Challenges, obstacles didn’t deter St. John the Evangelist community
The towering new stone church of St. John the Evangelist, Waynesboro, is located at 301 Sheppard Court, a symbolic address designed by God himself in the eyes of many parishioners. More than once did God’s hand seem present in building the new Romanesque-style church, which was dedicated by Bishop Barry C. Knestout on Sunday, July 4.
The “3-in-1” reference to the Holy Trinity and the “shepherd” echo in the address, located on ideal land that became available late in the planning process, has struck many parishioners as remarkable.
Numerous obstacles during the long planning and construction process, including the pandemic, always seemed to work out in unexpected ways. It is all evidence of God’s presence in times both good and challenging, said the church’s pastor, Father Rolo Castillo.
“The Holy Spirit provided everything,” he said.
‘Miracles’ along the way
There were “eye-opening” miracles along the way, noted parishioner Mike McGinnis, who headed the architecture and construction committee.
“I was constantly amazed at how, with every problem, the solution would just appear,” said McGinnis, a parish member since 1997.
For example, the land — a better site than the original plan — was not even on the market yet but was mentioned in a conversation.
“It was awesome and humbling; God built this church,” he said.
True to its name, the church is spreading the good news.
“This will be a welcoming and inviting space for everyone — even the curious may come in the doors and look around, and those who have stopped practicing their faith,” Father Castillo said, praising the “soaring vision” of architect Nicolas Charbonneau of Harrison Design in Washington, D.C. “The building itself is a tool for evangelization, a place to explore faith and discover God.”
Non-Catholics also have shown an interest in the church, and tours are being offered to the community.
Parishioner Phil Thorpe, the building committee chair, has a background in project planning and was married in the old church decades ago.
“Every time there was a need, a miracle would happen,” he said, noting that before the pandemic, the project was short $2.5 million. “And then someone gave us $2.5 million. This is a project of the Holy Spirit.”
While the old 1932 church on Maple Avenue downtown was full of fond memories, it could seat only 280 people and was too small for the growing parish. It also had limited parking and restrooms that were inconveniently far away.
The new church seats 600 and has two large parking lots and restrooms with easy access near the front entrance, as well as offices, classrooms and other public spaces that will enable greater participation in parish life.
‘Living Our Mission’ had important role
Father Castillo credits not only the generosity of parishioners and other supporters but also the diocesan “Living Our Mission” capital campaign to obtain the financing needed to complete the $12.5 million project. Discussions began in 2011, with the project fully underway in 2014.
“When the campaign for the diocese was initiated in 2011, we were told we could ‘piggyback’ on that to raise funds,” Father Castillo said. “The diocese’s willingness to do that was definitely a great help in enabling us to make our goal.”
The resulting generosity of donors “was a great testament to the people of this community,” he added.
At the dedication Mass, Bishop Knestout anointed the altar with sacred oil and blessed the church with holy water and incense. He also placed relics of St. Stephen, St. Therese of the Infant Jesus, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Maria Goretti, St. Rose of Lima and St. Francis de Sales beneath the altar.
At the dedication, attended by area Catholic and ecumenical clergy, Bishop Knestout referred to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (“You are no longer strangers”): “Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred to the Lord.”
For the present, future
Part of the beauty of the new church, noted by many, is the inclusion of elements of the former church. The stained-glass rose window and reframed stations of the cross have been brought in, and the old crucifix, tabernacle and altar have been moved to the chapel.
Parishioner Kathie Ward has attended St. John the Evangelist for 50-plus years with her family. It has been bittersweet to leave behind the memories in the old church, said Ward, who is the parish nurse, an usher and a finance council member.
“But I keep in mind that this new church is for many generations to come,” she said. “I think of the people who built the old church for me to have a place to worship, and now that’s what we’re doing for the future.”
Pat Cekada, a nearly 50-year member of the parish, also found the move bittersweet at first. But the new church is “breathtaking,” she said. She also was part of a procession, led by the Knights of Columbus, that brought the new crucifix to the church.
“That cross is so lifelike; I can’t take my eyes off it,” she said. “God is definitely watching over us.”
New chapter for parish
Karen Toomy, a parishioner since 1967, reflected: “I look forward to a new chapter in our St. John the Evangelist at Sheppard Court. It has been so beautifully done, with so much love and attention to every detail.”
Bob Prebish, a newer parishioner and Knight who helped carry the crucifix, said he and his wife, Martha, were drawn by Father Castillo’s dynamic homilies and the warm community that loves its church.
“People had tears in their eyes when they came to the new church,” especially after being away from Mass during the pandemic, he said. “In so many ways, this is a new beginning.”
Lector Dan Toft, a five-year Catholic convert, has noticed the improved sound when he reads.
“There’s a nice echo in the new place,” he said, adding that even the bright and colorful crucifix and statues of Mary and Joseph have deepened his faith experience. “The Lord really does work in mysterious ways.”
“I think we all grew from this experience because everybody had a chance to be part of it,” said 34-year member Linda Thompson. “It’s a sacred place and I feel like I’m home.”
One challenge that faced the parish was what to do with the old property. In another remarkable turn, an ideal tenant and future buyer appeared in Appalachian Christian School, which needed to relocate from the Afton area. It successfully reopened at the new site in August 2020.
“It was serendipity — some say the Holy Spirit — that the head of the school just happened to pass by the church one day when he was in town,” said Jim Boland, a 17-year parishioner who led the marketing effort.
“The Holy Spirit is calling all of us to participate,” said Father Castillo. “While looking at the stone exterior, I thought of the ‘living stone’ of Scripture. The stones are irregular in color, shape and size but every one has a place, like us, and together they make this monument to faith.”