On Saturday, October 23, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge celebrated a vigil Mass at St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill and blessed new construction in the church and on the parish campus.
The construction, which took five years and cost almost $12 million, included a new gym and athletic field, a columbarium, an art and music building for St. Thomas More School, and a parish center with a social hall, meeting rooms, a library, a nursery and new parish offices. The expansion added about 50,000 square feet to the parish complex. It was funded by donations, savings from the church and a loan from the Diocese of Raleigh. Careful attention was paid during the construction process to conserve resources by making the buildings energy efficient and to protect the environment.
The parish also built a new tabernacle in the church sanctuary. Diocesan norms state that church buildings in the Diocese are to be adapted so that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle located in or near the sanctuary of the church building. The tabernacle at St. Thomas More is placed prominently and symbolically in relation to the altar, the crucifix, the baptismal font and the stained glass window depicting the Resurrection, so as to “bridge the Paschal Mystery and our divine worship,” according to the parish Web site.
Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Burbidge were Fr. John Durbin, Pastor of St. Thomas More; Msgr. David Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese; Msgr. Michael Clay, former Pastor of St. Thomas More; Fr. Robert Benko, OFM Conv., Dean of the Piedmont Deanery; Fr. Scott McCue, Assistant Principal for Spiritual Life at Cardinal Gibbons High School; Fr. Dan Oschwald, Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral; and Fr. Romen Acero, St. Thomas More’s Parochial Vicar.
In his homily, the Bishop said, “Throughout the parish building project, I am sure you often stated or heard the words, ‘This is a work in progress.’ Tonight’s Gospel is a powerful reminder that we, too, are ‘works in progress.’ That phrase helps to define the conversion to which we are all called in and through our Baptism. Conversion is an ongoing transformation in the way we live; a transformation on all levels of human living.”
Carlos Lima, Parish Administrator of St. Thomas More, said, “This project opens new phase for service and spiritual growth in our community. And it has been a deeply fulfilling and humbling experience to be able to be part of a project of this magnitude in service of the Church.”
St. Thomas More became a parish in 1940, with a membership of around 200, most students at UNC-Chapel Hill. Today some 2,500 families call St. Thomas More their spiritual home, including, Fr. Durbin said, “a vibrant and active Hispanic community.” But the changes, according to the pastor, “are not about numeric growth, but about serving the parish and the wider community better.”
Above: The new tabernacle, blessed by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, at St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill. (Courtesy Chris Elam.)
Above and below: Procession following the celebration of Mass for the blessing of new buildings on the St. Thomas More Campus. New buildings include a gym, art and music building and a parish center/social hall.