By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent
Tucked away in a quiet, residential area of Hainesport, the quaint, white building that is home to Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish blends into its neat surroundings.
Its small structure, however, belies the oversized spirit of its parishioners. It is this spirit and the dedication of its clergy, parishioners and Diocese that has culminated in the groundbreaking of a new multi-purpose worship center that will be built just across the street from the church.
“The multi-purpose worship center is an extension, another door of our parish,” Father Joe Noche, parish pastor, said in his homily May 4 before the groundbreaking ceremony. “It is a place where we can feed and tend to our love of Christ’s people.”
Father Noche and Deacon Leo Zito, parish pastoral associate, were joined by Father Phillip Pfleger, episcopal vicar of Burlington County, and Terry Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, as they dug into the ground with gold shovels and asked for Our Lady of Grace’s intercession with the building of the center.
Father Noche, who came to the parish six years ago, referenced in his homily the 15 years it took to break ground on the center. He reminded parishioners that things happen “not in our time, but in God’s time. And God’s time has come.”
The lot on which the center will be built – at the corner of Marne Highway and Lumberton Road – was purchased by the parish in the 1960s and has been used for parking and parish picnics. Father Noche said the new center will be able to house more than 600 people and have a large parking lot. It will serve as a worship space for overflow during Easter and Christmas season services, as well a gathering place for the parish’s numerous groups, activities and events.
Plans for its use also include continuing to welcome community events. For example, a yearly Italian festival draws more than 1,000 people to the parish grounds.
Ginther said the project is “a manifestation of what the people wanted. There was no place for the whole community to gather at once.”
Father Pfleger, who has presided over many Masses in Our Lady Queen of Peace Church over the years, also spoke of the community outreach.
“People are starting to realize that we are all the same Church,” he said. “We need to look at the resources of all the churches and blend them together. That’s what makes it a universal Church. That’s what makes it a Catholic Church.”
Father Pfleger compared the new center to the family room of a house, a place where parishioners can gather, as a family. “This is how we grow as a Church. Whatever our history is, we can make history, and today we are making history.”
Bill and Sue Robinson, parishioners since 1975, have as much enthusiasm about the new center as they do their beloved parish. “It’s not the building, it’s the people,” Sue Robinson said.
Bill Robinson agreed, saying he hopes the multi-purpose center will draw more young people to the Church.
The vibrant and growing parish of about 1,500 families has been saving for years for the center through a building fund, and lifelong parishioner Renee Rivera, whose grandparents helped build the church in 1951, has been following the center’s progress.
“It brings a lot of hope for the future generations of parishioners,” said Rivera, who serves on the parish’s finance council.