Dedication of Catholic church set for Sunday

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Carolynn Moritz of Bigfork prays after a morning Mass in the new Pope John Paul II Catholic Church in Bigfork. Official dedication ceremonies for the new church are Sunday. Chris Jordan photos/Daily Inter Lake

Workers were busy this week at the Pope John Paul II Catholic Church north of Bigfork, putting things in order for Sunday's formal dedication.

As the first church taking the name of the beloved pope since his death in April, the church wants to properly honor its namesake.

The dedication service, which will be presided over by the Most Rev. George Leo Thomas, bishop of Helena, will be at 10:30 a.m. The Mass will be followed by a parish picnic.

The church also will offer its regular schedule this weekend, with Mass at 4:30 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Pope John Paul II Church, on Coverdell Road just off Montana 35, brings together the congregations of two former churches - St. Ann's in Somers and St. Catherine's in Bigfork.

The closing of both churches was controversial as many parishioners fought the move, but growth was stretching both facilities well beyond capacity, and the Helena Diocese deemed the new church a necessity. Ground was broken for the new facility in May 2004.

Even with room for almost 500 people, the pews have been nearly full since services began about a month ago. Last Sunday at the 10:30 a.m. Mass, only 20 spaces were left, Monsignor Donald Shea said.

Shea, who served as pastor for St. Ann's and St. Catherine's for two years, realizes it was difficult for some parishioners to leave the places where so many memories rested.

"People were married and baptized in those churches. They had all those associations," Shea said. "But people were standing outside in the summer because we were so packed out. That just doesn't cut it."

There also were problems with parking and accessibility that could not be solved at the old sites, Shea said.

He believes members from both churches have embraced the new situation.

"I think they were happy to see that the new church looked and felt like a church," he said. "It's kind of like the people in this valley. It's not super contemporary, but it's not ultra-conservative. That's where the faith base of the valley is at."

With the exception of a rug that was made in England and the stations of the cross depicted in wall hangings from Italy, the building is created from local materials with finish work done by local artists and craftspeople.

The spacious, light-filled sanctuary is built of cedar, detailed with Montana-quarried stone, and finished in a nature-themed color scheme of greens and neutral tones.

The pews from St. Ann's were recycled as staggered wooden panels placed at the front of the church with the decorative ends of the pews turned into chairs.

Other features culled from the old churches include the figure of Christ on the crucifix and the altar from St. Catherine's, and the church bell from St. Ann's. The bell was cast in the early 1900s.

A larger-than-life-size bronze bust of Pope John Paul II, to be installed in the vestibule sometime in the next month, was sculpted by local artist Terry Mimnaugh, known for her statues of Jeannette Rankin in Helena and in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

Myni Ferguson, a Whitefish artist, created two stained-glass windows and two etched windows. "The Gifts" reflects the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the back of the sanctuary behind the baptismal font, and "St. Patrick at Armagh" is in the small St. Patrick chapel.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, a formal blessing and dedication of the Walker digital organ and the Yamaha piano are scheduled, followed by a joint recital by guest artists Mark Jones and Jeffri Bantz.

An upstairs room behind the wall on which the crucifix hangs was originally planned for storage, but has instead become a sound chamber, housing the 25 speakers required for the digital organ.

For more information, call 837-4846.

Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4431 or by e-mail at hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

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