NEW CHAPTER - St. Stephens Catholic Church is coming right along - the congregation hopes to be utilizing the building by the Christmas season.                                Mark Weber/Lacombe Express

NEW CHAPTER - St. Stephens Catholic Church is coming right along - the congregation hopes to be utilizing the building by the Christmas season. Mark Weber/Lacombe Express

Local congregation set to celebrate brand new church building

St. Stephen’s Catholic Church scheduled to be ready for the Christmas season

Members of a local congregation are growing more excited as the construction of their new church building nears completion.

St. Stephen’s Catholic Church is slated to be done in time for Advent, said Brian Malak, a parishioner at the church and head of the building committee for the project.

“St. Stephen’s as a parish was actually started in 1903 – so it has been here for a long time, and we’ve been in two locations. We used to have a church where the Legion is now. And then they outgrew that by 1940 or so, so they purchased the land that we are on now,” he explained.

That building was opened back in 1951.

“It lasted for six decades, and it was built largely with a lot of volunteer labour,” he said.

Sadly, the much-loved building was starting to show its age so the decision was made to launch plans for a new church.

By 2015, it was clear something had be done in a relatively timely manner.

“So the decision was made to abandon the building that fall, right after that hail storm (that summer). There were tears,” he recalled. Since then, the congregation has been generously hosted by Father Lacombe Catholic School, he said.

“They’ve really helped us out allowing us to celebrate there, and we have our office upstairs there in the school as well. Basically they’re housing the majority of our functions. Masses are during the weekends in the gym,” he added, noting that students even help to set up for services.

“There’s a good synergy; we’ve been very happy there.”

Still, planning a new church has been a most enjoyable process, and seeing it all actually come to fruition has been that much more exciting for parishioners.

“The goal is to be able to move out (of the school) by the end of November this year, so that will be exactly two years,” he said.

“It’s an aggressive schedule – a lot of people still don’t think we will even be in by Christmas,” he added with a chuckle. When one takes a look at the building now, he admits it’s hard to imagine they will be all set up and running by the Christmas season.

But the weather has largely cooperated with ongoing construction.

“The weather has been absolutely fantastic for building this year,” he said.

“For us, it’s a remarkable project when you consider we knocked down the old church just last year in February. In 2016, we also spent a lot of time prepping for the project – revising the concept plan, working on the details, figuring out how we were going to pay for it which was one of the biggest things,” he added. “Every dollar that goes into this church is a parishioner dollar.

“When you consider that – we have 450 families that are building this $3.2 million church. Yes we will have a mortgage, but we will also have a new church,” he explained. They are also calling it a ‘100 year church’ because of the exceptional construction work that is seeing it through to completion down to the tiniest detail.

Malak added that the trades have just been terrific with their work and commitment to the project.

“When we have fallen behind, they’ve worked six days a week and sometimes seven days a week to put us back on schedule, so the trades have really been excellent. Scott Builders set up the schedule so on the 24th of November we can do substantial completion, and they can hand us the keys! That’s the goal.

“That would allow us to celebrate Advent in our church.”

It’s a key time in the history of the church – a time to reflect but a time to embrace an exciting future.

“While heart-wrenching, the destruction of the old building actually all occurred within three days,” he said. “It was amazingly quick – even in February with the ground being so hard.”

Then of course the lot was vacant for a time prior to construction being launched on the new building.

So last summer, the congregation gathered for mass on the site.

“We set up a tent and we had mass right there – just to remind ourselves that this is where we were coming back to,” he added, smiling. He also wished to thank the community for all the support the church has enjoyed during this time as well.

“We’ve had an amazing amount of fundraisers. And just the financial and moral support from the congregation has been awesome.” From the builders to the trades to the City to the local residents – the folks from the church – including of course Father Shimit Abraham – are grateful.

Looking back, it’s certainly a wonderful legacy to cherish, as exciting as it is to think of all the ministry opportunities that are ahead.

“Some of the parishioners there today were involved in the construction of the original building. Some had been baptized there, confirmed there and married there, too.

“It’s exciting. It’s going to be a brand new and grand building. It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”