By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – Sunday, Feb. 24, was a sunny and cool day, perfect for the dedication of St. Therese Parish New Life Building. After several days of rain, the weather cleared and Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Msgr. Elvin Sunds, pastor, Deacon Adolfo Suarez and parishioners stood outside the new building after the 12:30 bilingual Mass for the blessing and dedication.
The construction of this building, which will be used for parish offices and religious education classes, began in February 2018 and was finished on Saturday, Feb. 23. The cost of the construction was $1.5 million, Msgr. Sunds said, adding that most of money from the sale of St. Therese school, about $500,000, and a little from the sale of Jackson St. Mary Church’s building in 2015, were the seed money to start the project.
“We also had very generous donations from parishioners and friends in the community,” he said. Msgr. Sunds noted the parish had two large donations, one for $100,000 from a Catholic Mississippian and $70,000 from a non-Catholic.
“A big help also came from members of the Hispanic community of St. Therese Parish who provided labor for free in the amount of $115,000. Joel Montoya, a contractor who recently received the Bishop Chance Award, coordinated the Hispanic volunteers who donated their labor. “We also had some volunteers from Jackson St. Peter Parish and from other area Catholic parishes who came to the site and asked how they could help,” he said. “I didn’t know them but if they wanted to help I directed them to the areas where they could work.” Montoya said about 45 Hispanic volunteers and a few Americans did about 40 percent of the labor including sheet-rocking, framing, insulating, painting,, brick laying and other tasks.
He said that few who had committed to help but at the last minute couldn’t do it, paid others to do it for them. “That shows how serious they were about being part of this project,” he said. Msgr. Sunds and Montoya feel very blessed for all the help and donations the parish received for the construction of the New Life Building and the day of the blessing they wanted to have a photo with all the volunteers as a memory for the future.
A loan was taken for the rest of the money, about $600,000, which will be paid in 17 years. Msgr. Sunds said Bishop Kopacz is very committed to making sure that St. Therese Parish is an anchor for the South Jackson community and a large anchor for the Hispanic community. “That is why he extended the loan a little further than normal so we were able to go ahead with the project. It was a project that was really necessary for the parish but it is also a statement about St. Therese Parish saying ‘we are here to stay.’”
The parish is very multicultural, including Hispanics, non-Hispanics, African Americans, and others from Vietnam, Africa, Nigeria, and the Philippines.
Msgr. Sunds said they tried to utilize as many of the sacred objects as they could from St. Mary Parish. Some were old or in disrepair and had to either be buried or burned. “We felt it was appropriate to bury them under the foundation of the new building as saying that we are continuing the life of St. Mary here at St. Therese,” he added. The Stations of the Cross at St. Therese are part of St. Mary Parish too.
Volunteers also helped with moving furniture and items from storage and from the current offices to the new building. After the blessing and dedication of the building parishioners gathered to enjoy a reception and cook out.