By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
SPANISH FORT — Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish celebrated its brief history, but with an eye on the future.
In June 2018, the Spanish Fort parish became the first in the Archdiocese of Mobile to be established from the ground-up in more than 40 years. On June 23, 2019, the parish celebrated its first anniversary with Mass at its temporary home at Prodisee Pantry.
Pastor Fr. James Cink also unveiled building plans for permanent parish facilities, beginning with a multipurpose building. The archdiocese donated 26 acres of land on Highway 31 to the parish. It sits just north of Interstate 10 and two miles east of the Highway 181/Highway 31 intersection.
Fr. Cink said he hoped groundbreaking will be held in about a year.
But regardless of when construction begins, he said he’s already a pastor at a wonderful parish despite Sunday Mass being celebrated inside a food pantry.
“It’s been a joy, truly been a joy – I have never become so aware of what the Church is. The Church is not a building, the Church is the people,” he said.
It has been a year of growth for the parish. According to Fr. Cink, the parish now includes more than 300 families. The parish began with one Sunday Mass, but almost immediately added a second.
Over the past year, seven people were received into the Church, 14 were baptized, 11 celebrated their first Communion and one couple was married. Parish Catechetical Leader Theresa West also said 75 children are enrolled in religious education classes.
“The most amazing thing about it is all the enthusiasm that existed at the very first Mass is still with us,” parish adviser Bill Donaldson said. “It’s been remarkable. It’s better than I could have ever imagined and I think it’s going to get better.”
Donaldson agreed that while Sunday Mass is celebrated in a food pantry and not a traditional church, it still feels special.
“You feel like you’re walking into the house of God, because it is the house of God,” he said. “We’re very proud of it and sustained by it.”
As far as the future of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish, Fr. Cink said a capital campaign will begin this fall.
Tentative plans call for about a 10,000-square-foot parish hall to seat about 500 people for Mass and 350 for dinner, along with 6,000-square-feet designed for offices, classrooms and kitchen. The approximate cost is $3.8 million.
There will also be parking for 150 cars. When the multipurpose building becomes a reality, the parish will look to phase two of its plans. It’s planning for a 1,200-seat church building with amenities and added parking at an approximate cost of $11.5 million.
“The 300 families who have joined is way beyond my imagining,” Fr. Cink said. “I believed it would take two years or three years to get to 300 families. I know the day we build our building, we’re going to double in size immediately.”
“It’s been the greatest joy of my priesthood. It’s been a wonderful experience of building a community, seeing people who are enthusiastic about the faith, to knowing their faithfulness and their willingness to venture out to that which is unknown.”
By ROB HERBST