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St. Stephen the First Martyr breaks ground for new church


A large contingent of St. Stephen the First Martyr’s parish community came out on All Saints Day to be part of the ground-breaking service for their new church. Father Robert Ippolito, M.S., pastor of the Sanford church, offered prayers and sprinkled holy water on the building site. Parishioners were also given bottles of holy water to sprinkle over grounds before processing into the church for the celebration of the All Saints Day Mass, concelebrated by Father Hector LaChapelle, M.S.

While the Catholic community in Sanford has history dating back to 1896, the existing St. Stephen campus was constructed in 2005, according to Father Ippolito. In the absence of a church building, the community has gathered for Mass in the parish hall.

“We have a very vibrant and growing parish, but we delayed the new sanctuary until our community was financially and spiritually comfortable with the project,” said Father Ippolito.

Several conversations and a survey within the parish led to a contract with architect Mike Berry, of the Charlotte firm WKWW, who began design and plan preparation. The diocese and Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama approved plans for the new building, which will measure 15,000 square feet. The new sanctuary will be located on existing church property, just north of the parish hall.

Deacon Bob Bridwell said the parish’s rapid growth in the 21st century has led to a need for a larger space and a worship area more fitting for Catholic traditions.

“We are a large community with over 6,000 people,” he said. “All of our parish groups are very active, and we were having a difficult time accommodating all the needs.  Some of our Masses literally have people standing in the halls. And our worship was taking place in a parish hall designed for meetings and events.” 

When the new sanctuary is complete, the parish hall will revert to its originally designed purpose as a site for parish functions and events. Construction will take an estimated 12 months.

At the time of this story, dedication was expected to take place in late 2018.

- J. Eric Braun