By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2018 | En Español
HAPEVILLE—A standing-room-only congregation celebrated the rededication of St. John the Evangelist Church with a service full of symbolism.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory slathered the wooden altar with chrism oil, making the altar a symbol of Christ, the anointed One. The sweet smoke of incense filled the sanctuary, signifying the people’s prayers rising to God. The community kneeled as they sang the Litany of the Saints, asking for God’s assistance and the intercession of the saints.
It had been close to 25 years since the church was last renovated, and on Sunday, June 3, Archbishop Gregory congratulated the parishioners on their accomplishment. He reminded them the church renovation should spur them to live as Christians more fully in their neighborhoods, homes and jobs.
The community of Hapeville can know about the changes at the parish only if it see lives transformed and people worshipping there working to serve others, he said.
“It becomes only a room unless it is filled with people who celebrate the Eucharist and live the Eucharist,” said Archbishop Gregory.
The parish now has a lovely space to worship, he said, but it will not be complete unless Catholics go out to transform the world after Mass.
St. John the Evangelist Church was founded in 1952. The first Mass was celebrated in the church in 1954. It is the spiritual home to many cultures, including African, Vietnamese, Haitian and Hispanic families, with six Masses a weekend. It has an award-winning parish school. The Hispanic Catholics are the largest single group of members, with more than 1,000 believers attending Mass on the weekends.
The sanctuary is approaching its 65-year mark and parish leaders thought it was due for some upgrades, said Nick Goodly, the leader of the capital campaign committee. The last changes made were in the early 1980s, he said.
There are several generations of families who attend and many of the members drive past other churches to belong to this community, Goodly said.
Sheila Appling, a parishioner since 1981 and leader of the parish council, said visitors have told her St. John’s diversity of members makes it a “true body of Christ. You have every nation, every culture there worshipping together. People are sitting together.”
Speaking to the gathering, pastor Father Michael Onyekuru thanked the archbishop for his support, in addition to the efforts of the different communities to support the work. “You have every right to be happy today,” said Father Onyekuru.
The work brought the parish together to work toward a common goal in a unique way.
The new roof was installed in November 2017 for $125,000. Interior changes were completed in March for $540,000 for a new tile floor, upgraded interior lights and a new ceiling. A new arched wall replaced the cry room, enlarging the church’s seating. The work to raise the ceiling also re-exposed the church’s stained glass window to the congregation.
The parish focused on raising money and upgrades to the sanctuary, said Goodly. However, members of the Hispanic community wanted to contribute more than money while the sanctuary space was closed for renovation, he said. They offered their skills in the construction business to build two confessional rooms, upgrade restrooms, change a closet into a meeting area and replace carpet in the chapel with new tiles and new wall paint. Another parishioner from Cameroon used his firm’s architectural services to design, plan and get the permits for the construction.
Appling said that commitment by the Hispanic members shows how people at St. John the Evangelist take their faith home seriously.
“They take ownership. It’s like they are giving back to the Lord, and they are smiling about it. And they are proud,” she said.