The nearly 500 children preparing for their sacraments at St. Michael Church now have a renovated and central place to learn the Gospel and prepare to commune with God Himself.
In a festive ceremony Oct. 29, Bishop Raymond Chappetto re-dedicated the Pope Francis Parish Center in the Sunset Park parish. After a standing-room-only 10 a.m. Spanish Mass, Bishop Chappetto led a cheerful procession to the center around the corner of the Church. He was followed by the altar servers, parishioners carrying banners of the many parish groups and children in the Spanish track of the faith formation program. The parents and adults of the parish followed in tow. They sang their praises to God as they met the children of the English track of the faith formation program waiting outside of the center.
Bishop Chappetto thanked the parishioners for their great generosity. St. Michael is not a financially wealthy parish. The majority of its parishioner are immigrants from Latin America, largely from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Their generosity reached deep as they offered all they could to the Generation of Faith Campaign, which financed the project, and special collections.
When the work began, parishioners offered more than money. They wanted to help physically build the kingdom of God. Father Kevin Sweeney, pastor, said some of the parishioners offered to do some of the work themselves, since they had both the knowledge and experience. In this way more of the parish money raised used in used for materials.
The four-story building, once the residence the Xaverian brothers that taught at the former parish high school, is now remodeled to offer appropriately-sized classroom for the hundreds of children and adults who seek God in the sacraments. The Pope Francis Center will also be the home of the Arise program and other community and parish groups.
Many of the volunteers who worked on the building are parents of children who attend religious education classes and want to make sure their children have a safe and conducive environment to learn the Gospel. Before the renovation, Inés Cordero, director of faith formation, said it was a struggle to find a place for the children to learn. The program more than doubled in the pats 15 years as immigration continuously brings new parishioners to St. Michael’s. It also lost some of the space used as the Board of Education brought construction of it’s own to the former parochial high school.
However, the faith formation program was able to overcome all the challenges thanks to the dedication of the parishioners, Cordero said. She said the 38 volunteers who teach the children, along with some young adults who assist, are exemplary in their love and dedication. It all comes down to parents just wanting the best for their own and other children.
Cordero, a lifelong parishioner, said she sees many new immigrants settling in the area wanting to provide the best they can for their children, which to them includes bringing them to faith formation classes. Thanks to their children, they forge strong bonds with the parish. This inspires them to do everything they can to help the parish and many times complete their own sacraments of initiation and marriage. Cordero said the adults in the RCIA program are mostly parents of children in the faith formation programs. The same is true of the couples who take their marriage vows in the communal marriage service the parish hosts every June.
The work is not done, Cordero said. The plan, she said, is to now begin work on the basement of the Pope Francis Parish Center, to provide a better space for the three youth groups of the parish.