April 14, 2017

Pastor, St. Monica parishioners ‘grateful’ to be back in church

Sharon Albert proclaims the first reading during Palm Sunday Mass while retired Father David Lawler and two altar servers listen in St. Monica Parish’s restored and renovated church on April 9. The location of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind the altar was one of the changes made to the sanctuary. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Sharon Albert proclaims the first reading during Palm Sunday Mass while retired Father David Lawler and two altar servers listen in St. Monica Parish’s restored and renovated church on April 9. The location of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind the altar was one of the changes made to the sanctuary. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Like Catholics around the world, the members of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis processed into their church on Palm Sunday to commemorate the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem in the days prior to his passion.

But for those who worship at the northwest side church, their procession was a bit of a personal triumphal march as well. Palm Sunday marked the first time the members worshipped in their church since Sept. 9, 2015.

On that date, the church’s narthex was destroyed by an accidental electrical fire. Smoke and water further damaged the interior of the church, rendering the worship space unusable.

Consequently, for the last 19 months, parishioners have worshipped in the St. Monica School gymnasium, which was dedicated solely to that purpose after the fire.

“I think we made the best of it we could,” says Father Todd Goodson, the parish’s pastor. “For what we had, it worked very well for Sunday Mass.”

It wasn’t so ideal for funerals and weddings, though, he says.

“When you’re really celebrating a special moment of someone’s life, you’re like, ‘This isn’t as good as it could be.’ That was the hard part for me about being in the gym,” he admits.

Despite the challenges, Father Goodson says there were some positives that came about as a result of the fire.

“In a positive way, it rallied us around a common project,” he says. “We’ve all had to sacrifice to get into the church and to be where we are. That’s brought us a little closer.

“I also think in terms of our ability to do ministry, we have not slowed down.”

Another positive outcome he notes is “how generous and kind people were while we were out of the church.”

In particular, he notes the assistance of the Indianapolis West Deanery parishes, members of St. Monica Parish, and the local community and churches surrounding the parish.

“One of the wonderful things to see was how generous and kind people were while we were out of the church,” he says. “This one kid—he wasn’t even Catholic—saved money in his piggy bank and donated it to us.”

As for the reason it took 19 months to return to the church space, Father Goodson has an explanation: “The pastor’s incompetence!” he says with a laugh. It was his first building project in almost 15 years as a priest. “There are a lot of irons in the fire when building a church. I learned a lot in the process.”

That process was complicated by the simultaneous projects of restoration from the fire—with damages costing more than $1.5 million—and renovation to the sanctuary and narthex as part of a $1.9 million capital campaign that was on the verge of starting before the fire.

Between the fire and the capital campaign, several changes have been made in the sanctuary and narthex of the church.

“The biggest impact is changing the lighting [in the sanctuary],” says Father Goodson. “We got rid of a hanging light grid. It’s really opened up the space. The original design [of the 1992 church] is that your eyes are elevated to heaven by the angle of the roof. That’s accentuated by the new lighting.”

Another noticeable change is the relocation of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel from near the narthex to behind the sanctuary.

“That [move] was more for orientation, so that when you walk into the church [the Blessed Sacrament] is more visible and more accessible to the altar,” Father Goodson explains.

Stained-glass windows separating the sanctuary from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel will be installed soon, he says.

The other obvious changes include the conversion of the former Blessed Sacrament Chapel into a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe; an octagonal, partial‑immersion baptismal font; and a slight expansion of the narthex.

“Overall, it just feels a lot more open and like a church,” Father Goodson says. “The narthex is roomier, and the church feels like it was designed to look.”

So how was the experience of celebrating Mass in the restored church on Palm Sunday weekend?

“It was fantastic, very nice,” Father Goodson says. “I’m so grateful. It’s just nice to be in a church instead of a gym.”

He is not alone in that sentiment.

“It’s great to be back,” says parishioner Mary Sullivan. “It’s been a long time in coming.”

Her favorite new feature is “having the Blessed Sacrament where it should be,” she says. She also notes that, “When we were in the gym, we weren’t able to have [the precious blood]. That’s another really nice thing about being back in the church is having the blood of Christ.”

Former parishioner Jason Hull, now a member of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Diocese of Lafayette, worshipped with his family at the 6 p.m. Sunday Mass.

“We’ve been to the ‘church-nasium’ several times,” he says. “It’s very nice to see home back in place.”

He says he appreciates the new use of the former Blessed Sacrament chapel as a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, noting that, “Where they had it before, it wasn’t very private. It will be a lot quieter now.”

Of the new features after the renovation and restoration, parishioner Marlon Alfonso says he is “so grateful for having the Blessed Sacrament [chapel] behind the altar—that’s where he really belongs, at the center of all things.”

Overall, Alfonso says being back in the church “is God’s blessing. I’m so happy. It looks really wonderful, and I thank God for all the people who helped rebuild St. Monica.”

Such gratitude was highlighted in an address Father Goodson delivered at the end of each of the parish’s seven Masses on Palm Sunday weekend.

“Living without a church building, while difficult, has helped us to understand gratitude in a more profound way,” he said. “Each time we celebrate Mass and worship together here in this place, my hope would be that we are being more deeply prepared to live in gratitude, to live as people who are transformed by what we celebrate every day in this space, the Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving.’ ” †

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