Archbishop to bless Our Lady of Belen’s new Parish Center

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Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael J. Sheehan will be on hand Friday night to bless Our Lady of Belen’s long-awaited, new multipurpose facility.

The celebration will begin with Sheehan presiding over Mass at 6 p.m., followed by a procession to the 17,300-square-foot parish center for a formal dedication.

Barron Jones-News-Bulletin photo: Father Stephen Schultz and teacher Arleen Sanchez stand with St. Mary’s Catholic School’s second-grade class at Our Lady of Belen’s new Parish Center. The $2.7 million building has been in the works for 14 years and officially will open this weekend.

Church officials started discussing plans to build the $2.7-million parish center about 14 years ago, after realizing the church needed more space to accommodate the many events it regularly hosts.

Instead of the church’s 3,200 families competing to host functions in the old parish hall, the new building can accommodate several events simultaneously.

Our Lady of Belen Pastor Stephen Schultz said parishioners have been allowed to use the new hall on a limited basis during the past few weeks and church members like what they saw.

“The response has been so overwhelmingly positive. The students from St. Mary’s and the parishioners are just delighted,” Schultz said. “They tell me it exceeds all of their expectations.”

The new building will make life easier for the 125 students attending the church’s pre-kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school. For the first time in the school’s history, students can now invite family and friends to watch them play home basketball and volleyball games at the center’s new regulation-sized gym.

The building also has a commercial kitchen that opens up into a 140-seat cafeteria used for the school’s lunch program.

“The students are really happy about it. They are very proud to have a brand-new facility to play their sports in and eat in,” said Melodie Good, principal at St. Mary’s. “I know it is a lot safer for our school because now we don’t have to cross a parking lot every day and it’s just wonderful.”

In addition to the upgrades to the school, the new center houses a large banquet hall that accommodates functions integral to parish life, such as bingo and this weekend’s Catholic Daughter of the America’s statewide convention.

“I’m delighted the archbishop could make time in his schedule to come down here,” Schultz said. “He is very busy this time of year, so it’s great he can come and lead the dedication for us.”

Schultz adds, as a point of pride, that when the archbishop dedicates the multimillion-dollar building Friday night, it will be 100 percent paid for with no outstanding mortgage.

Celine Baca Radigan, communication director for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said Catholic education and parish life are the archbishop’s top priority and he receives hundreds of requests, sometimes months in advance, from the more than 93 parishes and 230 missions in the archdiocese.

“He tries to be present at as many events as possible,” Radigan said. “He is always so grateful to parish communities at the grassroots level, the people in the pews, who share their time, talent and treasures in building the Kingdom of God.”

Radigan is referring to how the church raised $2 million to pay for the bulk of the project by passing the collection plate during church services. The other $700,000 came through a fundraising project Schultz abandoned soon after he took over pastorship of the parish.

“It was clear to me when I came here as pastor 10 years ago the capital campaign was, in my opinion, not going to be successful enough to raise the full amount needed,” Schultz said.

The “new parish hall,” as it is often referred to by church members, will replace the old one, built in the early 1960s. The old building will be renovated. Its use will be determined later.