January 14, 2022

Pastor hopes church dedication will spark parishioners to spread the Gospel

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson spreads chrism oil on the altar of St. John Paul II Church in Sellersburg during a Dec. 19, 2021, dedication Mass for the new church of the New Albany Deanery faith community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson spreads chrism oil on the altar of St. John Paul II Church in Sellersburg during a Dec. 19, 2021, dedication Mass for the new church of the New Albany Deanery faith community. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

SELLERSBURG—Members of St. John Paul II Parish in Sellersburg rejoiced on Dec. 19 in what could be described as an early Christmas gift to the New Albany Deanery faith community.

On that day, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson dedicated the parish’s new $8 million church in a Mass filled with symbolic rituals.

Looking out on the parishioners who filled the pews of the new church that seats nearly 800 people, Archbishop Thompson reflected in his homily that “the profound beauty of this sacred space pales in comparison to the profound beauty of you, the people, the temples of the Holy Spirit, gathering in faith and prayer.”

(See a photo gallery from the dedication)

As hard as Father Thomas Clegg, St. John Paul II’s pastor, and his parishioners have worked since launching a capital campaign in 2018 to fund the building of the church, his focus, too, was on the people who filled the pews—and their mission to share the Gospel in the growing Sellersburg community.

In an interview with The Criterion, Father Clegg noted that if he and his parishioners don’t rededicate themselves to “growing as missionary disciples at the same time that we dedicate this church, we’re simply changing the address and rearranging the furniture.”

“This is not the completion of anything. It’s a beginning,” Father Clegg said. “We have to be willing to not sit back at this point, but to really move forward with all the evangelization tools that we’re using. We have to be prepared to double down on those and make it the center of who we are as Church—not just building a church, but being Church.”

This outward mission of drawing others to Christ and helping them become missionary disciples comes for the parish after a time of working for many years to form one new parish community.

St. John Paul II Parish was created in 2014 when the former Sellersburg parishes of St. Paul and St. Joseph were merged as one faith community.

The campus for the new parish church lies at the base of the hill on which sits the parish’s St. Joseph Chapel.

Now that the new parish church has been completed and dedicated, St. Joseph Chapel will only be used for weddings and funerals. St. Paul Chapel will continue to be used for Masses for St. John Paul II School, which remains on the St. Paul campus.

Getting to the dedication Mass was a challenge for St. John Paul II Parish even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Original plans for the new church had its cost set at about $6.5 million. Increased building costs in 2019 took that price tag up to

$8 million, with much of those funds being raised at the start of the pandemic.

Even though COVID-19 had such negative effects on the economy, Father Clegg was confident that God’s providence would see his parish community through.

“I said to our people all the way through this that if God wants us to build this church, he’s going to provide the resources,” he said. “If God sends you on a mission, he’s going to provide you with the resources to do it. That proved to be true in this particular case.”

As parish council president, Janelle Lewis has been very involved in many aspects of the building project.

Taking part in the dedication Mass with her family was “extremely emotional.”

“I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming feelings I had,” Lewis said. “So many years of meetings, decisions, stress, worry, excitement and anxiousness culminated into an immense feeling of joy.”

Some of these emotions were spurred by prayerfully watching the unique rituals that happen during a church dedication Mass.

Lewis in particular was impressed by how Archbishop Thompson spread chrism oil over the new church’s large marble altar, “making sure he covered every square inch.”

“It really felt like I saw Christ at the altar,” Lewis said.

In his homily, Archbishop Thompson emphasized to his listeners that the dedication of their new parish church should lead them to a closer encounter with Christ.

“In this sacred action, we celebrate and prepare to receive more than a thing,” he said. “Through his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus has given us the real presence of himself in the form of bread and wine.

“It is his body and blood that has sustained St. Paul Parish, St. Joseph Parish and now St. John Paul II Parish. Through him, with him and in him, in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, may our souls proclaim the goodness of the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for he has indeed done good things for us.”

Lewis hopes that this encounter with Christ in the new parish church will lead her, Father Clegg and fellow parishioners to share the Gospel in a Sellersburg community that continues to grow with new residents who commute to work in nearby Louisville, Ky.

“I believe that we will be a light for the community, a place of welcoming, a place of sharing God’s love, a place to be fed with both word and Eucharist,” Lewis said. “The parish can be a place to bring others to Christ and make disciples, a place where people want to be, a place that permeates joy in Christ.

“I believe that when our parish family comes in with joy, then we will be able to go out with Christ to make disciples.” †

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