Spirits soared high during the dedication and blessing of the new church of St. Theresa in Belleview. At the start of the celebration, Bishop John Noonan asked the congregation: “Do you like your new church” and “Are you happy” and the crowd responded with an enthusiastic, heartfelt “yes!” along with huge smiles and applause.
In the mid-1940’s, Monsignor George W. Cummings, pastor of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Ocala, began celebrating Mass in the community of Belleview. By 1950 Archbishop Joseph “Ten Acre Joe” Hurley had purchased land for a church which was built in 1951 at a cost of $12,000 and seating 250 at Mass. St. Theresa remained a mission church of Blessed Trinity until 1966 when it was raised to parish status. The church was modestly expanded 10 years later in 1976 to accommodate 320 people. With continuing growth came the need to build a new and larger church which at last has become a reality.
St. Theresa, known as the “little church with the big heart” now has a bigger church for her big heart. At a cost of $3.4 million, which has been paid off and seating for 625 people, the new church is a bricks and mortar testament to the spirit, love and perseverance of pastor, Father David Vivero (pictured holding the keys), and parishioners who over the years committed their time, talent and treasure to see their hopes and dreams for a new church come to fruition. It reflects the closeness of the parish community, a tribute through design to the warm hearts of a generous and caring people.
High ceilings vaulted with dark-colored beams reflect the uplifting nature of this parish family, a faith filled flock noted for their outreach services to those in need. The church is filled with light from its tall windows while elements from the old church such as the crucifix above the altar and the frontispiece on the altar, bring something old and familiar from the old church to the new sanctuary.
“Our eyes are immediately drawn to the ceiling as we enter a magnificent, but simple space. The Church teaches us, that noble simplicity is appropriate for Christian worship, and the architecture of the Church is regal, and simple all at the same time. The architecture is symbolic of the way we ‘lift up our hearts’ in spirit and prayer to the Lord,” said Darryl Podunavac, secretary of ecclesiastical properties and senior director of Design, Construction and Facility Maintenance Services for the Diocese of Orlando.
During his homily Bishop Noonan said, “Today we come to thank God for this beautiful new Church which we are about to ask God to bless and consecrate as a holy place.” Shortly after, Bishop Noonan anointed this new altar with Chrism, gently spreading the holy oil over the surface while Father Vivero and assisting priest, Monsignor James Lichtenthal, walked around the interior to anoint the walls where dedication candles had been installed. Then, the altar and walls were solemnly incensed. During these rituals St. Theresa’s choir sang with joy, their voices ascending in prayer like incense to the Lord. After dressing the altar, placement of flowers and the return of the lighted Paschal Candle, Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Nearly a dozen priests from throughout the Diocese of Orlando concelebrated Mass and were on hand as a sign of support. At the end of the celebration Father Vivero thanked the many people who worked and prayed to see their new church built. His expressions of gratitude were echoed by a joyful congregation, a community of faith happy with their new Church.
“It takes a village to do something like this. But really it’s not the village but the community of faith that builds the church. We thank the Lord for this,” said Father Vivero.
Father Vivero acknowledged the community’s many gifts and prayers that enabled this new church to be built for the glory of God.
“How did we do it? I think the word is stewardship. I appreciate all of the time that you shared with us, talents and skills you bring to the parish and all the beautiful treasure that you share with us. There’s one word for that and that’s Christian stewardship,” Father Vivero added.
Editor’s Note: Prayer from the Rite of Dedication
Brothers and sisters, this is the day of rejoicing: we have come together to dedicate this church by offering within it the sacrifice of Christ. May we open our hearts and minds to receive his word with faith; may our fellowship born in the one font of Baptism and sustained at the one table of the Lord, become the one temple of his Spirit, as we gather round his altar in love.