By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, on the southwest side of Fort Wayne, is celebrating its silver jubilee as a vibrant faith-centered Catholic community this year. In its remarkable 25-year history the church has grown from a congregation of 375 families to almost 2,300 families and continues to thrive.
The original church, with daily Mass Chapel, Eucharistic Chapel and parish hall, opened in 1990, at 10700 Aboite Center Rd., expanding in 1998 with the construction of the 10-room catechetical center and the opening of a joint school with St. Joseph Parish. In 2006, the parish saw the groundbreaking for construction of an additional four classrooms, gymnasium, stage and cafeteria.
This year the St. Elizabeth community is gearing up for yet another growth spurt — an educational wing expansion and renovation of the church’s worship space. The $9.5 million three-year capital campaign, which begins in earnest this month, will also fund a debt elimination for the church. Town meetings for the parish, led by chair of the capital campaign, Janet Chrzan, informed parishioners of the details of the project with architectural renderings and question-answer sessions.
Currently, pre-kindergarten through fourth grades are educated at the St. Elizabeth school campus of the joint St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Grades 5 through 8 are located at the St. Joseph campus at 2211 Brooklyn Ave.
It was announced in April that Fort Wayne’s only joint Catholic grade school would split and gain academic independence by fall of 2014, allowing St. Joseph to become the central city Catholic school, housing grades pre-K through fifth with an additional class added in successive years through eighth grade. St. Elizabeth School would offer pre-K through eighth-grade education at its campus.
As St. Elizabeth School vies for room with its ever-expanding student roster, including religious education (RE) students, an expansion will make the dream of an independent school come true. According to Father Jim Shafer, pastor of St. Elizabeth, the over 36,000-square-foot planned addition is the completion of the original goal of the church, though there is always room to grow. He said, “Having the pre-K through 8 here for our parish, actually completes our parish facilities for the foreseeable future.”
The expansion project to be constructed by Michael Kinder and Sons Construction, parishioners of St. Elizabeth, will include 10 new classrooms including a Spanish room and an additional computer lab, a state-of-the-art digital media center that will be of parish-wide use, a complete basement housing the new youth room more than double the size of the old, basement storage, stage wings and a new playground. This addition will bring the parish’s facility space to 140,000 square feet — all perfectly connected.
According to Deacon Jim Kitchens the new educational wing will be a middle school wing housing grades 5-8 and religious education students, with lockers, a color scheme that differs from the lower grade area and bigger furniture that will suit the middle school aged students. The furniture, he said, will make these rooms multipurpose for not only the students of the school but RE students and adult programs using the facility.
Deacon Kitchens said, “This building is for the next generation. … It’s a great thing!”
The sanctuary renovation, which will begin in fall of 2014 following the completion of the educational expansion, will include relocation of the choir area to the back of the church where a handicapped-accessible loft will be constructed to accommodate 60 people, the addition of 100 pew seats, relocation of the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary, and enlargement of the sanctuary with an alcove for a statue of St. Joseph. A handicap-accessible ramp will also be installed at the altar area and the crucifix will be hung high on the stained glass window.
The leaky bell tower will be dismantled and a new one built in the front of the church in close proximity to a new 24-hour chapel.
Groundbreaking for the expansion was held on Sunday, Sept. 15, led by Father Shafer. Msgr. Robert Schulte, vicar general of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and representative for Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who is recovering from surgery for a broken clavicle, offered a special prayer in which he invoked God’s blessing on the successful completion of the project and for the safety of the workers involved. With the assistance of Deacon Jim Kitchens, Msgr. Schulte, who is founding pastor of the 25-year-old parish, then blessed the ground with holy water.
Surrounded by an excited crowd of supporters, the groundbreaking crew that included Father Shafer, Msgr. Schulte, Dr. Mike Mastrangelo, Jon Lassus, Lois Widner, principal of St. Elizabeth School, Molly Slocum, representing RE, Gary Torkeo, parish council president, and Doug Kinder of Michael Kinder and Sons, took shovels in hand, and broke the ground on which the educational wing will be constructed. Following a round of applause, the crowd raised their voices in a closing hymn and the project was officially begun.
Msgr. Schulte believes that the expansion will be beneficial to the entire church community. “It benefits the continued growth of the school and will help the children in religious education classes as well,” he said.
Principal Lois Widner agreed and added, “When the bishop told us his plan it fell in line with all we’ve been thinking. … Having this vision will serve so many more students.”
Father Shafer concluded saying, “It’s a great day to rejoice in the Lord!”
To follow the construction project at St. Elizabeth Parish visit www.buildingforanewgeneration.org.
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