By Elizabeth Lowe
JOPPA – After nearly three years without a parish center, parishioners and staff at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Joppa are more than ready for their new parish center to open.
Father Joseph C. Simmons, pastor of Holy Spirit since 1982, is “ecstatic” about the new center, which Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori is expected to bless Aug. 12 after Masses.
On Dec. 16, 2009, an accidental four-alarm fire destroyed two-thirds of the Southeastern Harford County parish center and caused roughly $1.9 million in damages, Father Simmons said.
The State Fire Marshal determined that the fire started in a small kitchenette that was being used for storage. An electrical circuit breaker was accidently turned on, activating a cooking appliance and igniting combustibles. The fire spread to cabinets and the roof. No injuries were reported. The center is not attached to the church.
The parish is insured through the Archdiocesan Property and Casualty Program.
Construction of the new center began about a year ago and is mostly complete, Father Simmons said. A couple of lampposts still need to be installed.
The 8,500 square foot center is the same size as the previous one built in 1965, Father Simmons said. With partitions, it boasts seven or eight classrooms, a food prep room with a refrigerator and sink, a supply room, three offices and a large hall for gatherings.
Lacking a parish center for 33 months was “horrible,” Father Simmons said. “We had to have our religious education classes held at Prince of Peace in Edgewood. Generally, we slacked off in activity.”
Religious education classes are expected to resume at the parish in the new center next month, Father Simmons said.
The parish has seen a decrease in its utility bills since the fire, Father Simmons said, but now expects to see a “noticeable” increase in its monthly bills.
While the modern building should be more cost efficient, Father Simmons said, he noted that “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
There was at least one benefit from the fire.
“It brought the parish a little more together as any tragedy or inconvenience does, but nothing remarkable,” said Father Simmons, who noted his gratitude to the archdiocese for their support.
Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, then the archbishop of Baltimore, visited the parish on the day of the fire.
“The archdiocese has supported us through the ordeal,” Father Simmons said, “and the parishioners and the neighbors.”
The 600 family parish community is “eager” for the Aug. 12 opening, said Father Simmons, who added that parishioners “were very patient without realizing how much progress was being made when it wasn’t visible.”
Parishioner Anne O’Connor said the past couple of years have been “challenging.”
“I’m looking forward to having classrooms for the kids,” said O’Connor, 57, of Joppatowne. “Everyone is excited about the opening for sure. We’re ready to roll with it.”
Mission Helper of the Sacred Heart Sister Susan Bunn, the director of religious education at the parish who serves in a similar capacity at Prince of Peace, said the parish community “did wonderfully. We more than made do. We did the best we could.”
Holy Spirit is “really, really alive with a wholesome faith and I think that’s the thing that’s going to move us into the future,” Sister Susan said. “A building won’t do it – the people are the strength of the parish.”
Copyright (c) Aug. 9, 2012 CatholicReview.org