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Sunday, 30 January 2011 15:12

St. Katharine Drexel Parish celebrates 10 years of unity

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Paola Trujilla, Mary Bowie and Esther Rosas enjoy dinner together at the 10th anniversary gala for St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield. On Jan. 1, 2001, two venerable parishes, St. Patrick and Sacred Heart, were merged into one new parish. The gala was both a celebration and a fund-raiser. The parish is seeking to raise money to make their churches more accessible to people with disabilities and to restore the church buildings to their original dignity and beauty. Parishioners and friends of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield helped to start off a significant anniversary year by attending a successful fund-raiser dinner on Jan. 15. The dinner, which included a silent auction and entertainment, was held at Springfield Knights of Columbus Council 364.

“St. Katharine Drexel Parish is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2011,” says Sister Mary Jean Traeger, OP, parish life coordinator for the last five years. “So, the dinner was a celebration of our 10-year parish anniversary as well as a fund-raiser for our church restoration projects. This will be the first of a number of celebrations we’ll have this year.”

St. Katharine Drexel was founded when two long-time east side Springfield parishes, St. Patrick Parish and Sacred Heart Parish, were merged in 2001. “Both of our churches are over 100 years old,” says Sister Mary Jean, pointing out that many people in the Springfield community have spiritual roots there. “The people who attended the dinner were from both the parish and the Springfield community.”

The parish is named in honor of St. Katharine Drexel, who was canonized on Oct. 1, 2000. She was the second American-born saint to be canonized and was known for combating the devastating effects of racism in the United States, not only through financial generosity but most of all by evangelization.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki will celebrate Mass on Wednesday, March 2, which is the eve of St. Katharine Drexel’s feast day. “We aren’t sure at which church that Mass will be celebrated because we’re in the middle of trying to restore both churches, so we’ll decide that later,” Sister Mary Jean says. “We’ll also have a parish mission this fall, from Nov. 12-16. That will be given by Friar Brian Guadalupe Walker, OP.”

Restoring both churches will end up costing about $800,000, according to Sister Mary Jean. Some of the work has already been completed. At Sacred Heart Church the church roof, a furnace and air-conditioning unit, steps and plaza on the front of the church have been replaced. Workers have installed new restrooms in the vestibule and ice dams on the church roof to prevent snow and ice falls.

Meanwhile, a major portion of St. Patrick’s roof has either been repaired or replaced. The front façade of the church was tuck pointed; the stairwell and choir loft ceiling were repaired. Additionally an air-conditioning unit in the basement has been replaced and wainscoting on walls in the kitchen and dining area of the church basement were also replaced. That area had been flooded, Sister Mary Jean says.

Walls, columns and ceilings at Sacred Heart still need to be cleaned. The reredos in the sanctuary and side altars will be cleaned and refurbished. Statuary and murals will be painted and refurbished, and stained glass windows and wood paneling and trim will be cleaned and repaired. A ramp will make the sanctuary handicap accessible.

A handicap lift will be installed at St. Patrick to make the church and basement dining area accessible and two handicap-accessible restrooms will be added in the vestibule. The nave and the sanctuary will be cleaned, plastered, painted and carpeted and church windows will be restored. Additionally, two furnaces will be replaced as well as the basement windows.

The refurbished churches will be lovely, but of course it is what happens in the parish and its surrounding area that makes it so important to the people who worship there, says Sister Mary Jean, especially since St. Katharine Drexel Parish enjoys a diversity of age, ethnicity and place of residence.

“We bring together people whose ancestry comes from all over the world,” she says. “Our parishioners include descendents as well as recent immigrants from Africa, Europe, Asia, Central America and South America. Learning to relate with one another in our ethnic diversity challenges us to be attentive to other forms of diversity and to respond to both the gifts and the needs we discover.”

St. Katharine Parish is also a diverse community in worship, education and faith formation, gathering for social events and fund-raising activities, interacting in the Springfield diocese, in its neighborhood and in working for social justice. “We bring our Catholic Christian heritage, expressed through that diversity, into the public arena so that our faith may affect the ways we relate to others, especially those in the neighborhood where our churches are located,” Sister Mary Jean says.