to the community.”
Dcn. Clower, who assisted in the liturgy, noted how the beauty of the worship space makes a difference.
“When you look around, and it looks like you’re in a gymnasium, that creates an attitude,” he said. “It’s hard to be as reverent there as it is when you walk in, and you see yourself in a beautiful church with high vaulted ceilings and all the wonderful sacred art.”
The process to build a permanent church began after the multi-purpose building was completed under then-pastor Fr. Dennis O’Rourke. When Fr. O’Rourke retired, another retired priest, Fr. John Slobig, oversaw the project as the parish’s interim parochial administrator. Fr. King had previously served as parochial vicar at St. Gabriel when he was first ordained and returned to St. Gabriel in 2020, being formally installed as a pastor Sept. 12 of this year.
Dale Jensen, grand knight for the parish’s Knights of Columbus Council 13286, said he was “very honored” to be able to serve in the Fourth Degree Honor Guard for the dedication.
“It’s very emotional to come in here and see how big it is and how beautiful this is after waiting so long and to see the outpouring of people that are coming here and all the support we’ve got from the community,” said Jensen, who entered the Catholic Church through St. Gabriel about 12 years ago.
David Arambula, the lead architect with Phoenix Design Group that designed the church, said he took inspiration from the mission churches of the Southwest and the painted churches of many German and Czech immigrant communities from the 19th century. Arambula Exteriorly, the building follows community guidelines regarding color, with warm earth-tone colors one the outside walls, which are made with stucco, a slump block veneer and tile roof.
“The high altar wall is different from the rest of the interior, and it was made different so it would stand out,” said Arambula, who has attended St. Mary’s Parish in Chandler for 66 years.
On the interior, the colors are lighter with a blue accent throughout — on the ceiling, on the walls, through the stained-glass and even in the pews — symbolic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, tying the church to its school’s namesake. There are 24 saints represented in the stained-glass windows, all with a blue background. The saints in the windows were all invoked during the dedication rite’s Litany of the Saints.
“Each of the columns around the church have blue in them because they’re all around us, and they are bringing the saints and the blue in the saint windows down to us, so that whenever we sit there and pray during Mass, we are connected to the saints,” said Fr. King. “And, we should be intensely striving to become a saint ourselves through their prayers. It is bringing not only the saints, but Mary — the greatest saint — upon all of us so that she can envelope us as we offer praise to God.”
Providentially, the dedication also occurs during the Year of St. Joseph, the only other person St. Gabriel appeared to in Scriptures.
“We have a statue of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child as another image of Gabriel, who told Joseph to ‘Take courage’ and to do what he did, to go and protect and take the Holy Family away from the danger,” said Fr. King. “That’s exactly what Joseph is doing to the current Church, to the family of God, he is protecting us and keeping us from danger.”
Other imagery of St. Gabriel includes a mural behind the altar that has him and St. Michael praying. In the corridor are two eight-foot bronze statues looking down.
“Every person who enters into this new church, especially from the front, will be entering in under the guidance and the prayers of the angels,” Fr. King said. “How perfect it is that in a church dedicated to St. Gabriel that angels will be praying for us as we walk into the church in order to join them in worshiping God.”