MOORESVILLE – Some St. Therese Catholic Church finance committee members independently laughed about the timing of the start of a $7 million capital campaign to build a new church.
“It was the worst time,” Janet Manzullo and Phil Bischoff each said, both also adding it was in the midst of the “financial meltdown.”
As the country and the community were feeling the effects of the recession, parishioners were still willing to open their hearts and wallets to raise funds for a church that continues to grow.
“I am amazed at the continued generosity of the members of the parish,” said Bischoff, who served on the building committee during the design phase around 2007. “The diocese we report to that governs everything has specific rules about how much money can be borrowed and how much money has to be in the bank before the groundbreaking. We met all of the milestones.”
The church groundbreaking was held in 2013 with the dedication taking place in 2015.
The parish recently paid off the remaining $1.5 million debt from the project ahead of the 2023 deadline and held a ceremonial mortgage burning to celebrate.
The event was combined with performances by the church choirs followed by a fire outside in a ceramic bowl to symbolically burn the mortgage note. Receptions were held after every Mass so everyone could participate.
“We wanted people to be joyful about it,” the Rev. Mark Lawlor said.
The need for space
After initially meeting in an private home, the St. Therese Mission occupied a space on Main Street before becoming an independent parish in the 1950s.
Ground was broken at the church’s current Brawley School Road property in 1986. St. Therese later divided to form St. Mark Catholic Church in Huntersville. But the growth hasn’t stopped.
The Parish Life Center at St. Therese was built in 2002, offering education, music and social opportunities. Once that was completed, talk of constructing a new church building began.
“There was discussion because we were growing so fast,” Manzullo said. “We needed a new building.”
Bischoff said he and others on the building committee wanted to make sure they did it right and were excited to help shape the look and feel of the new sanctuary, which holds around 1,100 people.
But the money had to be acquired.
Manzullo said she is “hesitant to call it a miracle” because paying off the campaign was due to parishioners’ efforts. People would extend their payments to four years instead of the promised three, some who hadn’t pledged would give donations or others would join the church and support the cause, she said.
“It was so cool when at the finance council meeting Melinda (Drury) said we were making the final payment,” Manzullo said, adding, “It’s hard to find the words because it’s so big to be able to pay it off early.
“That’s what’s so impressive about this parish. All you have to do is ask, whether it’s building a church, supporting others in the community, the Thanksgiving dinner, the community always rises to the occasion.”
A year ago, church officials purchased 6.8 more acres, including parcels adjacent to Sunfish Drive, to expand the church property.
Lawlor said with the development surrounding the 23-acre church property, buying more land seemed like a good investment for St. Therese, which currently serves 4,000 families.
Because this is a different loan, the church is again not debt-free. For now, families are renting three homes on the newly purchased property, which will pay down the debt, though long-range goals are for the spaces to potentially be used for parish use, parking and picnic areas. Everything is preliminary, and nothing has been approved by officials through the church or community, Lawlor said.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Lawlor said. “Neighbors may not be happy about our plans. But they are not going to see a bulldozer next week. We have to go through all of the channels.”
The priest added he hopes future church members will be as thankful for the forethought to buy the property as current parishioners are that the church moved to a larger space from Main Street.
“Even though there were only 300 families (then) they could have bought 4-5 acres, but we are thankful they bought a big property,” Lawlor said, adding the growth is expected for decades to come. “The next generation hopefully appreciates us spending a million dollars and realizes the benefit of it. Since we’ve acquired it, people have been overwhelmingly positive even though we were so close to paying off the other one.”
Bischoff said he’s excited to see where the church goes from here.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said. “I’m amazed at what the parish does as it continues to grow. There is so much more we can be, not just for ourselves but the larger community.”