Father Pfleger blesses the parish center with holy water, Hal Brown photo
Father Pfleger blesses the parish center with holy water, Hal Brown photo
After more than 15 years of planning, re-working, fundraising and prayer, Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish’s new parish center is now officially opened, blessed and dedicated.

Father Phillip Pfleger, who, as episcopal vicar of Burlington County, represented Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., presided over the dedication at the start of the Nov. 20 Mass in the presence of hundreds of members of the Hainesport parish and Father Joe Noche, pastor.

Photo Gallery: Our Lady Queen of Peace dedicates parish center

“After much work and prayer, we gather now to bless and dedicate this new center for our parish’s activities and a place where we may come to know one another and give witness to our faith in Christ,” prayed Father Pfleger. 

“May all who come here know the presence of Christ, experience the joy of his friendship and always grow in his love, through Christ our Lord,” he said.

Father Noche, in an interview with The Monitor, said the development of the parish center, which is located across Marne Highway from the main church, dates back to more than 15 years ago and had the main purpose of accommodating the area’s growing Catholic population.

While the land had been purchased and funds had been raised, multiple setbacks occurred over the years that delayed the construction from proceeding. Uniting the parish and building, a "multi-purpose center" became a priority for Father Noche when he arrived as pastor about eight years ago. But after more consideration, he instead opted to build a "parish center" that could be used for Masses as well as for other parish activities and functions.

Once he received approval, Ryan Regina of Big Sky Enterprises, Gibbsboro, was hired as the contractor and Michael Campbell was hired as the architect. Ground was broken in May 2019 and the project was completed last year.

The angular shaped, one-floor building whose exterior resembles that of a church, accommodates about 350 people in its main room, which will be used for the celebration of larger Masses and other gatherings. An area set up as a stage will also serve as the sanctuary for Masses. During the Nov. 20 Mass, Father Pfleger blessed the tabernacle, which is prominently placed in the center of the sanctuary behind the altar.

Other rooms include a large, industrial, full-service kitchen for functions such as funeral repasts and wedding receptions; restrooms, and smaller spaces that are used as a cry room, for parishioners with social distancing concerns, where the Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated and where the priests and deacons vest for Mass. A large statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace graces the foyer and many of the other statues and church furnishings have either been donated by parishioners; belong to Father Noche, or were acquired from Christ the Redeemer Church in nearby Mount Holly after the parish closed earlier this year.  

In his remarks at the end of Mass, Father Noche acknowledged that the completion of the building was a long journey then commended the parishioners for their unwavering support, generosity and patience.

During the planning process, Father Noche shared how humbled he was when someone had said to him, “Remember, this is not your building, it’s the people’s building. You are building it for the people of God,” he said.

“As your pastor, I am humbled to build this building for you.”

Parish staff member Carol Nasife and longtime active parishioner Cheryl Ruggiano praised Father Noche’s vision and the many ways the building will benefit the parish.

Nasife, a parish staff member since 1986, noted that since it opened last year, the building was used to accommodate the overflowing crowds at the Christmas and Easter Masses. Before that, “we had to rely on other spaces such as the local firehouse or Hainesport School.”

The families of First Holy Communion and Confirmation students, Nasife added, “were happy since they could invite as many family members as they wanted to the Masses” and, most especially, the building was a “godsend” during the pandemic in that it allowed for more parishioners to be in attendance for Mass and still follow proper social distancing measures.

“Today is a grand day for Our Lady Queen of Peace,” said Ruggiano, a lifetime parishioner who currently serves as coordinator of several liturgical ministries and also works with her son in overseeing the parish Facebook page and website.

“We are a family at Queen of Peace and we now have a larger space to gather with our family and to continue to bring more and more people to this house of God,” she said.

Deacon Lee Zito likewise expressed his belief that the building will offer spiritual benefits to the community. “The parish center will help with different events and ministries and make it possible for the people who come here to do some really good things.” 

Video interviews conducted by freelance photographer Hal Brown contributed to this story.