By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Large Stations of the Cross at the historic St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, at 1020 E. Burnett Ave., were restored recently with fresh, deeply pigmented paint that gives a lifelike appearance to the moments of Christ’s Passion.
The restoration brought the stations “back to life,” said the church’s administrator, Father David Harris. He hopes that recent renovations and a new tri-parish venture will bring new life to his three churches, as well.
The parishes of St. Therese on Schiller Avenue, Our Mother of Sorrows on Eastern Parkway, and St. Elizabeth have been clustered for several years. Last year, the parishes gave their cluster a name — the Pax Christi Collaborative — and a new outlook, Father Harris said.
“We’re collaborating as a group of parishes to bring the peace of Christ into the community,” Father Harris explained during an interview on Monday. “And it’s working.”
“Cluster is a word that’s typically been used for parishes, but it’s not always looked at as a favorable word,” he said. Collaborate is “a verb and it really means working together. It’s truly about working together, but at the same time maintaining the identity of the parishes. That’s very important.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is create a future by providing basic pastoral care and reaching inactive Catholics,” he said. “It’s the new evangelization.”
When Father Harris says “it’s working,” he’s speaking from clear data and feedback.
The three parishes gained 72 new members last year through baptisms and new registrations. And there were 46 funerals.
“We had more new members than deaths and that’s great,” said Father Harris.
The total membership for all three parishes is about 1,080 families. That number does not reflect the numbers of young adults and students who attend Masses at the three churches but don’t register, he added.
St. Elizabeth offers a 7 p.m. Sunday Mass which draws a crowd each week.
“Last night, this church was packed and it’s mostly young families,” said Father Harris. “If you want to reach young adults, you have a 7 o’clock Mass. This place was full of families and little children.”
It was so full Sunday evening, he said, that the church’s recently renovated cry room is going to need more seating. Father Harris added that Our Mother of Sorrows Church also recently renovated its cry room.
Making Mass easier — and more enriching — for families with young children is another need the collaborative has identified.
Father Harris noted that St. Elizabeth is preparing space in the church for a “Kids’ Zone,” former classrooms where children from birth to kindergarten can go during Mass. The kids will play and receive formation. And parents will be able to focus on the liturgy.
To help communicate this information to the community, the collaborative launched a website last month — paxchristilou.org. It has Mass schedules, information about the parishes and the collaborative’s vision.
Dot De Young, a member of St. Elizabeth, said the developments are thrilling. And their success, she said, has a lot to do with Father Harris.
“Since Father Dave has been here, I have personally heard people say, ‘Wow, he is bringing us back.’ His homilies are just wonderful and they seem to be attracting more people,” said De Young, who helps with RCIA and other ministries. “I get to work with a community of people who are just lighting up.
“People who’ve lived here a long time love seeing their treasures restored,” she said. “We now have a young adult group and they are jumping right in to help with projects in the parish. And of course we have our senior citizens and they are always there to help with whatever needs helping.”
Father Harris said the collaborative’s young adult group is growing and thriving. They’ve been helping restock St. Elizabeth’s St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. And the group often gathers at Check’s Cafe after the Sunday evening Mass.
Father Harris noted that the renovations at the parishes have been initiated and funded by parishioners.
“We haven’t had to borrow anything,” he said. “All three of the parishes are going through a renewal right now. People are willing to venture out, they’re willing to give their money and invest in their parish. That’s a clear sign they really believe in the future.”
At St. Elizabeth, the restoration of the Stations and other statuary in the parish was funded primarily by one couple.
“We would not have considered it without their support. We have a tight budget,” said Father Harris.“It’s added so much to the church. And the people really appreciate it — it’s inspirational.”
At Our Mother of Sorrows, the former high altar is being redesigned to become the church’s main altar. It’s expected to be ready by Easter Sunday. “It’s going to be beautiful,” said Father Harris.
Steve Garvey, a lifelong parishioner of Our Mother of Sorrows, said the work of the collaborative has been slow going, “but it’s coming together good.”
“I’m a believer in what goes around comes around,” he said. “I think it’s going to come back around where the Catholic churches make a resurgence.”