Corpus Christi culminates 16-year, $16M project

Archbishop Richard Smith gives the final blessing at a March 19 Mass dedicating Corpus Christi Church. The $16-million church in Southeast Edmonton has been in the dreaming, planning and construction phases for 16 years.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Richard Smith gives the final blessing at a March 19 Mass dedicating Corpus Christi Church. The $16-million church in Southeast Edmonton has been in the dreaming, planning and construction phases for 16 years.

April 4, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

'What can I say? It's just beautiful," Archbishop Richard Smith exclaimed as he arrived in the sanctuary in preparation for the dedication of the new Corpus Christi Church March 19.

It was a joyous day for the congregation, who had been worshiping in school gyms for more than a decade.

The 1,500-seat church was full for the dedication Mass as parishioners gave thanks for their new and permanent place of worship.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

The 1,500-seat church was full for the dedication Mass as parishioners gave thanks for their new and permanent place of worship.

"As we gather this morning for the dedication of this church, one word comes to mind: finally!" the archbishop said in his homily to the delight of the congregation.

"We gather in a church that has been 16 years in the making, and give thanks to God for inspiring the generosity and creativity that has brought us to this moment."

Corpus Christi, at 2707-34 St., is the second parish in the Millwoods area of southeast Edmonton. Then-Archbishop Thomas Collins established it to serve the area east of 50th Street. In June 2006 Collins blessed the property and chose the name Corpus Christi.

Construction began in March 2014 after Smith sat in a backhoe to turn the first sod and "sent people running for cover as I put my hand to the controls."

The parish was administered from St. Theresa Church, 7508-29 Ave., until last year when the archbishop named Father Joseph Vadassery as Corpus Christi pastor and Father Matthew Hysell as associate pastor.

In 2004, the homeless parish began celebrating Masses in the gyms of Father Michael Troy and Holy Family schools. In 2011, parish activities were centralized at Father Michael Troy School in order to build community.

The first two Masses in the new church were celebrated Jan. 31, just days after construction was completed.

Corpus Christi Church's Blessed Sacrament chapel is located behind the main altar.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Corpus Christi Church's Blessed Sacrament chapel is located behind the main altar.

The church was built at a cost of $16 million. So far, parishioners have raised more than $6.22 million in pledges and direct donations to pay for the building - a modern 4,418-square-metre facility with seating for 1,500 people.

"Today we dedicate this church building to the glory of God," the archbishop said in his homily. "By God's grace and the intercession of St. Joseph, may we likewise dedicate ourselves every day and so live as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, the dwelling God planned from all eternity."

The church was full for the two-hour dedication ceremony, during which Smith deposited a portion of the relics of St. Peter below the altar top and, with Chrism oil, anointed the altar and the walls of the church in 12 places. The archbishop later incensed the altar and two deacons walked through the nave incensing the people.

Next came the lighting of the altar and the church. Couples who have been with Corpus Christi Parish since its inception received lit candles from the archbishop and placed them in 12 "dedication crosses" with candleholders.

The church is fan-shaped much like St. Charles, St. Theresa, Holy Trinity and other churches in the archdiocese.

A unique feature is the roofline and ceiling which have a traditional cruciform shape, open to below. The outside of the Blessed Sacrament chapel has a lantern form, visible from 34th Street. The chapel will have perpetual adoration, and thus the lights will always be on.

The new church also features a hall with a commercial kitchen for up to 500 people, an office area for administration, ample gathering space and several meeting rooms. There is no basement as the water table is too high.

Corpus Christi has incorporated elements from at least two other churches into its design, including a large crucifix from Holy Spirit Church that now hangs in the new Blessed Sacrament chapel. The Stations of the Cross now in Corpus Christi were originally located in St. John the Evangelist Church.

Attendees at Mass file past Corpus Christi's baptismal font as they leave the church

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Attendees at Mass file past Corpus Christi's baptismal font as they leave the church

"There is a lot that's unique about the church, just the shape, the roundness, everything that we've done to make it friendly and welcoming," said Ingrid von Dolder-Frigon, chair of the building committee.

NATURAL LIGHT

Von Dolder-Frigon also mentioned the natural light coming in through the four 2.4-metre round Corpus Christi windows positioned at the four ends of the cruciform nave. One day these windows will have stained glass.

Von Dolder-Frigon is the concept originator for the baptismal font, the tabernacle, the Stations of the Cross and other liturgical symbols through the church. She is now secretary/bookkeeper for the parish.

"One thing that's profoundly unique to Corpus Christi is its open concept, which is very inviting to the people," said Deacon Gem Mella, also a member of the building committee.

"There are no posts to obstruct the visibility; all is centred into the Eucharist. I think this church is very practical and well thought out."

Michele Brubaker, another building committee member, loves the fact Corpus Christi is a traditional church with modern elements.

"If you were to look at the church from above, it is cruciform in shape," Brubaker explained. "There are no columns (to block the view), and you can see (the altar) from everywhere. And there is this beautiful warmth from all the light that comes in. We love that."

NOT A GRAIN ELEVATOR

Poles also gives credit to the archbishop who made it clear that "the new building must look like a church, not like a spaceship, a grain elevator or a barn."

Architect Sergio Poles said Corpus Christi was a collaborative effort with direction and inspiration from Father Jim Corrigan, the pastor in charge of building the church, Father Paul Kavanagh, a liturgical design specialist for the archdiocese, and the Corpus Christi building committee.

Ingrid von Dolder-Frigon, chair of the building committee, holds the holy water for Archbishop Smith as he blesses the sanctuary.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Ingrid von Dolder-Frigon, chair of the building committee, holds the holy water for Archbishop Smith as he blesses the sanctuary.

The selection of the curved pews by Corrigan transformed what could have been an ordinary boxy linear pew layout into an organic space where all the seats are focused on the sanctuary, Poles explained later in an email.

"The 'endless' pew design (no side gables) is a departure from the traditional pew design, and creates a warm inviting atmosphere, where you easily slide in to your seat from the aisle."

The baptismal font, placed at the entry to the nave, is the first of the three most important liturgical elements people see as they enter the church. The font is eight-sided because eight represents the Lord's Day and is also an Easter symbol.

FROM INDIA VIA CHINA

Poles said the red granite of the font was quarried in India, cut and finished in China.

The altar is made of rose-coloured marble and red granite and has the Chi Rho symbol carved on the front vertical face. The Chi Rho is an ancient symbol and represents the first two first letters of the Greek word for Christ.

The altar has a niche on the back vertical face where the archbishop placed a relic of St. Peter, the first pope.

The tabernacle is centrally located on the sanctuary wall. The font, altar and tabernacle are positioned on a straight axis so they are clearly visible when one first enters the nave.

The tabernacle, which is two-sided and extends through the sanctuary wall into the chapel, was designed by the Corpus Christi building committee team and constructed by a local bronze fabricator.