by Stephen Childs,
Three generations of parishioners at St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang, one of the largest Korean Catholic churches in the U.S., have cause to celebrate.
Following 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Feb. 5, hundreds of congregants of the all-Korean church in Flushing held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new rectory and long-awaited parish center.
The project will cost $3 million.
St. Paul’s parishioners have wanted and needed the additional facilities for classrooms and meeting space since 1990 when the church opened, said Father Gabriel Lee, pastor. “Finally, it’s time now.”
The two-floor parish center will cover 15,000 square feet; it will include 15 classrooms, two teacher’s rooms, a choir practice room, and additional spaces for storage. The five-bedroom rectory will cover 5,400 square feet.
Construction on both buildings is expected to last 18 months, according to project architect and St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang parishioner of 22 years, Sung-Ho Shin. He says he anticipates the parish center will be in operation by early 2014.
“This is a really fantastic moment,” said Shin, whose children attend Sunday school at St. Paul, “because we are able to prepare the space for the students.”
At Sunday afternoon’s groundbreaking ceremony, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu said the project was for the parish’s children, adding that construction of the new parish center and rectory “marks another milestone in the great history of St. Paul’s,” and would help mold “future leaders of New York and America.”
At the groundbreaking service, which was conducted in Korean, the church choir sang, and parishioners associated with the project explained the details of the construction plan. Father Lee praised God for the parish’s fortune and blessed the site and assembly with holy water, praying for safety during the building process.
After the ceremony, congregants filled the church basement and adjoining classrooms to eat a traditional Korean meal, which included steamed pork, noodles, rice cakes, fresh fruit, and rice wine.
Until last year, the 4,500-person parish used the church’s basement as well as houses that formerly stood on the current construction site for its activities. But when informed that holding Sunday school inside the houses was a violation of city code, space became extremely scarce, explained Shin.
The church’s basement could not accommodate all of the bustling parish’s activities, which include teaching Korean to 150 children on Saturdays, religious instruction for 230 children on Sundays, holding information sessions for newly arrived Korean immigrants, and holding weekly meetings for 47 Legion of Mary prayer groups, explained parishioner Cecilia Lee.
Although the Korean population in Queens has remained relatively stable over the last decade, more than 11,000 Koreans live in Flushing alone, according to 2010 Census Bureau data.
None of the parishioners are wealthy, but all have contributed time or money so that the parish could enjoy this day, said Lee.
Ultimately, the groundbreaking came as a result of patience and hard work, two pillars of Korean culture, she explained. The new center will prove a great blessing from God because it will give the church the ability to practice a third tradition of Korean culture – education for the next generation.