Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 18, 1999
St. Theresa's 'one big family' celebrates its 25th anniversary
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
On any given weekday, Spiritan Father Bob Colburn probably has more attendees at his morning Mass than some priests in the archdiocese have on Sunday.
That's probably because his parish, St. Theresa's, is the archdiocese's largest with 4,500 families.
The parish that seems to just keep growing celebrated its 25th anniversary Oct 1, the day of the feast of its patron. And a parish that size needed a celebration of equal proportion.
"It was a three-day celebration," Colburn said.
With two birthday cakes, one with teal-coloured icing and the other trimmed with perfectly sliced kiwis and strawberries, parishioners braved the first October snow flurry to celebrate with Archbishop Thomas Collins.
And the parishioners had much to celebrate.
"It's like one big family here," said Rick Strauss, a 21-year parishioner of St. Theresa. "A lot of things have happened here.
"People here really have a sense of belonging to the parish family . . . as you would feel part of your own natural family at home, that's how you would feel here. We want everyone to feel that."
The anniversary celebration also included blessing of a plaque that now hangs at the Church entrance and the naming of the parish hall to MacNeil Hall, after retired Archbishop Joseph MacNeil.
Twenty-five years is still relatively young in an archdiocese that dates back more than a century, but St. Theresa's is not without its fair share of memories.
In December 1974, a snowstorm hit the city which made it difficult for the custodial staff to open Grace Martin School for Sunday Mass. The few who braved Old Man Winter gathered in the living room of Florence and Harry Cicconi for Mass.
When Father Bill Irwin sent out a plea for altar boys, parishioner Sharon Keichinger suggested having altar girls. Irwin had no problem with that and so Keichinger's daughter Charmaine became St. Theresa's first altar girl.
Like many parishes, St. Theresa's had humble beginnings. The first Sunday Masses were celebrated in music rooms and gymnasiums at local schools.
There is some confusion as to the exact date of the first Mass of St. Theresa's Parish. Some say it was in 1974 in a classroom at St. Elizabeth School, but some remember an earlier Mass celebrated by Father Duncan MacDonnell at Grace Martin School.
By the fall of 1974, Irwin assumed pastoral duties at St. Theresa's. He began visiting parishioners and compiled a parish list of 75 families. The number of families grew. Masses were held in chapels at St. Hilda and St. Clement's schools.
The sod for the church site was turned in September 1980, followed by the official opening of the church a year later.
"It's always been a big church," said Strauss. "And it just keeps growing."
It's not likely the growth at St. Theresa's will slow down. New developments continue to spring up in the area and new families walk through the church doors every Sunday. There are plans for a new parish in the area, but the planning and building could take up to five years.
But the growth is a welcoming one for both Colburn and Strauss.
"You're always meeting someone new here," said Strauss.
Being a large parish sometimes means that not everyone will get all the personal attention they need.
Colburn tries not to spread himself too thin, but with more than 250 baptisms and dozens of weddings so far this year, he doesn't get opportunities to make personal visits to parishioners' homes.
"I find myself spending more time on the phone," he said.
With the arrival of newly ordained Father Mark McGee in November, Colburn anticipates having more time to visit with parishioners.
"In a small parish, a pastor can be more hands-on. Here, a pastor gives support to those involved in the ministries. I'm not here to run everything. I can't. It's not possible. We have many people here who are involved in many activities and all I need to do is support them."
In a parish the size of St. Theresa's there's always an abundance of skills and talents to be shared. This is apparent by the 50 plus active ministries - everything ranging from the food bank, the only one in the area, to a bowling league.
"These are like small Christian communities in themselves," Colburn said of the ministries. "It gives that (homey) feel in such a big parish."
But even with all the ministries in place, Strauss would still like to see more.
"We could always use more (ministries) for education, formation," he said. "There's always room for more."
And with all the people in the parish, Colburn doesn't have difficulty in finding an expert in any field. From computer technicians to translators, there is always someone at St. Theresa's who specializes in something.
"I think you'll find someone to speak just about any language," Colburn said.
Size is a weak spot for St. Theresa's. As much as the parish council and Colburn tries to meet and greet people before and after Mass, they know there are parishioners they never see.
"We're aware of that," said Strauss of the potential that some parishioners may get lost in the crowd. "With the volume we have, we're not reaching out to everyone. But parish council has made hospitality a priority this year. We're working harder on that."
As for other disadvantages, Strauss only sees what he calls "logistical problems" in such a large parish. "The parking lot is very small for our size," he said. "That's all I see as a problem."
But despite the minor problems, St. Theresa's parishioners try to exude a welcoming aura.
"There is a strong sense of community and family in spite of the size," Colburn said. "People have made strong bonds here."