By Andrew Ehrkamp
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church is rising from the ground in Lacombe.
A ground-breaking ceremony for a new $3.1-million church is planned for April 24. Construction is expected to begin a few weeks later. The new 13,672-square-foot building replaces the parish’s old church, which was hit with high repair costs and hail damage to its roof two years ago.
“This has been a learning experience in how the Holy Spirit works,” said Tom De Forge, chairman of the committee overseeing the construction of the new church.
“There have been some people who have had their feathers ruffled, but overall it’s been a wonderful, positive experience. But we’re not out of the woods yet.”
The new church is expected to open for Advent this year after a lot of twists and turns.
The 450 families of St. Stephen’s Parish have been celebrating Mass at Father Lacombe Catholic School since the old church building was torn down in February 2016 after more than six decades.
During the week, Mass is celebrated in one of the school classrooms. On Sundays, Mass is in the gym with parishioners wheeling in a portable altar and setting up chairs. Last fall, St. Stephen’s Parish celebrated “Mass on the Grass” outside on the old church site.
“At the beginning, some older people went to different churches because they couldn’t comprehend having a Mass in a gym. But they’re back,” said Rev. Shimit Abraham, the pastor of St. Stephen’s Parish.
“This is a small community and it’s amazing what they have done. When we stay together, we unite together.”
It’s an unusual way to celebrate Mass, but the parish community says it’s been a blessing.
“Our congregation has increased since then,” De Forge said. “You would think that parishioners would attend a different church until the new building is built, or go to a different parish altogether. It’s odd. It’s not what you’d expect.”
The new St. Stephen’s Church will be 1,600 square feet bigger than the old one. The church will be fully accessible, capable of hosting more than 300 people for Mass and 200 for dinner. It will also include a central gathering area, office space and meeting rooms.
The parish continues to meet the challenges of building a new church less than two years after the old one was torn down.
Fundraising for the new building began six years ago when the old one was still standing. A neighbour appealed the church’s development permit, but that was resolved successfully. Last week, the planning committee submitted the building permit for the new church to the City of Lacombe.
“It’s a very dynamic parish. Everyone is committed to this project,” De Forge said. “There is a high degree of stewardship.”
Archbishop Richard Smith, Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie and Rod McDermand, the reeve of Lacombe County, are expected to attend the ground breaking ceremony, as well as children from St. Stephen’s Parish and students from Father Lacombe Catholic School.
For more information contact the parish office at 403-782-3514.
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