course, will be open for mass on weekends from then on. Weddings have already been booked for every weekend this fall and for most weekends next summer and fall.
In July, the old church –much too small for an ever-growing Catholic community on the mountain and L-shaped, making for a split congregation –was torn down, replaced with much-needed additional parking spaces. While Father Joe and parishioners have mourned the church that saw countless baptisms and funerals, sacraments and holidays, their excitement for the birth of a new house of worship has erased any grieving.
And while the building is brand new, features of St. Jude’s old church and others being incorporated into the new facility has made the event all the more special. “One of the great realities is that we were able to get very treasured, sacred elements from closed parishes to use here,” Evanko said.
From Holy Family Parish in Scranton came the large, stained-glass windows, created by a German manufacturer in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Their beauty is indescribable, as is the mystery one feels when looking through them, as the windows have seen more than a century come and go.
Also rich in history is the altar in the new church, as well as the pulpit and cantor stand, where thousands kneeled and worshipped through the years at St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Hazleton. Made of marble, the altar furnishings, as the windows, are “priceless,” Father Joe commented, as are the Italian hand-carved wooden Stations of the Cross, once used at St. Rocco’s in Pittston.
“We’re very happy we were able to continue the life of those communities and incorporate them in our church,” he said. From St. Jude’s old church, the original crucifix, made larger and restored, will be placed in the new church and the statue of St. Jude, once prominent at the entrance to the old building, will have a special place in the center of the parking lot, surrounded by four pillars from the old church. Other elements from St. Jude’s old church, like the five-foot tall statues of Mary and Joseph, will also be incorporated and, for the time being, crowd Father Joe’s home in the rectory as they ready to fulfill their next destiny.
For the last several years, the members of St. Jude’s have recited a “building prayer” during each mass. These parishioners, having been worshipping the past few months in the school’s gym, played a vital role in the new church coming to fruition. “I feel very grateful, very thankful to the people of the parish,” Father Joe said. “There was much sacrifice for many parishioners throughout this process and I have a great sense of gratitude for how the people have come together…The ability for every parishioner to adjust to what happens during a construction period has been really good.”
A parish council and a financial council for the project met for years preparing for the new church. More recently, a capital campaign leadership team and a building committee at the church worked on separate aspects of making the project happen.
The need for a new church at St. Jude’s was recognized as early back as 1991, when Father Joe worked here as an assistant pastor. A study was competed at that time and the need for both a larger church and for renovations to be made at St. Jude’s School were identified. Unable to afford both, the parish chose the school project as its first priority.
A decade ago, as the parish was close to paying off its school-renovation debts, a building committee was formed to explore building a new church. Father Joe, who had left St. Jude’s to serve at a church in Conyngham and returned eight years ago, dove right into the project, first conducting feasibility studies to see if the old church could be utilized, and later beginning the tedious tasks of interviewing architects and creating building plans.
Asked if, eight years ago, he envisioned that the new church would not be opening until 2017, Father Joe gave a firm “Yes.” He thought it even might take a little longer, he said, after interviewing pastors from other parishes that have expanded. “Every pastor said to me, ‘No matter how this plays out, it will take up 10 years of your life,’” he recalled.
The new church will seat 750, which is approximately double what the old church could manage. An impressive 2,500 families attend St. Jude’s. With more members of the congregation filling the church at each mass, St. Jude’s will hold fewer masses each weekend. One will be held on Saturdays, at 4 p. m., and two masses will be held Sundays, 8:30 a. m. and 11 a. m.
Father Joe concluded, “We can now support the continued growth of the parish, have an appropriate liturgical space to give greater worship to God, while securing the future of the parish.”