For several years, weekend Masses at St. Therese Catholic Church overflowed from the church’s 27-year-old sanctuary into at least two other rooms.
People packed in the church’s lobby, some standing, where they could see the service through windows and listen over speakers. St. Therese celebrated at least five Masses to accommodate the crowds.
But in April, the church dedicated its new 22,000-square-foot sanctuary building, which tripled seating capacity from 400 to 1,200. The church’s attendance has since jumped by another 400 people.
“We knew it was going to grow, but I didn’t anticipate it would be that many that quickly,” said Bill Streiff, president of the church’s parish council. “The area is growing so fast that I don’t think it will take too long and we’ll be filling up that church.”
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The increase in attendance wasn’t a one-time event due to the novelty of a new building – the new people have continued to come regularly, and now St. Therese will see as many as 2,800 people at its weekly masses.
St. Therese’s faith community was founded in 1946, and in 1949 it began meeting at 761 Main St. in Mooresville, a building that has since housed both Italian and Mexican restaurants.
In 1986, the church broke ground on its current site, on 25 acres along Brawley School Road. About 310 families were on the parish roles.
The influx of residents to the Lake Norman area and changes in the road system, such as adding Interstate 77’s exit 35 at Brawley School Road, have added to the church’s growth, Streiff said.
It is one of three Catholic churches in Lake Norman, and Statesville has another.
The new building project, which cost about $8 million and included parking lot improvements, took about a year. It followed several years of planning and fundraising, and now the church is ready to move into a new phase.
“After spending years doing the building, we want to spend years doing the parish building,” said the Rev. Vince Curtin, St. Therese’s pastor.
That means getting more people involved in church ministry and serving more people in the community. The church has a new motto to sum up its vision: “Love God, Follow Jesus, Serve All.”
The church has revived its stewardship committee, which Curtin says was “asleep” while St. Therese focused on fundraising, and is looking to expand its new Thanksgiving dinner ministry and missions work, among others.
In October, St. Therese will hold a stewardship fair to introduce new parishioners to the church’s ministries and give them a chance to volunteer.
Sunday Masses already have required more volunteers to handle the larger space, as more people are needed to greet parishioners and guests and help during the service. They are looking into hiring a youth minister and someone to help with audio and visual services, Streiff said.
The new building requires additional maintenance and janitorial services, and the church still is getting a handle on how much utility bills will increase.
“We’re in a learning process, so to speak, with a big facility,” Streiff said.
The new sanctuary, where Masses are held, is designed in a similar fan-shape to the old church. Its back walls are glass to fill the room with natural light, and new stained glass windows from a studio in Statesville stretch from the floor to the vaulted ceiling behind the altar.
Several parishioners responded to Curtin’s call for skilled woodworkers, and they built the church’s altar and accoutrements of red oak.
The building still has a few additions to come, including spires in a new gathering space outside the new sanctuary that will include the names of the 990 contributors to the church building fund.
When the new church was dedicated, Curtin told the congregation that he went to bed in tears on the night in 2006 that the church’s finance chairman told him St. Therese had to build a new church. “I had never been involved in such a complicated parish project,” Curtin said.
He said he had a change of heart as clergy and laity began working together to build the church. He quoted the Bible book of Ephesians, where St. Paul writes, “You are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own spirit to live.”
“In that spiritual context, over the last seven years, we have given the needed money, served on endless committees, even built many of the furnishings or made the accessories for this worship space,” he told the congregation. “I am very grateful for such a fruitful collaboration.”
He said the “warm church” would be a place of worship and a missionary station where parishioners could leave to “go into the community to bring Christ’s saving light to all whom we meet in south Iredell County.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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St. Therese Catholic Church is at 217 Brawley School Road in Mooresville. For information and Mass times, go to http://sainttherese.net.